West Bengal's Muslims, once a loyal vote bank of the ruling
Marxists, appear noncommittal in the ongoing assembly polls even
as the Left Front and rival Trinamool Congress try to woo the
community that makes up 28 percent of the state's population.
Land reforms and land distribution among landless farmers not only
earned nationwide accolades for the Left Front, which came to
power in 1977, but also cemented the base of its three-decade rule
in the state. The Muslim community also benefited a lot from the
land reforms, with rural Muslim households having access to 25.6
percent of the total cultivated land.
"Two things that swayed the community towards the Left Front are
land reforms and land pattas which empowered landless Muslims, and
also communal harmony and a sense of security," Sabyasachi Basu
Ray Chaudhuri, a political analyst, told IANS.
"But this time Muslim votes are undecided," he said.
After 34 years of Left Front rule, the sense of security and the
dividends of lands reforms are no more the blank cheques with
which Muslim votes can be pocketed, especially after the report of
the Rajinder Sachar committee highlighted the poor condition of
the state's Muslims.
"It is true that we are more secure in Bengal than perhaps our
counterparts in Gujarat. But also need jobs and development.
Communists have shown the carrot of security for the last three
decades but have done more or less nothing for our development,"
said Arshad Ahmed, who works at a meat shop.
The anti-land acquisition campaign in Singur and Nandigram, where
allegations surfaced that the Left was trying to take land from
Muslims, proved damaging.
The assembly polls are on from April 18-May 10. The third phase
will be held Wednesday.
Leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which
leads the Left Front, refuse to concede that they may have lost
ground among Muslims.
Mohammed Salim, a CPI-M Central Committee member, said: "It is not
true that we have lost minority votes. We have lost votes in
general. The percentage of votes we lost consists of all kinds of
voters, including Hindus and Muslims."
The northern districts of Malda and south Bengal's Murshidabad, 90
percent of the constituencies have a considerable Muslim
population. In North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and East
Midnapore - which includes Nandigram - the figure is 40 percent.
Rattled by its poor performance in Muslim dominated areas over the
past three years, the Left Front has implemented the Ranganath
Mishra Commission's recommendations and introduced 10 percent
reservation in government jobs for the 53 backward classes among
As a result of the expansion of the other backward classes (OBC)
list, currently, out of 2.02 crore Muslims in Bengal, 1.72 crore
are OBCs, amounting to over 85 percent of the total Muslims in the
"After the Sachar committee report and our rigorous campaign,
Muslims know the real face of the CPI-M," said Sultan Ahmed, union
minister of state for tourism and Trinamool leader.
Trinamool president and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee has also
used her portfolio to announce various railway projects in
Muslim-dominated areas and promised to take the advice of Sachar
for the community's development.
"The Left Front claim of providing security is vague. Muslims were
secure in the state since the days of the Congress as communal
harmony is the culture of Bengal," said senior Congress leader
The Left has also lost a series of elections in the districts of
Kolkata, Birbhum and Hooghly - where Singur is situated - which
have 35 percent of their constituencies heavily populated by
The anger of the Muslim community against the Left seems
prominent, with religious leaders also asking for the ouster of
the Left Front.
"The quota system is of no use. It is too late. Two generations of
the community have lost all the opportunities," said Maulana
Barkati, Shahi Imam of the Tipu Sultan Mosque.
Muslim political parties criticise both the Left and the
"The CPI-M has misused its powers and done nothing for Muslims.
The Trinamool can also do no good, as it is interested only in
votes," Siddiqullah Chowdhury, leader of People's Democratic
Conference of India (PDCI), told IANS.
Political analysts, however, feel Muslim votes could be split
between the two political camps.
"The Muslim vote bank is now a floating one. But the Left will be
more alert this time and the Trinamool will have a slight
advantage," said Samir Kumar Das, a political analyst.