Is a Hindu vote bank developing in eastern India?

We know that the BJP is not contesting on the Hindutva plank this time. But if there is any region where there is a subtle possibility of a Hindu vote bank materialising even without the party adopting a formal Hindutva stance, it is in eastern India – in the states of West Bengal, Assam and Bihar.

Even as Muslims stop thinking like a vote bank in many states as development becomes the core issue for them, demographic changes are leading to the opposite concerns among some Hindus in eastern India.

Thanks to continuing migration from Bangladesh and the higher birth rates among Muslims, in all three states several districts have become Muslim-dominant, which is leading to concerns among the resultant Hindu minorities (or to-be minorities).

Representational image: Reuters

Representational image: Reuters

In West Bengal, three districts are Muslim-majority ones (Malda and Murshidabad for sure, and North Dinajpur on the brink), and seven more have Muslim populations of 25-35 percent (Birbhum, Nadia, Howrah, Cooch Behar, North and South 24 Parganas, and South Dinajpur).

In Assam, where Muslim majorities exist in six or seven districts, and in Bihar, where there is one Muslim majority district (Kishanganj) and four more with 23-37 percent Muslim concentrations, there is a sense of some Hindu vote consolidation. This is why the BJP in Assam feels strong enough to go on its own and dump the Asom Gana Parishad, and in Bihar it is hoping to do well even without Nitish Kumar (though it has tied up with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, just in case).

The most interesting experiment for the BJP will probably be in West Bengal, where the party has no political organisation worth speaking about. This time the party expects its vote share to nearly triple, even if it does not win too many seats, though party spokesmen say the party has a realistic chance in as many as 12 seats – depending on how the other vote divides.

This report in Mint quotes an anonymous BJP source as saying that this time it could raise its traditional 3-6 percent vote share in West Bengal to nearly 15 percent, if trends in recent panchayat and municipal polls are any indication. The same report also quotes Tathagata Roy, who is contesting on a party ticket from South Kolkata, as saying: “In election after election, we are noticing a consolidation of Hindu votes in constituencies neighbouring the India-Bangladesh border.”

The reality is that the party organisation is weak and if there is any nascent Hindu vote bank developing, it will impact the results by taking votes away from parties such as the Congress, Trinamool and the Left Front. Satyabrata Mookherjee of the BJP, who has won Krishnagar in Nadia district in the past, is reckoned by Mint as a possible upset winner if a four-way contest divides the overall vote. Mookherjee got 16.7 percent of the vote in 2009 and lost. This time, with the Modi tailwind behind him, he could aim for 25-30 percent and hope to squeak through.

But the big picture is this: the demographic change is likely to start making a difference from now on to how Hindus vote.



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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2014 15:03:52 IST

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