Congress spares 3 seats for cleric Siddiqui’s ISF, Adhir Chowdhury skips meet
- Serious differences have appeared in the Congress over having an electoral alliance with the ISF. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have also accused the Congress and the Left parties of playing communal politics by having the cleric as an ally.
Amid strong differences over sharing seats with cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF) in the Bengal assembly polls, the Congress on Tuesday spared three seats for the new outfit but the party’s state president Adhir Chowdhury skipped the discussion held at the state headquarters of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M).
The Congress agreed to spare three south Bengal seats for the ISF which now wants to negotiate for some more seats in the north Bengal region. The Left Front partners have already given up 30 seats for the ISF. The Bengal assembly has 294 seats of which 92 have been marked for the Congress so far. The CPI (M) and other Left parties have not declared the number of seats they will contest.
On Tuesday, leader of the opposition in the Bengal assembly, Mannan and Rajya Sabha member Pradip Bhattacharya represented the Congress and held talks with ISF president and the cleric’s elder brother Nausad Siddiqui, Left Front chairman and senior CPI (M) leader Biman Bose and CPI (M) politburo member Md Salim, who is a driving force behind the third front coalition.
“So far we have decided to spare three seats for the ISF. We will have more discussions,” Mannan said without going into details.
“We have wrapped up the talks on seat sharing in south Bengal. We will now take up the north Bengal districts,” Nausad Siddiqui said after the meeting.
Serious differences have appeared in the Congress over having an electoral alliance with the ISF. The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have also accused the Congress and the Left parties of playing communal politics by having the cleric as an ally.
Anand Sharma, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, on Monday accused Chowdhury of diluting the party’s core ideology.
“Congress’ 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,” Sharma tweeted.
“Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement of West Bengal PCC president is painful and shameful, he must clarify,” Sharma wrote, indirectly referring to Chowdhury’s presence at the CPI(M)’s mega rally on Sunday at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds where Siddiqui delivered a speech.
Chowdhury’s reactions at the rally drew media attention. He stopped his speech when Siddiqui arrived on the dais and people cheered to greet him. Chowdhury could be heard (over the public address system) telling Left Front chairman Biman Bose and Md Salim that he would end his speech but they persuaded him to continue. An apparently annoyed Chowdhury was even heard telling Siddiqui, “You may speak.”
The ISF started talks with the CPI (M) last month with a demand for 72 seats, including quite a few in Murshidabad and Malda districts that have the highest Muslim populations in Bengal. Since the Congress has a strong base in Malda and Murshidabad, Chowdhury squarely refused to give up any seat in these districts. Chowdhury has won the Berhampore Lok Sabha seat in Murshidabad seven times since 1999.
Formation of the ISF was formally announced on January 21 this year. Although Siddiqui never participated in politics earlier, he approached the CPI (M) and Congress to become his allies against the TMC and the BJP.
Significantly, neither Chowdhury, nor any leader of the Left Front held any seat-sharing discussions directly with Siddiqui. They held bilateral meetings with CPI (M) leaders. The only Congress leader who directly talked to Siddiqui is Mannan who proposed to Sonia Gandhi more than a month ago that having ISF as an ally would help the Congress.