Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has come to a political understanding with the powerful West Bengal-based organisation of the Furfura Sharif, headed by the charismatic Islamist leader Abbas Siddiqui. Announcing the tie-up in Kolkata today, Asaduddin Owaisi said his party would follow the path taken by Abbas Siddiqui. “We will do whatever Abbas Siddiqui decides,” he said. The new political force adds a twist to the political situation in election-bound West Bengal in the form of the serious threat it poses to the opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), particularly the ruling Trinamool Congress.
Arriving in Kolkata on January 3 morning, Owaisi directly went for a meeting with Abbas Siddiqui, sparking off speculation of a new Muslim front in the State. “I realised that if I have to make the Majlis flag strong, I have to pay obeisance to the Furfura Sharif. Abbas Siddiqui is the guiding light of the Furfura Sharif,” said Owaisi. With the BJP poised to give a strong challenge to the Trinamool, and a likely polarisation of votes on communal lines, it will be vital for the ruling party to hold on to the Muslim votes that have so far remained firmly behind it. If Owaisi’s announcement in 2019 that his party would contest the Assembly election in West Bengal was a cause for concern for the Trinamool Congress, his tie-up with Siddiqui is far more worrisome. While Siddiqui’s strong following in the Muslim community is well known, it will come as a surprise to many that of late his rallies have been drawing more crowds than even the Trinamool’s in certain places. Interestingly, of the five constituencies that the AIMIM won in the recently concluded Assembly election in Bihar, four are bordering West Bengal.
According to Biswanath Chakraborty, a well-known political observer, an understanding between the AIMIM and Abbas Siddiqui does not bode well for the Trinamool. “Trinamool is now largely dependent on securing the minority vote to stave off the BJP’s strong challenge. Any division of minority votes will be fatal for the ruling party. The AIMIM has the financial resources, and if it combines with a powerful local leader like Abbas Siddiqui they may well emerge as a very strong force in the coming Assembly election,” Chakraborty told Frontline .
The contrasting reactions to the development can be an indicator of the changing political equations in the State. While both the Trinamool and the Congress (which has entered into a political understanding with the Left for the coming election in the State) have attacked Owaisi as an “agent of the BJP”, the BJP has shown little concern over the news. Senior Trinamool leader and Lok Sabha MP Sougata Roy said, “Perhaps he [Owaisi] has realised that he will not be able to make any impact in Bengal, as there are less Urdu-speaking Muslims here, so he is in talks with the relatives of the Furfura Pir. But I do not think it will be of any benefit. People understand that Owaisi does the role of dividing the anti-BJP votes. He takes directions from Amit Shah, so supporting him means practically supporting the BJP. The Muslims of Bengal are well and safe under the leadership of Mamata Banerjee…. I am certain the Muslims of Bengal will not support the divisive politics of Owaisi.” Even if the AIMIM does not have much influence on the Bengali-speaking Muslims of the State, Abbas Siddiqui definitely does.
Even though the ruling party has every reason to be worried, it has been putting up a brave front. Senior Trinamool leader Om Prakash Mishra told Frontline , “Any attempt to cut into the democratic and progressive vote prospects of the Trinamool will be viewed unfavourably by the masses of Bengal. At best the AIMIM and Siddiqui tie-up is a nuisance, at worst it is a botheration. I would not even call it a threat.” According to senior Congress leader Manoj Chakraborty, Owaisi is a “BJP agent who is trying to confuse Muslims”.
The BJP’s attitude, on the other hand, has been nonchalant. State party president and Lok Sabha MP Dilip Ghosh said, “BJP has no worries…. Those who indulge in politics of appeasement, who thought the Muslim vote their own private property, they are the ones who are feeling threatened today. Anybody can contest elections anywhere.”