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Assaduddin Owaisi Discusses West Bengal Assembly Poll Tie-up with Influential Bengali Muslim Cleric

File photo of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. (PTI)

File photo of AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi. (PTI)

This was Owaisi's first visit to West Bengal following his announcement that his party would contest elections in the state with a strength following its stupendous performance in the assembly polls in neighbouring Bihar.

AIMIM chief Assaduddin Owaisi met an influential Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui here on Sunday to discuss possibility of an alliance for the upcoming West Bengal assembly polls and accused the ruling TMC of failing to stop the BJP's surge in the state. Talking to reporters after a two-hour meeting with Siddiqui at Furfara Sharif in Hooghly district, Owaisi refrained from launching any tirade against the saffron party.

This was Owaisi's first visit to West Bengal following his announcement that his party would contest elections in the state with a strength following its stupendous performance in the assembly polls in neighbouring Bihar. Owaisi, during his whirlwind five-hour-long tour of Bengal, rejected TrinamooL Congress claim that his party was a "B-team of the BJP", and would eat into anti-saffron camp votes.

"We are a political party, we will establish our presence and fight the elections (in West Bengal)," the Hyderabad MP, who heads All India Majli-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), said. Later, while talking to a news channel, he said his party was yet to decide if it would contest the Bengal elections on its own or forge an alliance with another outfit.

However, the AIMIM chief stressed that he has the support of "Peerzada" Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif -- a much-revered shrine in Bengal's Hooghly district. Rubbishing the TMC's claim that the AIMIM helped the BJP-led NDA win the Bihar assembly elections, he said the TMC should first go for a self-introspection.

AIMIM won five seats in the Muslims dominated Seemanchal region in Bihar in the recent elections to the disadvantage of RJD-headed Grand Alliance which along with the Congress was confident of winning Muslims vote. In the end, loss of even a handful of sureshot seats caused the Grand Alliance dearly as it missed the opportunity to form its government in Bihar with a smaller margin.

"The TMC should introspect and find out what worked in BJP's favour during Lok Sabha elections. The party should analyse why its members are leaving," Owaisi said. BJP had won 18 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal in 2019 general elections, only four less than the TMC's tally of 22.

Since then the saffron camp is making all efforts to dethrone Mamata Banerjee by winning the state elections only months away from now. Asked about the issues that he would highlight during his election campaigns in Bengal, Owaisi said "underdevelopment and political empowerment of weaker sections" would be his party's two major poll planks.

Earlier, Owaisi had decided to hold a virtual meeting with Siddiqui, but he changed his mind at the eleventh hour and flew down to Bengal to visit him. "Owaisi wanted to keep the meeting a secret as we were apprehensive that the TMC government would stop him from exiting the airport. From Kolkata airport, he went straight to Hooghly to meet Abbas Siddiqui," AIMIM state secretary Zameerul Hassan said.

According to Hassan, Owaisi would more often visit Bengal as part of poll preparations and campaign. Siddiqui, a pirzada (religious leader) from Furfura Sharif, has been speaking out against the state government over a host of issues, of late.

According to the sources, he is planning to float a minority outfit of his own. Owaisi discussed a possible seat-sharing deal with Siddiqui, sources said.

The AIMIM chief's visit to Furfura Sharif, however, evoked sharp reactions from the ruling TMC. "The AIMIM is nothing but a proxy of the BJP. Owaisi is well aware that Muslims here are mostly Bengali-speaking, and won't support him. He is trying to forge ties with Abbas Siddiqui, but that won't yield any result.

"Muslims in Bengal stand firmly with Mamata Banerjee," senior TMC leader and party MP Sougata Roy asserted. Congress MP and leader Pradip Bhattacharya, accused the Owaisi-led party of being a "communal force deputed by BJP" to act as "vote splitter" in the polls.

The BJP, for whom the division of Muslims votes is vital to winning the elections, denied the charge of AIMIM being its B-team. "We don't need a B-team or a C-team to win Bengal. We will win the state assembly polls on our strength by bagging more than 200 seats," BJP leader Rahul Sinha said.

A deciding factor in nearly 100-110 seats in the state, minorities primarily Muslims have acted as a bulwark of the TMC against its rivals till 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The political parties in West Bengal are apprehensive that political equations in the polarised state are set to witness significant changes as the sway of non-BJP parties over minorities appears set for a stiff challenge with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) entry, prominent Muslim leaders in the state claimed.

According to a senior leader in the Hyderabad-based party, Owaisi has seen in West Bengal a fertile ground for his expansion plans, as Muslims constitute around 30 per cent of the state's population. Of the 30 per cent, however, at least 24 per cent are Bengali-speaking Muslims.

Elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly are likely to be held in April-May.


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