The controversial cleric, who had been condemned by the TMC for making offensive remarks against the party, was approached by TMC leaders for a possible tie-up. However, TMC rejected the cleric’s condition that 44 seats be given to candidates of his choice, he said.
“But we have received favourable replies from Adhir saab (Congress). Even the Left, although they have damaged us in the past, is welcome…We don’t want the votes to split. We need at least 10-20% Hindu votes in every seat. We are reaching out to social organisations of Dalits, Matuas, STs and Christians. In places such as Ausgram and Madhyamgram, we are promoting Dalits and ST candidates,” he said.
Among the prominent anti-CAA faces, Siddiqui has now softened his position. “I am forging an alliance with the Matuas and tribals, apart from my Muslim brothers. I feel the pain of the Matuas and want them to be given citizenship without any conditions –– like showing papers,” he told ET.
In the last six months, he has held over 1,000 events and rallies, speaking against the TMC. Many attracted good crowds that forced several parties to reach out to him. Apart from south Bengal, which is his area of influence, he plans to strengthen support in Murshidabad, Malda, Uttar Dinajpur and some areas in North Bengal, and would start his new phase of campaigning with a rally in Murshidabad by mid-January. Siddiqui has also reached out to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha for support in areas of the State bordering Jharkhand.
Siddiqui, known for his controversial remarks, had called TMC MP Nusrat Jahan “shameless” for going to a temple and even threatened violence against her. He had also criticised the TMC for sending “celebrities” and actors who were “useless” to Parliament. He had called Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim “a betrayer of Muslims” for celebrating Shivratri in a Shiva temple amid Sanskrit chants.
He defends his statements staunchly even now. “Idol worship or moortipujan is not allowed in Islam. Be it Nusrat Jahan or Firhad Hakim, how can they call themselves Muslims when they openly go to temples or celebrate Hindu festivals. They should make it clear they are not Muslims. You cannot misuse my religion for your politics,” he said.
On West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, he says she “dons a head scarf only to pretend to support the Muslims”.
“She promised us that Furfure Sharif will get train facilities, that she will make this an international pilgrim destination, and build 10,000 madrasas…Nothing happened. Only the lights work, and that too for three days a year when we have our annual event. The CM gives an impression that she is pro-Muslim but in reality she has done nothing for our development, and harassed anyone who called her bluff,” Siddiqui said.
“She made it seem like the stipend she announced for our Imams came from the government while it was from our own Waqf properties’ incomes. That cannot be compared to how much she has spent on Durga puja pandals or salaries for Hindu priests,” he added.
MUSLIM POCKETS OF INFLUENCE
The Markaz controls 1,200 educational institutions across East India, and has pockets of influence in Assam, Tripura and Meghalaya. The Markaz, unlike the urdu-speaking MIM, reveres the local Bengali language. “My great grandfather Abu Bakr was not only a cleric and a freedom fighter but the first to translate all our important literature, including the commentary on the Islam from Arabic to Bengali and make it available to people here and in East Pakistan. We understand this land more than anyone else,” said Siddiqui.
West Bengal has the highest percentage of Muslims in India after Kashmir and Assam which makes the community’s vote important for political parties.
The other dominant group in the state is Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind that controls many mosques across Bengal. It has openly condemned Siddiqui’s move, and through its leader Siddiqullah Chowdhury, another known Muslim cleric, has urged Muslims not to heed to Siddiqui’s call to shun the TMC.
“Our founding fathers (of Furfure Sharif and Deoband) were the same, but then some differences came up…It is like, they have tea and we prefer cold drinks,” Siddiqui said.
His uncle, Taha Siddiqui, another prominent face, has accused him of playing into the BJP’s hands. “He is like my father. I would urge him to let us do our politics, while he does his,” Siddiqui has said.
“Every time we raise questions over our votes being taken for granted, they tell us to keep quiet, else the BJP will come. Mare huye ko aur kya maaroge (how will you kill the already dead)..When the BJP is freely allowed to do its politics in every part of the country, why should we remain prisoners of any one party,” said Siddiqui.
Siddiqui has openly criticised the Congress for starting the Babri Masjid controversy. He doesn’t openly demand reservation for Muslims but stops just short of it: “I am only saying the family that has not been fed for three generations should be fed before the family who has not had a meal for a day.”
SUPPORT AT THE GRASSROOTS
On the road to Furfure Sharif, which covers Srirampore block, hundreds of young men swear to vote for Siddiqui. “Every word he says makes sense. He is our answer to Modi and Shah,” said Abu Ahmed, a law student in Jangipara. The older voters are non-committal with many still preferring to side with the TMC. The Hindus don’t seem to be interested.
“The pirzada wants our support because in many villages here, Hindus are the majority. He even promised a knowledge city for the poor, got us to donate money. But it is still not ready,” said Manik Das, who is employed in a shop in Jangipara.
The state RSS unit has openly criticised the Pirzada for creating divisions among the Hindus and promoting a “dangerous trend in Bengal politics.”
Debashish Chowdhury of the RSS prachar vibhag in Kolkata said, “The Hindus are far more aware now and they will not get misled by those who have been beneficiaries of the Left and the TMC’s muslim appeasement politics. They will vote this time for safety from political violence and freedom from corruption. Even the Muslims have enmasse voted for secular politics and that will prevail this time too.”