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Sharp Split in Muslim Votes Between TMC and Left-Congress Alliance in Bengal

Muslim votes sharply split in north Bengal and consolidated behind TMC in the south amidst hints of a new force’s rise.  
In Murshidabad town, wall graffiti in support of the Congress-backed CPI(M) candidate Md. Salim. Photo: Snigdhendu Bhattacharya

In a rerun of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Muslim votes sharply split between the state’s ruling party, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC), and the Left-Congress alliance, in the Muslim majority districts of Uttar Dinajpur, Malda and Murshidabad in north-central Bengal.

This split in Muslim votes between parties championing secularism helped the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retain Malda Uttar Lok Sabha, where Muslims constitute about 45% of the population, and Raiganj, where the Muslim share of the demography is about 46%.

The 2019 Lok Sabha election saw four corner contests in these two seats, with the Congress and the Left fighting separately.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

In Raiganj, the Left-Congress cumulative vote share stood at 20.8% in 2019. The BJP won the seat securing 40% vote, with the TMC polling 35.3%. In the 2021 assembly election, Muslim votes polarised in the TMC’s favour. But in the 2024 Lok Sabha election, votes split like in 2019 – the BJP won with 41% vote share, while the TMC polled 36% and the Left-Congress alliance secured 19.24%.

The Wire had reported about the possibility of such a split, as Muslim voters in this traditional Congress bastion – where the TMC’s inroads are recent – were unsure about who is the strongest anti-BJP force.

The BJP won Malda Uttar in 2019 securing 37.59% vote share, as the TMC’s share stood at 31.37% and the Congress’ at 22.52%. The Left polled a meager 3.72% vote. BJP took big leads from Hindu and tribal-dominated assembly segments like Habibpur, Gazole and Maldah, where they secured over 50% votes and the TMC polled between 25% and 30%. However, as votes split almost equally between the Congress and the TMC in Muslim-concentration pockets in the assembly segments of Harishchandrapur, Malatipur, Ratua and Chanchal, neither managed to secure any significant lead.

In the 2021 assembly election, the TMC won four of the seven assembly segments within the Lok Sabha, thanks to a near-complete consolidation of Muslim votes in the TMC’s favour. The BJP won three others. In the 2023 panchayat election, the cumulative votes of the Left and the Congress stood above the BJP’s. In 2024, while the BJP managed to recover Hindu votes that went back to the Left in the rural polls, Muslim votes split in a 2019-like pattern – the BJP got  37.18%, the TMC polled 31.7% and the Left-Congress alliance 27.14%.

The BJP took big leads in the Hindu and tribal-dominated assembly segments but no party managed to secure any big lead from Muslim-concentrated segments of Chanchal and Harishchandrapur, as voters remained sharply divided between the TMC and the Congress.

However, the picture was different in Malda Dakshin, which the Congress won in 2019. Here, Muslim votes polarised behind the Congress, helping it retain the seat, and improving the winning margin by a few times.

Take the case of the Sujapur assembly segment within Malda Dakshin Lok Sabha. It has one of West Bengal’s densest Muslim concentrations – with Muslims forming 89.3% of Sujapur’s demography.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress took a lead of 30,000 votes from the segment, as the TMC ate into a large chunk of its votes. In the 2021 assembly election, voters polarised behind the TMC so strongly that Mamata Banerjee’s party won the seat with a record margin of 1.3 lakh votes. In 2024, voters polarised behind the Congress, giving its Malda Dakshin candidate a lead of 83,629 votes from Sujapur.

Such polarisation behind the Congress also happened in the Farakka assembly segment. As a result, the Congress’ winning margin in Malda Dakshin increased from 8,222 votes in 2019 to 1.28 lakh in 2024.

In Baharampur Lok Sabha, where the Muslim share of the population is slightly above the Hindus, a majority of Muslim votes appear to be gone to the TMC’s Yusuf Pathan, former cricketer. Hindu votes remained divided between the Congress, the BJP, and the TMC. This helped the TMC breach the Congress bastion, which has been represented by Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury since 1999.

In 2019, the Hindu-dominated Baharampur and Kandi assembly segments ensured Chowdhury’s victory in the Lok Sabha. This time, the BJP ate into Chowdhury’s votes.

In Jangipur and Murshidabad seats, where Muslims make up two-thirds of the demography, the contest was between the TMC and the Left-Congress alliance. The TMC won both with handsome margins – 1.16 lakh in Jangipur and 1.64 lakh in Murshidabad.

No such split happened in Muslim votes in the southern Bengal seats where Muslims make up more than one-third of the population – Basirhat, Diamond Harbour, Krishnanagar, Jaynagar and Birbhum. Muslims strongly consolidated behind the TMC.

However, an interesting pattern emerged amidst this TMC dominance. In four Lok Sabha seats in Kolkata’s neighbouring districts of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas – Barasat, Basirhat, Jaynagar and Mathurapur – the Indian Secular Front (ISF) came third, overtaking the Left-Congress alliance candidates.

A study of the assembly segment-wise and booth-wise results indicates that Muslims disenchanted with the TMC were not looking at the Left as an option in parts of these two districts.

In south Bengal, the Left-backed Congress candidate pulled a good share of votes in the Hansan, Nalhati and Murarai assembly segments of Birbhum Lok Sabha but Left candidates failed to impress voters in Muslim-concentration assembly segments like Bhangar, Deganga, Haroa, Minakhan, Baduria, Kulpi and Canning East in the two 24-Parganas. In Bhangar, Deganga and Haroa assembly segments, the ISF came second. Muslims upset with the TMC had the ISF as their choice.

As a result, the ISF’s Tapas Banerjee polled 1.21 lakh votes (7.92%) in Barasat, ranking third, while the Left candidate came fourth with 6.52% votes.

In Basirhat, the ISF candidate Akhtar Rahaman Biswas polled 1.23 lakh votes (8.11%), while the Left came fourth with 77,899 (5.11%) votes.

In Jaynagar and Mathurapur, Muslim votes were polarised overwhelmingly in favour of the TMC. Still, the ISF candidates Meghnath Haldar and Ajay Kumar Das were ahead of the Left candidates.

Led by Bhangar MLA Nausad Siddiqui, ISF calls itself a secular force. It has Hindus in its organisational leadership. A number of their candidates were Hindus. However, it is largely perceived as a Muslim-oriented party, partly because it was launched by Abbad Siddiqui, a pirzada or cleric at the Furfura Sharif in Hooghly district, and partly because its support base has been in Muslim-concentration areas.

Abdul Matin, a political scientist at Jadavpur University in Kolkata, said the ISF’s vote share in North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas districts is an “interesting emerging trend.”

“They got nearly 6.5 lakh votes altogether. Considering that it was a sharply bipolar election and they are a new party fighting their first Lok Sabha election and entirety on their own, their achievements are noteworthy. It’s a positive sign that they have got votes even fielding Hindu candidates,” Matin told The Wire.

He described the ISF’s approach as “an alternative kind of imagination from below”. They would have a good chance to grow if they manage to build broader social justice alliances, Matin said.

In the 2021 assembly election, the Left, Congress and the newborn ISF fought in alliance. While the Left and Congress failed to win a seat, the ISF won Bhangar in Kolkata’s eastern outskirts.

This time, the ISF-Left seat-sharing talks broke down over the ISF’s demand. CPI(M) was not ready to give it more than six. Deciding to go it alone, they fielded 14 candidates. However, they failed to make any mark in the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, Hooghly and Howrah.

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