Left-Congress alliance in Bengal facing issues over Abbas Siddiqui

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By: Arun Srivastava

The Brigade rally organised by the left parties and the Congress on Sunday was indeed massive.  This was for the first time that the Left and the Congress held a joint election rally in Kolkata in recent years. But equally, this was the first occasion for the CPI(M) to legitimize the official participation of a Muslim group known for its fundamentalist programmes.

It was the first public appearance of the Abbas Siddiqui as the principal ideologue and patron of the a month old Indian Secular Front, but the red carpet reception that was given to him by the Marxist veterans at the rally made it amply clear that the hegemony of pragmatism has replaced  idealism. Bengal which witnessed idealism dictating the political, social and economic contour saw on Sunday the social and political fanaticism dictating the political institution.

The moment Abbas Siddiqui reached the podium at Brigade, Left leaders like Md Salim and Biman Bose along with other leaders rushed to welcome the young man in white kurta-pajama, a skull cap and a dark blue jacket, on the dais. Even the seasoned Congress leader Chowdhury had to stop his address because the crowd had erupted into cheers on seeing Furfura Sharif cleric Abbas Siddiqui. Choudhary was so hurt at the development that he eventually refused to continue his address. Nevertheless Left leaders like Bose, Salim and CPI-M state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra placated Chowdhury. Left leaders may deny but this manifested the ideological and political bankruptcy.

The political acumen of Siddiqui is yet to be tested. He is even not an established leader of the Muslim community. The reception that the Left leaders accorded to him simply owed to his family ancestry. Having the lineage of the Pirzada family has been enough for the left to surrender its ideological tenet.

The Brigade rally was important for one reason that the hate for the Congress in the heart of Siddiqui came out open. Addressing the rally while he said: “I urge all the people who love me, to fight for their motherland, to give their blood in all the seats that Left parties will contest,” he refrained from saying anything about the Congress. No doubt this contempt of Siddiqui towards the Congress has turned suspect Rahul Gandhi’s political acumen. His adversaries in the party have already started questioning the rational of his endorsing the stand of the state party unit. Through his body language Abbas has made it clear that Congress has no relevance for him.  Even senior Left leaders confide; “The manner in which he was trying to belittle Congress was in poor taste”. It simply manifests his political immaturity.

Siddiqui’s speech was nevertheless very significant. Instead of talking about Muslim welfare and their politics, he told in the plan and clear words that he wants his Bhagidari (share); “I’ve come here for my share. I’ve not come to appease anybody…Hence if anyone wants to extend an arm of friendship, this Abbas Siddiqui will campaign for them in the future”. Siddiqui asserted that people of West Bengal would teach Mamata Banerjee “a lesson for her arrogance” and ensure that her party becomes politically insignificant after elections.

Siddiqui is well within his rights to seek share, but at the same he would have thought of consequences of any statement of this nature. Of course the rally had one refreshing aspect, the veteran Left leaders stepped back to push the younger generation on the big stage and youths made up a bulk of the crowd at Brigade Parade Grounds, but this gain could not make much impact with Siddiqui adopting a completely non-political assertive attitude.

It is not significant what impact it would have on Left and Congress, but one thing is certain that it would prove to be a moral booster for the Hindutva lobby and help the BJP consolidate his support base among the Hindu voters. For many it as an act of ideological compromise for the sake of immediate electoral gains. The Leftist determination to ensure defeat of Mamata is more of the nature of personal hatred than a political move.

In fact BJP is quite pleased with the Siddiqui element. Siddiqui’s party would invariably eat into Mamata’s Bengali minority support base. This works to the BJP’s advantage. A senior CPI(M) leader quipped; “For decades, we had successfully asked crores of Bengal’s minority voters to support a Marxist party and its allies, shunning identity-based politics. Even though many of them had turned away from us in favour of Mamata Banerjee, we had not compromised ideologically. But Siddiqui’s entry would cost us dearly”. If the sources are to be believed Siddiqui was trying to use this situation to prod his other family members who were in TMC and holding senior positions.

The rebel Congress leader Anand Sharma has been quite critical. He said; “Congress’ alliance with parties like ISF and other such forces militates against the core ideology of the party and Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism, which forms the soul of the party. These issues need to be approved by the CWC. Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement West Bengal PCC President is painful and shameful, he must clarify.”  The dissident Congress leaders feel that it would adversely affect the party in UP where Priyanka Gandhi is trying to capture the Hindutva vote bank.

Siddiqui’s uncle and some close relatives are already with TMC. Significantly, other members of the Siddiqui family, especially Toha Siddiqui, the most prominent among the elders and whose support had helped the CPI(M) and TMC in the past had criticized Abbas’ foray into politics

The political dynamics of Furfura Sharif are complex as the Siddiqui family has been engaged in a power struggle over property. This has had an impact on their followers. “Disciples of Furfura Sharif are divided between Abbas Siddiqui and Toha Siddiqui (Abbas’s uncle), so no one has complete control”. Usually new players enter politics just before the elections. Abbas Siddiqui is also a new player. In a state like Bengal it is hard to believe that he would be able to do anything. However one thing is absolutely clear that he would help the BJP.

On January 3, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had met Siddiqui and chalked out a plan for the upcoming assembly elections in the state. It was only after this meeting that Siddiqui came into political limelight.

It is also a fact that rise in popularity of the Tablighi Jamaat, an international Sunni Islamic missionary movement, over the years has been responsible for the decline in Furfura Sharif’s influence. However even Muslim intellectuals and social activists are sceptical of Siddiqui inspiring the Muslims to vote against Mamata. These people feel that he may cut into a few thousand votes in some constituencies but it is difficult to say how much he can convert into votes. (IPA Service)

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