New Delhi: The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TMC) is likely to face a fierce challenger in the run-up to the 2021 Assembly elections, slated for May next year, from a community that she has enjoyed support from since the 2011 Assembly elections, which brought her to power for the first time.
Abbas Siddiqui, a Pirzada (religious leader) from the Furfura Sharif of Bengal’s Hooghly district, a powerful shrine which has a hold over almost 90 Assembly seats in the state, is likely to launch his own political party soon and take on the Mamata Banerjee government and the TMC in the 2021 Assembly elections.
Abbas Siddiqui spoke to The Sunday Guardian exclusively and explained why he decided to launch his own political outfit and be a challenger to Banerjee, whom he and his shrine supported until the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Siddiqui said, “Mamata Banerjee has become a habitual liar. She had promised a lot of developmental work for the poor and minority community of the state, but over the last 10 years, what she has done is only enjoyed their support and has done nothing for them. She just lies that she has done so much for the minority community. Come to Bengal and see how the minority community is living in this state. She makes big announcements, but on the ground nothing happens. She has even stopped recruitment in the madrasas. We will launch our own party and fight for the rights of the Muslims, the poor, the adivasis and the Matua community in the state.”
Siddiqui also accused Mamata Banerjee of destroying the communal harmony in the state. He said, “She has broken the fabric of brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims that existed in Bengal, by starting the Imam bhata (a state fee that is paid by the Bengal government to all the Imams in the state) of a mere Rs 2,500. If she had to help them, she could have done something else.”
Bengal has at least 30% minority population, who largely follow either the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (which conforms to the Deobandi ideology) or Furfura Sharif.
While followers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind are found mostly in Kolkata, Howrah, and the two Dinajpur districts in north Bengal, Furfura Sharif holds sway in south Bengal—in districts such as Hooghly, Burdwan, Murshidabad, Malda and North and South 24 Parganas, which account for 120 of the 294 Assembly seats. The followers of Furfura Sharif vastly outnumber those influenced by the Jamiat, and the shrine has a huge mass base and influence among the minority community. Furfura Sharif sometimes is believed to be the last word on the way the minorities vote in the state.
The Abbas Siddiqui-led new political outfit is likely to contest elections in at least 44 Assembly seats in the upcoming elections. According to Siddiqui, he has already started the work of registering a new political party with the Election Commission and once the formality is completed, he will hold a press conference to announce the name of his party and the election symbol.
Mamata Banerjee, who had until now enjoyed the blessings of Furfura Sharif, is unhappy that Siddiqui is participating in the electoral battle. She fears that if Siddiqui and his new party enter the fray, the prospects of the TMC, which is banking heavily on minority votes, will be dented.
Banerjee invited Abbas Siddiqui’s uncle, Toha Siddiqui, earlier in the week for a meeting. But that meeting seemed to have been inconclusive as Abbas Siddiqui told this correspondent that he was determined to contest the elections with his new political outfit and he and the minority community of Bengal would not fall into the “trap” of Mamata Banerjee again.
“We are determined to contest the elections in 2021. We have maintained our demand of 44 seats from the very first day, but Mamata Banerjee is not ready to give us 44 seats. We have told her that we will not go anywhere below 44 seats and if she wants to win, she should not put up candidates in those 44 seats and we will support the TMC in the remaining 250 seats and form government together. But she is saying no to this. She wants everything from us, but does not want to give us anything, we will not tolerate this. We are not beggars that we will go begging to her; now if she wants, she should come to us,” Siddiqui told The Sunday Guardian.
Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, has accused Siddiqui and his supporters of working in tandem with the BJP to divide the minority vote and hurt the TMC’s prospects in the Assembly elections.
To this, Siddiqui said, “The TMC is saying all these things to dissuade the people of Bengal. In the name of the BJP, what she is trying to do is garner sympathy from the people and benefit only herself. People of Bengal are not fools. If she wants to really fight the BJP in Bengal, she should come in an alliance with us and fight the elections, but she is not ready for that. Moreover, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, how did BJP win 18 seats from Bengal? We did not fight then.”
Siddiqui is also in talks with other political parties in the state to formalise an alliance and according to him, many political parties have approached him. He is also in talks with the Asaduddin Owasi-led AIMIM, the Left and also the Congress and soon an alliance between these parties could be formalised and announced.