West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today intensified her criticism of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi, claiming that his entry into the state's political arena will only serve to help the BJP by dividing minority votes.
"Don't trust leaders who come from outside and try to present themselves as your (minority) sympathisers. Only leaders from Bengal can fight for your cause. Those who are visiting from Hyderabad with money bags and claiming to be sympathizers of Muslims are the biggest allies of the BJP," news agency PTI quoted Mamata Banerjee as saying at a public meeting in Sagardighi.
The Trinamool Congress chief had last targeted Mr Owaisi at an event in Cooch Behar on Monday, asking people to refrain from listening to "minority extremists" based in Hyderabad. AIMIM leaders responded by claiming that Muslims in Trinamool-ruled Bengal ranked "worst" on development indicators.
"The Trinamool Congress government does nothing for the Muslim community except play vote-bank politics," said party state president Zameerul Hasan. "We were ready to contest the parliamentary elections too, but party president Asaduddin Owaisi held us back because he was concerned about Trinamool candidates losing due to a division in minority votes. But we will certainly fight the 2021 assembly polls."
Mr Hasan also said that the AIMIM's growing influence in Bengal, especially its bordering districts, is causing Mamata Banerjee a lot of heartburn.
This is not the first time Mr Owaisi has been accused of helping the BJP, a party that he is otherwise critical of. Before the Telangana elections last year, the Congress claimed that the AIMIM had entered into a "hidden alliance" with the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and the BJP. "Owaisi is asking people to vote for the TRS in Telangana. However, a minority vote for the TRS in Telangana is a minority vote for the BJP at the centre," said state party chief Captain N Uttar Kumar Reddy.
The Trinamool Congress will face an energised BJP in the 2021 assembly elections.
(With inputs from PTI)