AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi made the announcement after visiting the pirzada from Furfura Sharif, in his first trip to the state following his announcement that the party would contest the Bengal assembly elections this year.
Muslims in Bengal largely follow either of two religious institutions — the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind that follows the Deoband school of thought and Furfura Sharif. Furfura Sharif holds sway in South Bengal, in districts such as Hooghly, Howrah and South 24 Parganas, particularly in areas where the BJP is slightly weaker and building its organisation. Siddiqui for the last few months has been holding anti-TMC congregations, asking Muslims to vote out the party for not doing enough for the community.
“Our party president will then decide the final course of action, but it is clear that if we contest together, we will give a fight in at least 150 seats,” AIMIM state in-charge Syed Zameerul Hasan told ET on the tip-up with Siddiqui. The party is still building its organisation in all districts and ensuring there are 25 of its members in every booth, he said. There are 78,000 booths in the state.
Owaisi’s visit to Hooghly was sudden and kept under wraps to avoid attention of the TMC, the government of which had imprisoned many AIMIM members for taking part in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, a party member said.
While the Owaisi-led party has not started its public campaign, it has been quietly contacting Muslims in the state for a year, carrying out programmes in various districts. According to Hassan, while Sidiqui’s influence will work in around four districts, the AIMIM already has its workers in place in Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar and Dakshin Dinajpur and Cooch Behar.
Owaisi also met relatives of Siddiqui such as Pirzada Naushad Siddiqui, Prizada Baijid Amin and Sabbir Gaffar. Political observers pointed out that while Furfura Sharif had a history of influencing election results, none of its religious leaders had joined electoral politics till now, and some of Sidiqqui’s own family members were opposed to his aspirations. Apart from justice for Muslims, Siddiqui has been asking for a liquor ban, death sentence for rapists and freeing of Muslim properties from government control.
Furfura Sharif leaders who had been close to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) after independence had moved away from the party citing the Sachar committee reports of 2006, which revealed the state of Muslims was the worst in West Bengal. In 2011, the Sharif leaders had swayed the community’s support for the TMC. Till recently, they were also in talks with chief minister Mamata Banerjee to give at least 50 seats to them, a condition that was not accepted by the TMC. The AIMIM, ET has learnt, was in talks with the CPM, but did not want to enter any alliance that had the Congress party in it.
Political observers said the move will have an adverse impact on Trinamool Congress’ minority vote bank. But the party has refuted such speculations.
TMC Canning MLA Soukat Mollah, among the party’s most prominent Muslim faces who has in the past heckled and publicly spoken against Siddiqui, said the community was firmly behind Banerjee. “Everyone is aware that what the Hyderabad party is doing will help the BJP. Muslims in Bengal are grateful to the TMC for ensuring their safety from riots, from the BJP,” he said, adding that the crowds in Siddiqui’s rallies came only because they were “religious rallies”.
“Even those who attend them will vote for the TMC. They are forced to depend on each other because most of MIM joined the TMC recently,” Mollah said.
Political analyst Bishwanath Chakraborty said as identity politics became more apparent in the state with the BJP’s high-decibel campaign on Hindu issues, it was very much likely that some Muslims might want to vote on religious lines, and that Bengali-speaking Siddiqui would also counter the criticism of the MIM being an outsider, Urdu-speaking party. “Recent issues such as the CAA and NRC made these fault lines very clear,” he said.
This would mean a headache for the TMC. “Even a dip of 5% in the community’s support would land the party in trouble,” he said. “Till now, the CM had to worry only about the Hindu consolidation because of the BJP, but now she also has to address a possible split in her own vote bank.”