Mamata Banerjee’s Fervent Appeal To Bhabanipur’s Muslims For Support Stems From Fear Of Disaffection Among Hindu Voters

Mamata Banerjee’s Fervent Appeal To Bhabanipur’s Muslims For Support Stems From Fear Of Disaffection Among Hindu VotersBengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee
Snapshot
  • According to the Trinamool’s own internal assessment, many middle-class Bengali Hindu voters are unhappy with the Trinamool for a few reasons.

    One of the primary among them is the post-poll violence against BJP workers and supporters by Trinamool goons.

Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, who is contesting the byelections to the Bhabanipur Assembly seat slated for September 30, made an unusual appeal to voters at her maiden campaign rally Wednesday (September 22).

Speaking to the electorate of the predominantly Muslim-inhabited Khidderpore belt of the constituency, Banerjee said she won’t be able to continue as chief minister if every single one of them do not vote for her (read this).

“I will no longer be the CM if I do not win this election. Someone else will become CM. So each one of you should vote if you want me to continue being your CM,” she said.

“Don’t think Didi will win easily and there is no compulsion to vote. It may cost me dearly even if one of you does not vote. There should be 100 per cent polling this time,” she added.

The Trinamool chief also said that even if heavy rains and storms lash the city, the people of Khidderpore should go out and vote.

“I look after all your needs. I consider you to be my own. Nobody will look after you the way I do. I worry about you in the same manner that parents worry about their kids. Keep in mind that I have to be elected as an MLA to continue as CM even though my party has a two-thirds majority. This election has become challenging and each vote matters,” she told the large gathering of Muslim voters.

Banerjee continued her appeal to the Muslim voters with the posers: “Who will fight against notebandi if I’m not there? Who will fight against CAA and NRC? Who will fight against the BJP’s riot machinery?”

To chants of ‘didi’, ‘didi’, she went on to remind the crowd of the 'injury' she claimed to have suffered in Nandigram. She claimed the so-called attackers in Nandigram had aimed for her neck but got her foot!

She continued her appeal to the Muslim electorate by reminding them that they were critical to her successive wins from Jadavpur and Kolkata South Lok Sabha seats and the Bhabanipur seat in 2011 and 2016.

This appeal to the Muslim electorate of Bhabanipur was highly unusual since, as per popular impression, Mamata Banerjee is set to win the seat easily. Trinamool leaders have been publicly asserting that their party chief would win the bypolls by a record margin.

Why, then, did Mamata Banerjee betray signs of nervousness at her maiden rally Wednesday? Political observers say it can be either, or both, of two reasons:

  1. her bid to prove a point by winning the seat by a record margin of votes;

  2. her apprehension that the Hindu voters of Bhabanipur are angry with her for various reasons.

In order to win by a record margin, the Trinamool has to ensure a record turnout of voters. Bhabanipur is an urban constituency where voter turnout is considerably low: it was a little over 61 percent in the polls held a few months ago.

Voter apathy peaks in bypolls, and the Trinamool thus fears that it could dip to about 50 percent or even less this time. If that happens, the margin of Mamata Banerjee’s victory will be very small.

“Winning by a big margin is very important for Mamata Banerjee if she is to prove the point that she is a tall leader with statewide appeal. She lost in Nandigram and that has dented her image considerably. If she cannot win Bhabanipur, where she has been residing since her birth, by a big margin, she will lose a lot of ground and political capital,” says political commentator Bhabatosh Dutta.

But it is the second reason that is more likely to have triggered her appeal to the Muslim voters who form about 20 per cent of the 2.06 lakh-odd voters of Bhabanipur.

The remaining 80 per cent are Hindus, with over half of them being non-Bengalis--mainly Gujaratis, Marwaris, Biharis and Punjabis.

Over the past few elections, ever since the BJP emerged as a force to reckon with in Bengal, most of the non-Bengali voters have been supporting the saffron party. Many of them have no love lost for Mamata Banerjee, who they dislike for her overt and blatant appeasement of Muslims. As for the Bengali Hindu voters, a substantial segment of them fall in the middle and upper middle class bracket and Mamata’s populist schemes do not really benefit them.

