Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is wary of Owaisi as his Islamic supremacist dream is selling fast among Muslims — her biggest support base thus far.
And with Hindus also feeling alienated thanks to minority appeasement, and BJP gaining as a result, she is petrified at the prospects of political decimation.
Many were surprised when, at a party workers’ meeting in Cooch Behar in North Bengal, the Bengal Chief Minister spoke out against what she termed “minority extremism” and blamed Owaisi for fanning this in Bengal.
Owaisi was quick to hit back, accusing Banerjee of having a secret understanding with the BJP and ignoring the alleged sorry plight of Muslims in Bengal.
The AIMIM’s Bengal unit leader, Syed Zameerul Hasan, joined the fray by stating that Banerjee had taken AIMIM’s help in the past, especially during the Nandigram movement, and released photos of Banerjee meeting Owaisi that time (see this).
But Mamata Banerjee’s outburst against Owaisi is hardly surprising. In fact, it was very much in the offing. That’s because Banerjee rightly feels her stranglehold on the Muslim vote bank will slip if Owaisi is allowed a free run in Bengal.
The AIMIM has already announced its intention of contesting all 294 Assembly seats in Bengal in 2021. Owaisi is confident of upsetting the Trinamool’s applecart.
The AIMIM has been increasing its footprint in the minority areas of the state at an alarming pace.
Many Muslim Trinamool workers and functionaries have, in recent months, started working surreptitiously or even openly for the AIMIM.
The Trinamool chief knows very well that if the AIMIM dents her Muslim vote-bank and divides it, she would face defeat in 2021.
Muslims form nearly 28 per cent of the electorate and have been voting en bloc for the Trinamool since 2011.
This assured vote bank has been the primary reason for the Trinamool’s electoral success till now.
But the AIMIM has been campaigning aggressively among the Muslims in Bengal on the planks of Muslim brotherhood, victimhood and by holding out the promise of “restoring the lost pride of Muslims”.
Owaisi, and his party functionaries in Bengal, always allude to the centuries of Muslim rule over India and advocate unity and aggression among Muslims to restore that “lost glory”.
Mamata Banerjee knows very well that the loaves she keeps throwing periodically at the Muslim community as part of her politics of appeasement will not work in the face of the aggressive religious outreach by the AIMIM.
Owaisi, after all, is a Muslim and Banerjee can never promise the return to the “glorious days of Muslim rule over Hindustan” that Owaisi does.
The Trinamool chief also knows that a split in the Muslim votebank would spell disaster for her.
The BJP has been aggressively wooing Hindus in Bengal who are displeased with Banerjee’s blatant appeasement of Muslims.
Banerjee knows that she will face certain defeat in 2021 if even a small portion of the Muslim electorate turns towards the AIMIM.
That is why Mamata Banerjee chose Cooch Behar to deliver her broadside against Owaisi.
Hindus are in a majority in Cooch Behar, which borders Assam and Bangladesh and had voted decisively for the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
By talking about “minority extremism” at such a place, Mamata Banerjee intended to win back the support of the Hindus that she has been steadily losing.
She followed up this attack on Owaisi with a visit to the famous 130-year-old Madan Mohan Mandir in Cooch Behar.
But Owaisi’s counter-attack and AIMIM Bengal leader Zameerul Hasan’s revelations about the Trinamool chief’s past links with Owaisi has blunted Banerjee’s strategy. She cannot match Owaisi in rhetoric and promises (to Muslims).
She also knows that she cannot subject the AIMIM to the same harsh treatment that is being meted out to the BJP in Bengal.
Using the state administration and the Trinamool’s cadres against the AIMIM (the strategy she has employed to contain the BJP) would swiftly backfire on her and lead to quick consolidation of Muslim votes in Owaisi’s favour.
Thus, Mamata Banerjee can only warn her Muslim votebank against falling prey to “false promises” made by “outsiders” (meaning the AIMIM).
And also throw more crumbs at the community. But that, again, will lead to further alienation of Hindus from her. Which is why she finds herself in the classic ‘Catch 22’ situation.