Political newbie Abbas Siddiqui, the Pirzada of Furfura Sharif, occupied pride of place at the huge Brigade Rally show put up by the Left and Congress on February 28. He was among the leaders on the stage, while his supporters made up a big chunk of the crowd.
However, among those cheering from the sidelines may have been the BJP, that is snapping at the heels of the ruling Trinamool in the closely fought Bengal polls. Within the Left and Congress too, there is unease over association with the openly religious leader who could end up polarising the electorate, and hence strengthen the BJP’s hand. The Congress, in fact, has been asserting that its alliance is with the Left, and is pushing for seats leading to stalling of ticket distribution.
Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front includes representatives from the Dalit and tribal communities, and the Left has repeatedly said they do not consider him a communal force. However, the cleric, with considerable popularity in parts of south Bengal districts such as South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah, Burdwan and Birbhum, wears his religious credentials on his sleeve. He has been attacking the Mamata Banerjee government for “betrayal” of the Muslim community.
The BJP hopes Siddiqui will not just take away a chunk of the Muslim voters from the Trinamool but also help rally them behind it. It has also questioned how the Left could claim a secular image having aligned itself with the Pirzada, going so far as to cite the Left “siding” with the Muslim League during the pre-Partition communal violence.
Says a BJP leader, “We were worried that a revived Left-Congress alliance would take back some of its traditional votes. Now we are hopeful Hindu Left supporters who voted for us would not go back to the Left.”
Comprising 27% of the population as per the 2011 Census, Muslims form a considerable chunk of the votes.