Supporters of Left Front, Congress and Indian Secular Front (ISF) at a joint rally, ahead of West Bengal assembly polls, at Brigade Parade Ground, in Kolkata on Sunday. (PTI)
Supporters of Left Front, Congress and Indian Secular Front (ISF) at a joint rally, ahead of West Bengal assembly polls, at Brigade Parade Ground, in Kolkata on Sunday. (PTI)

Congress divided over alliance with cleric Siddiqui in Bengal

  • Deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, accused the party’s Bengal president and Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdury of diluting the party’s core ideology and the secularism by allying with Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF).
PUBLISHED ON MAR 01, 2021 11:04 PM IST

Serious differences appeared in the Congress on Monday over having an electoral alliance with Bengal cleric Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s Indian Secular Front (ISF) in the upcoming assembly election while the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its adversary, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), accused the Congress and the Left parties of playing communal politics by wooing the cleric as an ally.

In a significant development, deputy leader of the Congress in the Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, accused the party’s Bengal president and Lok Sabha member Adhir Ranjan Chowdury of diluting the party’s core ideology and the secularism that Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru endorsed.

“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 in the evening.

“Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement West Bengal PCC President is painful and shameful, he must clarify,” Sharma said in the second tweet, indirectly referring to Chowdhury’s presence at the CPI(M)’s mega rally at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds on Sunday when Siddiqui delivered a speech.

Meanwhile, the sixth round of seat-sharing talks between the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), hit a wall in Kolkata with Chowdury declaring that his party cannot spare any seat for the ISF in Murshidabad and Malda, the districts having maximum Muslim population in Bengal and where the ISF wants to contest several seats.

"We are in charge of a state and don't take any decision on our own without any permission," ANI quoted Chowdhury as saying.

“We wanted to contest 130 out of the state’s 294 seats and sat with the Left parties with a formula based on the 2016 poll results. We decided that the Congress and the Left parties would contest the seats they won and the ones where they came second in 2016. There was no other party in the picture when our talks started. They (ISF) came later and now the Congress has been allotted only 92 seats. How can we spare seats for others? Let the talks continue. We hope to reach a conclusion,” Chowdhury said at the party office.

Despite the imbroglio in the seat-sharing talks, Biman Bose, Left Front chairman and senior leader of the CPI(M) which has already spared 30 seats for the ISF, held out hope of sorting things out.

“We hope the seat-sharing will work out in the next few days,” he said.

But another senior Marxist leader who did not wish to be named warned that the Congress’ rigidity could jeopardize the alliance.

“If the Congress does not spare seats for the ISF the future of the third front may be jeopardized,” he said.

“We still hope that the seat sharing will work out. Chowdhury has not officially communicated anything to us yet. We are not in this contest for our political gains. We represent all secular forces, the Dalits, the backward classes and the tribal people,” ISF president and Abbasuddin Siddiqui’s elder brother Nausad Siddiqui told HT on Monday night.

In his speech on Sunday, Abbasuddin Siddiqui said he will not appease the Congress.

“Our people will support Left Front candidates in every seat they contest. The Left Front has allowed us to contest around 30 seats. You might be thinking why I did not name the Congress. I want to make it clear that we will not appease anyone. We have come as partners. If anyone offers us the hand of friendship we will accept it,” Siddiqui said at the rally.

Chowdhury’s strong reservations about Siddiqui became public at the rally.

He stopped his speech when Siddiqui arrived on the dais in the middle of the event and people cheered to greet him. Chowdhury could be heard (over the public address system) telling Biman Bose and CPI(M) politburo member Md Salim that he would end his speech but they persuaded him to continue.

“The ISF leader should have been more careful and patient,” Bose said on Monday.

“Bose is the state’s most senior politician. We will follow his advice,” said Nausad Siddiqui.

Both the Congress and CPI (M) also came under attack from the BJP and the TMC for their ties with the ISF.

“The rally made it clear that Abbasuddin Siddiqui is dictating terms to the Congress. How can a party which calls itself secular be led by a religious leader,” said BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Swapan Dasgupta, taking a potshot at Chowdhury.

“The CPI(M) and the Congress have both put into question their secular credentials,” said senior TMC leader and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee.

But Bose rubbished the allegations that the Marxists have joined hands with a religious leader with an eye on the elections.

“Abbasuddin Siddiqui may be a religious leader but ISF is a secular front. He will not field only Muslims. Members of the tribal community and backward classes will also contest for the ISF," Bose said.

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