A Muslim religious leader took the plunge into West Bengal politics for the first time Thursday as Abbas Siddiqui, the influential 34-year-old cleric of the state’s most prominent shrine, Furfura Sharif, launched his own outfit, the Indian Secular Front.
Siddiqui’s ISF includes at least 10 more small tribal and Dalit groups from several districts of Bengal, and has tied up with Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM to contest at least 70 of the state’s 294 seats in this year’s assembly elections, a number he said could go up if his partners agree.
“We, the Muslims of West Bengal, misjudged Mamata Banerjee. We trusted her and supported her, but now we feel deceived. Our party will fight for the deceived, deprived and downtrodden people of Bengal,” said Siddiqui.
Siddiqui’s decision is significant, because it could create disruption in what’s shaping up to be a two-horse race between the Trinamool and the BJP.
But Trinamool leaders say no party with a special religious identity can survive in West Bengal. Idris Ali, chairman of the All Indian Minority Forum and senior Trinamool leader, said: “Muslims of Bengal will not forget what Mamata Banerjee did for them. I have nothing to say against Furfura Sharif as I am a disciple. But we believe that Muslims will stand like a rock with Didi in her fight against the BJP.”
Political observers say the ISF’s alliance with AIMIM might not win seats on its own, could cut into Trinamool’s minority vote-bank to an extent, thus impacting the elections. But when Siddiqui was asked about the allegation of being the ‘B’ team of the BJP, he rebuffed the idea strongly.
“BJP is harmful for the country, and we are against them. But BJP won 18 seats (in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls). We did not exist then. So what did Trinamool do to stop them?”