According to the Trinamool’s own internal assessment, many middle-class Bengali Hindu voters are unhappy with the Trinamool for a few reasons. One of the primary among them is the post-poll violence against BJP workers and supporters by Trinamool goons.

“The average middle-class urban Bengali Hindu is very unhappy over post-poll violence which they feel has brought a bad name to the state. The BJP’s silent campaign that the victims of the post-poll violence were all Hindus while many of the attackers were Muslims has also caused a lot of disaffection among the Bengali Hindus,” admitted a senior Trinamool leader.

Nature has also played a major role in the Hindus’ anger with the Trinamool. The heavy spells of rain last weekend and earlier this week that left most of Kolkata inundated for more than 24 hours has exposed the city’s poor civic management.

People of Kolkata are seething with anger over the Trinamool-controlled Municipal Corporation’s failure to tackle water-logging. The incessant showers over the past few weeks have also left all roads all over the city in a terrible state, adding to public anger.

To make matters worse, more rains and storms are predicted over the next few days, and more waterlogging can thus be expected. This will only add to the disenchantment among the middle-class voters.

Admittedly, the Muslim-dominated areas of Bhabanipur constituency also suffer from chronic waterlogging and many other civic woes. But civic issues have not shown to be of major concern among many Muslim voters.

Other factors--lack of employment avenues in the state, Mamata Banerjee’s dismal failure to attract investments, especially big-ticket investments, her populism and the culture of freebies that had ruined the state’s work culture and the economy, and her much-less-than-exemplary conduct--have also played a role in causing this disaffection among middle-class and upper middle-class Hindus.

Mamata Banerjee, thus, wants to take no chances and, thus, her appeal to the Muslims to vote in strength so that she can post a respectable win.

In the Assembly elections held a few months ago, Trinamool’s Sovandeb Chattopadhyay defeated his BJP rival Rudranil Ghosh by 28,719 votes. Mamata Banerjee’s victory margin from Bhabanipur in 2016 was 25,301 votes.

In the byelections (in Bhabanipur) in 2011, Mamata trounced her nearest CPI(M) rival by 54,213 votes while just a few months before that, Trinamool’s Subrata Bakshi won the seat by nearly 50,000 votes. Bakshi resigned to make way for Mamata Banerjee, who was a Lok Sabha MP then and hadn’t contested the Assembly polls, so that she could get elected to the Assembly and remain the chief minister.

But those two 50,000-plus margins can be attributed to the wave in favour of the Trinamool and against the Left that swept through Bengal a decade ago. There is no such wave in favour of the Trinamool or Mamata Banerjee this time.

To win Bhabanipur by a narrow margin against a political lightweight like Priyanka Tibrewal fielded by the BJP would be a loss of face for the Trinamool chief. That’s why she wants the Muslim voters to turn out in full strength. She knows that most, or perhaps all, will vote for her.

Significantly, Mamata Banerjee has not issued a similar appeal to Bhabanipur’s Hindu voters; she is not sure that a majority of Hindus will vote Trinamool. So it suits her if the turnout among Hindus is low. Rather, it is the BJP that has appealed to the Hindus to exercise their franchise in large numbers.

If the BJP succeeds in motivating a large percentage of the Hindu voters to queue before the polling booths on September 30, and if the popular perception that many Hindus are unhappy with Mamata Banerjee and her party holds true, then results can throw up a surprise.

No wonder, then, the Trinamool chief wants to ensure that at least 90 percent of the 40,000-odd Muslims cast their votes. And she is keeping her political strategist Prashant Kishor close by her side--unusual in itself for the chief minister contesting a bypoll--to ensure a comfortable win.

But all this also proves that far from confident of a handsome win, Mamata Banerjee is nervous and apprehensive of losing face by securing only a narrow win.

Also read: Why Trinamool has deployed its top leaders to micromanage Bhabanipur bypolls

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