Last Friday, it was Biman Bose, Left Front chairman and CPM state secretary. On the following two days, he was followed by Mukul Roy, Shubhendu Adhikary and Sultan Ahmed of the Trinamool Congress, Adhir Ranjan Choudhury of the Congress, CPM rebel Abdur Rezaq Mollah, and even the BJP’s Joy Banerjee, the actor.
In election season, they were seeking the blessings of a Muslim leader of growing influence in West Bengal. The political leaders have pledged various kinds of support, not only for the 14th-century shrine where he preaches but also for the people living around it.
Toha Siddique is mukhya nirdeshak (chief instructor) at Furfura Durbar Sharif at Sreerampore in Hooghly, considered a holy place all over West Bengal. Every year during Isale Sawab, a three-day religious congregation in early March, the shrine sees 30 to 35 lakh visitors — Muslims, Hindus and devotees of other faiths from all over the state and outside.
When Joy Banerjee met him for blessings, Siddique asked, “Are you a man or a BJP member?” “I am first a man and then a BJP member,” replied the actor, who is contesting from Birbhum. “In that case, I will pray to Allah for your well-being,” the religious leader said.
Siddique says he dislikes those who uses religion to meet their political ends. “All leaders have come for the blessings of Malik (God) and I pray for all of them. I can not make any discrimination there,” he says. “But I don’t like those who come here with the narrow objective of Muslim support during elections.”Siddique attacks the ruling Trinamool Congress for failing to deliver on its promises to Muslims. “Looking at Mamata Banerjee’s promises, my Hindu brethren may think whatever welfare measures her government is taking are all for Muslims.
It is creating ill-feeling; thus Muslims have become victims,” Siddique says. “The fact is Mamata has not done much. The muezzin allowance is temporary. And how many Muslims have got jobs as primary or Madhyamik teachers, how many in other sectors?”
When Mamata came to power, he met her twice at Writers’ Buildings and says she promised him, among other things, better road and rail connectivity between Furfura and Kolkata and a tourism circuit around the area. “Except for 80 electric lamps, we got nothing,” he says.
When the Trinamool’s Ahmed and Roy met him, he asked about the delay in a rail link between Dankuni in Hooghly and Furfura Sharif, a project Mamata had initiated as rail minister. “We told him the ministry went out of our hands and promised him that we will start the project as soon as a government of our own comes at the Centre,” says Ahmed.
The Congress’s Adhir, now minister of state for railways, accuses the Trinamool of bluffing. “The railways can’t afford it but the then Trinamool ministers promised project after project. Where will the money come from?” he asks.
Siddique, who promises to support “those who do some good not only for us but the underprivileged in general”, commands his influence among Bengali Muslims, 90 per cent of Bengal’s two-crore-plus Muslims. That is why so many parties are wooing him. For now, though, he is keeping his cards close to his chest.