Congress Divided Over Alliance With Muslim Cleric's Outfit In Bengal

West Bengal Assembly Election 2021: Abbas Siddique's presence at a Left-Congress rally that set off a fresh round of internal wrangling in the Congress.

West Bengal Assembly Election 2021: Abbas Siddique is the chief of ISF (Indian Secular Front).

Highlights

  • ISF chief Abbas Siddique is known to be a big crowd-puller
  • His presence at a Congress rally set off a round of internal wrangling
  • Siddique has not exactly been circumspect in statements on Congress
Kolkata:

A young preacher and his fledgling party are at the centre of a rift within the Congress in Bengal, where elections will take place from March-end.

ISF (Indian Secular Front) chief Abbas Siddique, who is popular as "Bhaijaan" among his supporters, is from the Furfura Sharif shrine in Hooghly district, around 50 km from Kolkata. He is a Pirzada of the shrine, the second most revered for Muslims after Ajmer Sharif. He is known to be a big crowd-puller.

It was his presence at a Left-Congress rally that set off a fresh round of internal wrangling in the Congress.

Anand Sharma questioned what Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was doing on the stage with the ISF chief. "Congress's alliance with the ISF and similar parties goes against its core ideology, and the secularism advocated by Gandhi and Nehru, which is the soul of the Congress. These issues should have been discussed by the Congress Working Committee (CWC)," Anand Sharma tweeted.

"In the fight against communalism, the Congress cannot be selective. We must fight against communalism in all forms. The West Bengal Congress chief's presence and support is shameful, he has to explain his stand," he added.

Mr Chowdhury hit back at his party colleague, asserting that he would not take any step without his leadership's sanction.

On Sunday, Mr Chowdhury looked distinctly upset when his speech was interrupted at a Left-Congress rally in Kolkata by the arrival of Siddique to loud cheers. The Bengal Congress chief stopped his speech.

CPM leader Md Salim appeared to suggest that Siddique should address the crowd. Looking annoyed, Mr Chowdhury walked off. Another Left leader, Biman Bose, then stepped in and urged the Congress leader to resume his speech.

Since then, Mr Chowdhury has clarified repeatedly that the episode was misunderstood. "I stopped speaking because the crowd was very excited to see Abbas. I waited till they fell a little silent and spoke again. Vested interests are twisting the episode," he said.

Siddique has not exactly been circumspect in his statements on the Congress. Yesterday, he told a local channel that he had been told some Congress leader was in touch with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee and would eventually back whoever won, with a chunk of Congress MLAs. This has been rubbished by the Congress.

In an attempt to pacify the Congress, Biman Bose said Siddique had spoken out of turn and would not repeat such comments.

The BJP calls the Left and Congress's alliance with Siddique "surrender". The Trinamool has also targeted both parties, saying they can no longer claim secular credentials.

The Left insists that Siddique and his outfit are not communal. 

Siddique comes from the Sufi stock of the Qureishi sect and is therefore moderate, according to the Left.

Many within the Left are reportedly uncomfortable about the tie-up, but the leadership reportedly wants to capitalise on his pull.

As for the Congress, there are fissures even in Bengal on IFS. Abdul Mannan, Congress MLA and leader of opposition in Bengal, was the first to propose a tie-up to party chief Sonia Gandhi in a letter in January. 

Mr Chowdhury was  reportedly unhappy because IFS had approached the Left for an alliance and the Congress, much later.

Siddique has also been ambiguous about the AIMIM. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi had flown to Kolkata on January 3, met him at Furfura Sharif and offered to jointly fight the Bengal polls. Since then, AIMIM has somewhat fallen off the radar.

But on Friday in an interview to NDTV, he said he would like all sides, including the AIMIM, to fight together to defeat Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress and the BJP.