West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016 – Need to Unify Choice for a Better Deal

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If Muslim voters could turn out in substantial numbers, they can greatly influence the outcome in these constituencies and facilitate the victory of candidates put up by secular parties.

By Syed Zafar Mahmood

Assembly elections will be held in West Bengal in 2016. The State Assembly has 294 constituencies, of which 68 are reserved for the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and 16 for the Scheduled Tribes (STs).
Of the 294 seats, 54 seats have a demography wherein Muslims constitute between 40 to 89%. These constituencies are in the districts of Murshidabad, North Dinajpur, Maldah, Uttar 24 Pragana, Birbhoom, Nadia, Haora, South 24 Pragana, Braddhaman, Coochbehar and Medinipur.
More than 80% in four Assembly constituencies: Domkal, Sujapur, Bhagbangola and Ranipur.
Between 70 to 80% in nine constituencies: Samserganj, Lalgola, Golpokhar, Raghunathganj, Harishchandrapur, Jalangi, Malatipur, Nawadah and Mothabari.
Between 60 to 70% in 17 constituencies: Ratua, Hariharpara, Haroa, Sooti, Chanchal, Farakka, Bhangar, Canning Poorba, Bashirhaat Uttar, Murarai, Chopra, Deganga, Rejinagar, Sagardighi, Islampur, Baduria, and Chikolia.
Between 50 to 60% in 11 Assembly constituencies: Chapra, Kaliganj, Hunson, Jangipur, Bharatpur, Magrahat Pashchim, Nalhatti, Amdanga, Nakashipara, Kandi, and Itahara.
Between 40 to 50% in 12 Assembly constituencies: Karandighi, Baisnabnagar, Beldanga, Palashipara, Manikchak, Bashirhat Dakshin, Murshidabad, Karimpur, Uluberia Poorba, Panchla, Maheshtala, Natabari, and Diamond Harbour.
Between 30 to 40% in 23 constituencies: Tahatta, Nandiaram, Budge Budge, Uluberia Dakshin, Manteswar, Satgachia, Kumarganj, Kulpi, Katwa, Ketugram, Falakta, Mangalkot, Bolpur, Dinhata, Rampurhat, Poorbasthali Uttar, Baropur Pashchim, Rajarhat New Town, Madhyam Gram, Udainarayanpur, Bagnan, Ashoknagar, and English Bazar.
Between 20 to 30% in 35 constituencies: Krishnanagar Pashchim, Matiaburz, Amta, Chandi Tala, Mayureswar, Saori, Pandua, Barasat, Kumarahatti, Panskura Poorba, Panskura Pashchim, Behala Pashchim, Jorasanko, Kashipur, Belgachia, Jadavpur, Tollygunge, Bhabanipur, Kasba, Entally, Bellighatta, Kolkata Port, Ballygunge, Maniktala, Rashbehari, Asansol Uttar, Memari, Champadani, Kulti.
Between 20 to 53% in 33 constituencies but reserved for SCs:Besides, there are 33 Assembly segments which are reserved for the SC candidates but Muslims constitute 20 to 53% of the voters. These segments are: Manakhan, Murshidabad, Nabagram, Khargram, Swarupnagar, Magrahat Poorba, Basanti, Jayanagar, Burdwan, Hemtabad, Baruipur Poorba, Kushmandi, Canning Pashchim, Mandir Bazar, Kultai, Sitai, Sangareil, Bishnupur, Dubrajpur, Sitalkuchi, Uluberia Uttar, Keshpur, Hingalganj, Mikliganj, Gangarampur, Gazol, Raina, Malda, Galsi, Sainthia, Kuliaganj, Ausgram, Arambagh, Barddhaman Uttar, and Rajganj.

Mobilising the Voters
If Muslim voters could turn out in substantial numbers, they can greatly influence the outcome in these constituencies and facilitate the victory of candidates put up by secular parties. But this would require a sound coordination among Muslims who should mobilize the voters, indicate the most favourable choice to each of the voters and see to it that their votes do not split among several secular parties.
Other than the abovementioned 144 constituencies, there another 58 Assembly segments where Muslim voters constitute between 10 to 20% of voters and are not reserved. These are: Pursura, Howrah Dakshin, Khanakul, Domjor, Barrackpore, Toofanganj, Asansol Dakshin, Jamuria, Raiganj, Kakdwip, Haripal, Garbetia, Shantipur, Tamluk, Barddhaman Dakshin, Bhatapara, Howrah Madhya, Howrah Uttar, Jagatdal, Shibpur, Saptagram, Beli, Kharagpur, Salboni, Habra, Raniganj, Medinipur, Purulia, , Pingala, Pandaveswar, Dantan, Chandipur, Behrampur, Bishnupur, Nandakumar, Chanadan Nagar, Sagar, Sreerampore, Sonarpur Uttar, Kharagpur Uttar, Singur, Khardaha, Sonarpur Dakshin, Tarakeswar, Mahisadal, Moieena, Kanthi Dakshin, Rajarhat Gopalpur, Novapara, Dabgram-Phulbari, Krishna Nagar Uttar, Kanthi Uttar, Chakdaha, Ramnagar, Agra, Dabra, Pathar Pratima, Onda and Chunchura.
But looking back at 2011 Assembly elections, we notice that constituencies such as Ratua (Muslim voters 68%), Suti (62%), Hunson (55%), Nalhatti (52%), Kandi (51%), did not return a Muslim MLA.
The task before Muslims in West Bengal prior to the Assembly election is formidable. They will have to mobilize considerable effort to unite the choices before the community in each of the constituencies in order to defeat candidates from the communal parties and ensure victory of a secular candidate.

Six Ministers among 45
Muslims can emerge as an empowered group if they unify their choice and send such candidates to the Assembly who could take up the issues before them and work for their development. A look at the current cabinet suggests that only five cabinet rank ministers are from the Muslim community and only a single minister of state rank is from the community. Altogether there are only six Muslims in the 45-member cabinet. Given the 25% population in the State, the community ought to have 10 ministers.

Development Issues
The mobilization should not be for any communal purpose but solely on the issues of development. The community should delineate its priorities in the sectors of infrastructure in their habitations (pucca roads, water and power lines, schools, PDS, hospitals etc.). It could even press upon the Government that eligibility criteria for admission to colleges and universities should be divided on 60:40 (60 for marks, and 40 for backwardness). The backwardness should be determined on the basis of household income, backwardness of the habitational area, and family occupation. The Government aid for the educational institutions could be tied to this eligibility criteria.
Furthermore, the community could urge the government to set up coaching centres for civil service exams in area with dominant community population, vacate wakf land from Government occupation, and nomination of Muslims on positions of power and influence.
(The above article is a translated and edited version of Syed Zafar Mahmood’s article appearing in the Urdu daily Rashtriya Sahara. The names of the constituencies have been corrected with the list of Assembly segments found in the Election Commission of India’s website. But a few of them are feared to have been misspelled.)