Rift in Congress over Bengal alliance with Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF

Congress's Anand Sharma said the tie-up with ISF is against "Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism"

Congress-ISF
A third contender this time in Left-Congress alliance in West Bengal is ISF of Abbas Siddiqui | File Photo

The Congress’s joining hands with the Indian Secular Front (ISF), led by influential Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui, for the upcoming West Bengal assembly elections, has prompted a strong reaction from senior party leader Anand Sharma.

The Congress and Left have been in alliance in the state since 2016. A third contender this time is ISF of Abbas Siddiqui, also called ‘Bhaijaan’ by his supporters. Siddiqui is a cleric of the iconic Furfura Shareef shrine in Bengal’s Hooghly district.

Sharma, a former Union minister, has called the tie-up with ISF against the “Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism” and the party cannot be selective in fighting the “communalists.”

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Sharma, who was among the 23 leaders who had written to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for an organisational overhaul, said the issue of “alliance” with a radical party like the ISF should have been discussed and approved by the Congress Working Committee (CWC).

“Congress’s alliance with parties like ISF and other such forces militates against the core ideology of the party and Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism, which forms the soul of the party. These issues need to be approved by the CWC,” he tweeted on Monday.

He also sought clarification from West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury for attending a joint Brigade rally in Kolkata where ISF leaders were present, alleging that his presence and endorsement was “painful and shameful”.

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He said the “Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement by West Bengal PCC President is painful and shameful, he must clarify.”

Retorted Chowdhury, the face of Congress in Bengal, in a Twitter thread carrying headlined, “Know your facts, Anand Sharma ji”.

He said he’d urge a group of Congress leaders to stop wasting time by singing praises of the PM, possibly referring to Ghulam Nabi Azad, who had said he was “proud” of leaders like Modi. Both Sharma and Azad are among the dissidents’ group known an ‘G-23’.

In his tweets, Chowdhury said CPI(M)-led Left Front is leading the secular alliance in West Bengal of which Congress is an integral part. “We are determined to defeat BJP’s communal and divisive politics and an autocratic regime,” he added.

Chowdhury clarified that Congress has got its full share of seats and that the Left Front is allocating seats from its share to the ISF. “Ur choice to call the decision of CPM led front ‘communal’ is only serving the polarising agenda of BJP [sic],” he said.

“Those who are committed to fight against #BJP parties venomous communalism should support the Congress & campaign for the party in five states rather than attempting to undermine the party by remarks in tune with BJP’s agenda [sic],” said the leader.

“Would urge a select group of distinguished Congressmen to rise above always seeking personal comfort spots & stop wasting time singing praises of PM. They owe a duty to strengthen the Party & not undermine the tree that nurtured them [sic],” he added.

He has also said that the Pradesh Congress Committee has not taken any decision of its own. He said, “Any decision in this regard has been taken jointly in consultation with the party leadership.”

The CWC is the highest decision-making body of the party. Sharma is a CWC member and the deputy leader of the Congress in Rajya Sabha.

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The Congress is contesting the West Bengal elections in alliance with the Left and ISF but is fighting the CPI-M in Kerala as the principal opposition party. Leaders of the Left, Congress and the ISF addressed a joint rally in Kolkata on Sunday. Siddiqui was also present.

Interestingly, Siddiqui had on Sunday issued a veiled threat to the Congress, cautioning the grand old party over the ongoing seat-sharing talks, asking it to arrive at a decision soon. A day later, he alleged a senior Congress leader is in touch with the Trinamool Congress and the BJP, and might switch over to one of the camps depending on the election results.

“Yesterday, if my words have hurt (PCC president) Adhir Chowdhury, then I apologise. But, I have information that a senior Congress leader is in touch with the TMC and the BJP, and could switch sides in case of a hung assembly. We want Congress to say clearly whether they want the alliance or not. We can’t wait till eternity,” said Siddiqui on Monday.

(With inputs from agencies)

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