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In heated West Bengal battle, a new boiling point: shrine head will announce political front today

“We will have an alliance of 10 parties, and we will contest 60 to 80 seats where we have a good chance of winning," Siddiqui tells The Indian Express on the eve of his entry into politics.

Written by Ravik Bhattacharya |
Updated: January 21, 2021 7:37:44 am
Pirzada Siddiqui at home in Furfura Sharif. Ravik Bhattacharya

A house located in Taltolla in Furfura Sharif (Hooghly district), with placards hanging on one side over a protest against the new farm laws, the Hathras gangrape and the recent attack on a convoy of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren, has emerged as one of the theatres in the political change sweeping West Bengal.

The house belongs to Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, the 34-year-old head of the second-most prominent Sufi mazar or shrine in the country after Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan, who is set to make a formal announcement on Thursday announcing a political front to contest the state Assembly elections for the first time. “We will have an alliance of 10 parties, and we will contest 60 to 80 seats where we have a good chance of winning,” Siddiqui tells The Indian Express on the eve of his entry into politics.

His coalition may include Asaduddin Owaisi, whose AIMIM is planning a poll debut in West Bengal and who acknowledged Siddiqui’s leadership at a meeting with him on January 3. One of the candidates will be Siddiqui’s 26-year-old brother Pirzada Naushad, who holds a B.Ed and a Master’s degree in History.

Popularly known as ‘Bhaijaan’, Siddiqui these days is touring different districts of the state, projecting himself as a voice of the Muslims, tribals and Dalits, and attacking the Trinamool, accusing it of helping the rise of the BJP in the state. He is expected to take away a big chunk of the Bengali Muslim vote in the state, which has so far been with the Trinamool in South Bengal and with the Congress in North — queering the pitch further for the ruling Trinamool as it fights the BJP in a fierce and increasingly polarised campaign.

Siddiqui adds, “Years of Congress rule, then that of the CPM and Trinamool in Bengal did nothing for the Muslims or the poor. I am speaking not only for Muslims but also for the poor tribals and the downtrodden in the state. It was the NRC and CAA which first made me shift from giving sermons to working towards a political platform. I am convinced that we need to send our people to the Assembly, raising the right issues and objecting to the wrongs. The BJP is an enemy of the country.”

He says it is the Trinamool, and other parties which “played with the votes of the minorities and the poor”, which had let the BJP gain a toehold in Bengal and to win 18 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 polls.

About his meeting with Owaisi, he suggests he has “guided” several political leaders. “He is from Hyderabad. I am from Bengal. Bengal is vast and its politics is different.”

On the charge that he would divide Muslim votes and hence benefit the BJP, a charge also levelled at Owaisi, Siddiqui says, “I had offered to the Trinamool to join hands with me. They did not… When I was not in politics, didn’t the BJP win seats in Bengal and other places? Was the Trinamool sleeping?”

He adds, “Some people ask why a Pirzada is getting into politics. I say it is my constitutional right. It is time I do something for the deprived people of the state… I used to guide people on the spiritual side of life. Now it is time that I guide them on worldly affairs too.”

Siddiqui’s day starts at 5 am, and he hits the road after offering namaz. Crowds are gathered to receive him at different locations, with Siddiqui delivering at least two sermons a day, with only a short break to eat. At home in the evenings, there are more meetings. On Friday and Sunday, he is at the mazar, meeting visitors from different parts of the state.

https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/show/0ygP4jm9c9SdqUM3C6DycM

“The date, time and place for my sermons are booked two years in advance. But now, since we will field candidates, I think I will have to speak at some political rallies,” Siddiqui says.

In recent months, there have been several incidents of Siddiqui’s car being vandalised and his followers beaten up. Blaming local Trinamool leaders, he says, “This will not stop us. If some leaders think that by attacking me or my followers, we will stop, they are wrong. Our organisation has been working silently at the grass-root level. I have told my followers to protest democratically and do the needful on polling day.”

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