Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is trying to divide the people of West Bengal by seeking Muslim votes, Indian Secular Front (ISF) founder Abbas Siddiqui alleged, while claiming that her ploy is helping the BJP in the ongoing assembly elections. The influential Muslim cleric, in an interview with PTI, alleged that the chief minister is inciting people to resort to violence as the writing is becoming clearer on the wall that she is losing the elections.
“Mamata Banerjee is trying to divide people by asking for Muslim votes. This is unjust. Why is she saying that Hindu and Muslim votes should not be divided? People will vote for whoever they like," Siddiqui said. “She is saying that the 30 per cent votes should not be divided, which means the BJP should aim for the 70 per cent votes. Doesn’t she need the 70 per cent votes? “Trying to create a divide among the people goes against the Constitution, against democracy," he said, referring to Banerjee’s comments at a recent election rally that prompted the Election Commission to issue her a notice.
Siddiqui also accused the TMC chief of trying to create a disquiet among the Muslims by talking about the division of their votes. “She is trying to foment trouble for Muslims by asking for their votes again and again as this will lead to disquiet in the community. Ultimately Muslims will be blamed if any such things (violence) happen," he said.
Addressing a public meeting in Tarakeswar in Hooghly district on April 3, Banerjee had urged the people not to divide the minority votes by listening to a “devil" (shaitaan), who she alleged has taken money from the BJP to make communal statements and incite violence. Siddiqui said that the chief minister should refrain from making personal attacks and seek votes with “truths".
“I know this much that Didi is herself the BJP. How much money I have been given, go and ask her, she can say well," he said, while responding to the TMC’s allegation. Siddiqui, a ‘pirzada’ of Furfura Sharif in Hooghly district, one of the holiest shrines among Bengali Muslims of the state, floated the ISF in January. He then joined hands with the Left Front and the Congress, forming the ‘Sanjukta Morcha’ or United Front.
“After polling in the first three phases, I can say that Sanjukta Morcha is ahead. We are witnessing that BJP and TMC are going down, while the alliance is going up," he said, during a campaign trail in South 24 Parganas district. West Bengal has 30 per cent Muslim population, a deciding factor in around 100-110 seats. In case of a close contest, the Left-Congress-ISF alliance will play a significant role.
Siddiqui has been addressing back-to-back rallies in support of the alliance candidates over the last few weeks, leaving no stone unturned to wield his influence in the Muslim-dominated areas in South 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hooghly, North 24 Parganas and even Kolkata — the strongholds of the Trinamool Congress in its south Bengal bastion. His rallies are seeing significant participation of young Muslim men, who wait for hours in the heat to get a glimpse of their ‘Bhaijaan’.
While the chief minister, the prime minister and the several Union ministers who are campaigning in the state grab the airtime of Bengali news channels, Siddiqui’s supporters rely on Facebook lives and YouTube streams to broadcast the speeches of their leader and reach out to the masses. His speeches, which often suddenly turn high-pitch garnering applause, are mainly focussed on attacking the “ground-level corruption" of the TMC, and the condition of women in BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh, besides the Centre’s CAA-NRC pitch.
Notwithstanding the exposition that this is a bipolar election — largely a stiff contest between the TMC and the BJP, Siddiqui exuded confidence that the Left-led alliance is forming the next government in the state. When asked if his party would support the TMC in case of a hung assembly, Siddiqui said, “There will be no need for us to support anyone. I am confident that Sanjukta Morcha will form the next government in West Bengal." Dismissing allegations that his party supporters were attacking TMC workers in pockets where ISF has gained strength, Siddiqui blamed the chief minister for trying to provoke the people to take to violence.
“Didi is asking people to come out of their houses with ‘khunti’ (spatula). What is she trying to mean by saying all these things? She is trying to create unrest among the people, provoking them to fight among themselves, to beat up the central forces, thrash the police," he said. “Polling was happening peacefully but after Didi said all these things, people got provoked. Mamata Banerjee is to be blamed. She is losing the elections and that is why she is provoking people for bloodshed in West Bengal," Siddiqui said.
ISF is contesting 26 of the 294 assembly seats as a part of the Left-led alliance. While three phases of elections have concluded, votes will be counted on May 2.