Explained: How A New Party Floated By A Muslim Cleric In Bengal Can Damage Trinamool’s Prospects In Many Constituencies

Explained: How A New Party Floated By A Muslim Cleric In Bengal Can Damage Trinamool’s Prospects In Many ConstituenciesAbbas Siddiqui.
Snapshot
  • Abbas Siddiqui, the founder of Indian Secular Front, has said that the ISF will field candidates in 50 to 60 seats, mostly in south and central Bengal, while its ally, the AIMIM, will contest in another 50 seats in pockets of south Bengal and in north Bengal.

When prominent Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui launched a new political outfit — Indian Secular Front (ISF) — last week, many in the Trinamool put up a brave front and asserted that the ISF would not win more than one seat in the ensuing Assembly polls in Bengal.

However, this confidence can well turn out to be misplaced.

Because, after all, it is not how many seats the ISF will win, but the damage it will inflict on Trinamool's poll prospects in the 120-odd constituencies where Muslims have a sizeable presence.

What can spell real trouble for the Trinamool is the ISF becoming a constituent of the fledgling ‘third front’: the Congress, Left and some other parties.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose has stated that the doors are open for an electoral alliance with the ISF. The ISF has already decided to fight the polls in association with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

That in itself is a formidable alliance which can inflict a lot of damage to the Trinamool.

Siddiqui, who belongs to a clan of clerics that administers Furfura Sharif — considered to be the second most important mazar for Muslims after Ajmer’s Dargah Sharif — has considerable following in North and South 24 Parganas District, Howrah and Hooghly districts.

These four districts have a 100-odd constituencies and Muslims have a sizeable presence in 50 of them.

The ISF-AIMIM alliance can win the support of all sections of Muslims.

While Siddiqui has a following among Bengali-speaking Muslims, Owaisi is popular among Urdu-speaking Muslims in and around Kolkata (eleven Assembly seats) and in many parts of Malda and Dakshin Dinajpur adjoining Bihar.

Siddiqui has said that the ISF will field candidates in 50 to 60 seats, mostly in south and central Bengal, while the AIMIM will contest in another 50 seats in pockets of south Bengal and in north Bengal.

Even if the ISF-AIMIM combine does not bag many seats, it can considerably erode the Trinamool’s precious and critical Muslim vote bank.

However, if the alliance with the Left fructifies and the ISF-AIMIM becomes part of the ‘third front’, the Trinamool will be in serious trouble.

That’s because the Congress and Left votes will go to these two Muslim parties in the seats they shall be contesting from against the Trinamool and the BJP.

With the Trinamool relying mostly on the support of Muslims (who form nearly 30 per cent of the electorate) to return to power for a third consecutive term, any division or dent in its Muslim vote bank will hand a huge advantage to the BJP.

That’s why Trinamool leaders have been name-calling Siddiqui and branding him, as well as Owaisi, as “BJP stooges”.

Senior Trinamool minister Firad Hakim said: “The BJP propped up a pirzada (custodian of a mazar or Sufi shrine) and gave him money. He (Siddiqui) is a BJP stooge, and an Owaisi clone. They are trying to divide Muslim votes”.

But Trinamool’s criticism has been confined largely to media statements since it finds itself in a bit of a delicate spot here. Criticising the revered pirzada (Siddiqui) or Owaisi (who has a wide fan following among Muslims, especially the youth) strongly can invite a backlash and further alienate many Muslims.

Employing the same tactics — intimidation, force and violence — against the ISF-AIMIM that the Trinamool uses against Opposition parties, primarily the BJP, can also backfire.

Hence, the Trinamool is caught in a Catch 22 situation: while a frontal attack on the Siddiqui-Owaisi combine will anger many Muslims, ignoring the threat they pose will also harm the party’s electoral prospects.

Siddiqui and Owaisi have also not ignored Trinamool's criticism. “It is well known that the Trinamool took the BJP’s help to grow in Bengal. Without the BJP’s help and support, it would never have succeeded in defeating the Left. It is the Trinamool which has facilitated the BJP’s entry into Bengal. It does not behove the Trinamool to accuse us of helping the BJP now,” said Siddiqui.

Siddiqui said he would campaign extensively in all areas having a Muslim presence to “educate the masses” on the “secret nexus” between the Trinamool and the BJP.

“The BJP won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in Bengal. We (the ISF and the AIMIM) were not in the fray then. So how did the BJP do so well then? It is the Trinamool which helped the BJP and we will expose this nexus,” said Owaisi.

Siddiqui said that Muslims of Bengal had been taken for a ride by the Trinamool. “We have been supporting Trinamool, but have got little in return. It has thus become necessary for Muslims to have their own party,” he said.

What has compounded Trinamool's woes is the rise in influence of the Tablighi Jamaat among many Muslims in Bengal.

The Jamaat leadership has close links with the AIMIM and though the Jamaat’s preachers do not get directly involved in politics, a signal from them to their followers could severely harm the Trinamool’s prospects.

Faced with such serious threats to its Muslim support base, Trinamool is banking heavily on Abbas Siddiqui’s uncle Toha Siddiqui who has pledged support to the Trinamool.

The Trinamool is also counting on the support of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, which also has some following in Bengal. The state unit head of the Jamiat, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, is a minister in the Trinamool government.

But that may not be enough to counter the ISF-AIMIM combine, especially if the two parties join hands with the Congress-Left combine to become part of the ‘third front’ in the state.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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