The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has finally found in West Bengal a prominent Muslim face in cleric-cum-politician Abbas Siddiqui to up their ante on the bogey of ‘minorityism’.
Siddiqui is a pirzada (a descendent of a pir) at one of the holiest Muslim shrines in Furfura Sharif in Hooghly. He floated his own political outfit, the Indian Secular Front (ISF) last month to take on the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the BJP.
The BJP has upped its polarisation strategy by targeting Siddiqui, ever since the cleric took centrestage at the Left Front-Congress-ISF mega rally in Kolkata on Sunday.
“What we have seen today is a design to revive the horror of the great Calcutta killing,” claimed BJP’s chief spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya at a press conference convened after the rally.
He was referring to the communal riot that broke out between Hindus and Muslims in the city on August 16,1946 that ultimately led to the partition of India.
The BJP leader reminded the media that during the killing Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was the Chief Minister of undivided Bengal, while Syed Muhammad Usman was then Mayor of Calcutta.
The reference to Suhrawardy and Usman was made to emphasise that the Congress and the Left had surrendered to communal forces like Siddiqui and Mohammed Salim. The latter is a Politburo member of the CPI (M).
“Those who see a communal design in Jai Shri Ram (slogan), have now paved the ground for a communal force in West Bengal,” Bhattacharya said. “Only time will tell in which direction they (Left-Congress) are trying to push the state. It’s now for the people to decide.”
The Left Front has stitched a pre-poll alliance with Siddiqui’s ISF agreeing to give it 30 seats. The ISF is also holding seat sharing parleys with the Congress. But a deal is yet to be finalised, as the Congress state president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury is unwilling to part with any seat to the ISF in the two minority dominated districts of Malda and Murshidabad. In the two districts, the Congress party still has pockets of influence, particularly among the minorities.
“We will not be able to give a single seat to the ISF in Malda and Murshidabad…But, there are many other districts where we can have seat negotiations,” Chowdhury said.
West Bengal’s 30 per cent (around) Muslim population can influence the outcomes of around 125 assembly seats. As such, it’s widely believed that ISF joining the Left-Congress alliance could turn the ensuing assembly elections into a triangular contest, with the TMC and the BJP being the other contenders.
The rousing welcome Siddiqui got in Sunday’s Brigade rally should certainly enthuse the Left leaders on the dais. But unwittingly, it provided the BJP the much-needed handle to raise the anti-minority card and question the communal jibe often directed at it.
“The unholy alliance has exposed the true nature of secular politics in India. The communal track record of Siddiqui is well known. He cannot hide his communal agenda by including the word secular in the name of his party,” pointed out Ali Hossain, president of BJP minority morcha.
“From the tone and tenor of Abbas Siddiqui’s speech in the rally, the Left Front’s unconditional surrender to him has become apparent,” another senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta alleged on Monday. He claimed that the alliance was steered by the cleric Siddiqui, who was the muscle behind the coalition.
“A very bleak future awaits the state if this is the secular alternative they (Left-Congress) are presenting before the people,” Dasgupta said.
The BJP social media team also chipped in to raise the pitch on the party’s anti-Siddiqui campaign. It posted a clipping from the cleric’s speech at Brigade rally on Monday, wherein he had claimed, “If need be, we will give blood to free our motherland.” The BJP equated the remark with the pre-partition slogan of ‘Ladke Lenge Pakistan’ slogan of some Muslim leaders.
The BJP is successfully using a similar strategy in neighbouring Assam, where its polarisation poll plank is centred on cleric-turned-politician Maulana Badruddin Ajmal.
The saffron brigade’s constant refrain in Assam is that if Ajmal should become the Chief Minister of the state, Muslims from Bangladesh will continue to infiltrate Assam.
Taking a cue from its Assam poll-ploy, many BJP state leaders in Bengal too now have started claiming that Sunday’s rally was a Salim-Siddiqui show, in which, the former will emerge as the chief ministerial face of the alliance and the latter as the deputy CM.
Bhattacharya even claimed that Siddiqui was propped up by the ruling TMC itself because in the event of a hung assembly, it would be able to lure him to its fold with the offer of a deputy chief ministership.
By repeatedly taking the name of Salim and Siddiqui in the same breath, the BJP is clearly trying to build a strong anti-minority narrative.
“The BJP’s anti-minority narrative gets more traction when it has an Asaduddin Owaisi or a Badruddin Ajmal to showcase as a prospective enemy. In Bengal, this element was missing until the entry of Siddiqui,” claimed political commentator and author Subir Bahumik.
He pointed out that it is this minority bogey that prevented the party from giving adequate representation to Muslims in elected bodies.
In the 2016 elections for West Bengal’s 294 assembly seats, the BJP had given tickets to only six Muslims. Similarly, out of 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, it gave tickets to only two candidates from the minority community in 2019.
The BJP minority morcha president however insisted that there was no communal intent in the party’s objection to Siddiqui’s political initiation.
“We are raising the issue only to flag the nefarious design of the alliance to divide the state on communal lines. It is now for the people of the state to recognise and identify the real secular force,” he said.
The CPI (M), however, appears undeterred by the alleged question mark on its secular credentials.
“The ISF is not a communal party. Many non-Muslims are there in the party and they will be given nominations to contest elections,” said veteran CPI (M) leader Biman Bose, a claim even the TMC brushed aside.
Instead, TMC leader Subrata Mukherjee said, “The Congress and the Left Front have joined the BJP in the list of communal political forces.”
To ward off the criticism against him, Siddiqui said his party represents all marginalised communities, including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Such clarifications are hardly a deterrent for BJP’s politics of polarisation based on building a perception – in which a three-time MP from Assam like Ajmal can easily be portrayed as a Bangladeshi.