Eyes on Bengal polls, Owaisi seeks help from anti-TMC leader Abbas Siddiqui

Making his first significant move to emerge as a threat to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the assembly polls due in West Bengal a few months, Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) on Sunday met a popular young Muslim leader, who, in recent months, has emerged as the most vocal critic of the ruling party.

On a tour of the state for a day, Owaisi drove down to Hooghly district in the morning to meet Abbasuddin Siddiqui, the young scion of the Siddiqui family which is the custodian of the famous Furfura Sharif shrine, one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in Bengal.

After a two-hour meeting, Owaisi said Siddiqui will decide how the AIMIM will contest the polls while he will stay behind the young leader. Though Siddiqui kept his cards close to his chest, saying he will announce his next move later, the news of the meeting triggered reaction among Muslim leaders and TMC ministers. They alleged that Owaisi’s sole intention is to split Muslim votes and help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has set the target of winning more than 200 of the state’s 294 assembly seats.

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Abbas Siddiqui, in recent months, has accused the TMC of not doing enough for the minority community and using it as a vote bank instead.

Significantly, other members of the Siddiqui family, especially Toha Siddiqui, the most prominent among the elders and whose support helped the CPI(M) and TMC in the past, maintained silence on Owaisi’s visit. But Toha Siddiqui made it clear that he will not support any move that will help the BJP. “Hindus comprise 70 per cent of the state’s population. If they wanted to, the BJP could have come to power long ago. We will not do anything to let our Hindu brothers down,” he said.

Furfura Sharif is built around the mausoleum of Pir Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It also has a mosque built in 1375. Furfura Sharif draws millions from across the country during the Urs festival and the annual fair dedicated to the Pir.

“The AIMIM will stand behind Abbas Siddiqui. We will work with him and strengthen his cause. I have decided to leave all decisions to Siddiqui. I am confident that our performance will be comparable to what we achieved in Bihar. Only the minority vote is not our target. We want to fight for tribal people and other backward classes as well. If anyone can stop the BJP, it is Siddiqui,” Owaisi told the media after the meeting.

Bengal’s Muslim population stood at 27.01 per cent during the 2011 census and is projected to have increased to around 30 per cent now.

The Muslim population is concentrated mainly in Murshidabad (66.28 per cent), Malda (51.27 per cent), North Dinajpur (49.92 per cent), South 24 Parganas (35.57 per cent), and Birbhum (37.06 per cent) districts. In Darjeeling, Purulia, and Bankura, where the BJP won Lok Sabha seats last year, Muslims account for less than 10 per cent of the population.

Most of the new branches of the AIMIM are located in Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur, while Siddiqui’s followers are spread across southern Bengal.

Swing in Muslim votes can influence poll results in more than 100 seats, according to surveys by the BJP and election strategist Prashant Kishor’s I-Pac. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee roped in Kishore for the 2021 poll preparations after the BJP won 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in 2019.

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Siddiqullah Chowdhury, a minister in the TMC government and leader of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, the most prominent Muslim organisation in Bengal, told HT that Owaisi has no place in the state’s politics.

“AIMIM does not belong to Bengal. These are tactics to create divisions among Muslims but it will not work. Moreover, where was Abbas Siddiqui when thousands of Muslims were killed in political skirmishes during the Left rule? I am sure the other members of the Siddiqui family will not support Abbas,” said Chowdhury.

Urban development minister Firhad Hakim said, “Neither Siddiqui nor AIMIM can rule Bengal. They can only help the BJP. We saw it happen in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.”

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a rally, BJP state president Dilip Ghosh said, “Owaisi can go to any party or contest polls anywhere. The BJP is not concerned. The TMC is worried because it treats the Muslim vote bank as its property. If the TMC really worked for the welfare of Muslims why should it be worried?”

Owaisi reiterated that he or his party have nothing to do with the BJP.

“AIMIM did not contest the Lok Sabha polls and yet the BJP won 18 seats. How did that happen? Mamata Banerjee cannot even manage her own party. Her MLAs and MPs are joining the BJP every day. Our aim is to stop the BJP,” said Owaisi.

In the Muslim-dominated Murshidabad district, Manoj Chakraborty, the three-time Congress legislator from Berhampore said, “Owaisi is an agent of the BJP. His only job is to split Muslim votes.”

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