In the run up to the Assembly elections, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee forged an alliance with West Bengal unit of Jamiat-e-Ulema Hind (JUH), led by Siddiquallh Chowdhury in what is now being considered a political masterstroke. Chowdhury enjoys sizeable sway over 970-plus madrasas, with nearly 1,50,000 students, in state.
Once a bitter critic of Mamata, Chowdhury had formed the People’s Democratic Consolidation of India (PDCI) in 2011 and had also contested the elections that year having put up 32 candidates. In 2013, the party contested the panchayat elections and bagged some seats too. The next year, in 2014, it contested nine Lok Sabha seats but failed to register a win. Chowdhury claims to have a steady vote share of five to seven per cent. Individually it may be insignificant but in an alliance, this can be a significant add on, says Chowdhury. For joining hands with TMC, Chowdhury had demanded 25 seats, but had to contend with two —- Mongalkot in Burdwan, from where he is contesting, and one in Malda. If he wins and TMC returns to power, Mamata has promised him a cabinet berth.
Excerpts from the interview:
What brought you close to Mamata Banerjee and the Trinamool Congress?
We have been talking for the last seven months. The Chief Minister invited us to join hands. She appreciated the work JUH had been doing in West Bengal and invited us to work together. We responded. We respected her call.
JUH has merged with the TMC and you are fighting under the ruling party’s symbol.
Yes, we are fighting as one in the polls. I had demanded 25 seats. But I climbed down from that position and the Trinamool Congress too climbed up from where they had begun. We have plans after the polls.
JUH is a non-political organization. How do you explain your involvement in electoral politics?
The JUH constitution does approve of tie-ups, or working with secular forces that works towards improving the condition of the Muslims. Our organisation head, Hazrat Maulana Syed Asad Mahmood Madani, had been three-term Rajya Sabha MP with Congress support. So, we have been in politics. I have fought Lok Sabha polls on Congress tickets —- once in 1984 and later in 1998 from Katwa.
What is your support base ?
We are a democratic, responsible organization. We are committed to development of our country. I am associated with the JUH for the past 35 years. I am the general secretary of JUH’s West Bengal chapter for the past 34 years. JUH is present in 19 districts of West Bengal with a firm membership of over 30 lakh. The 973 Madrassas in state, of which I am the president, has an annual budget of over Rs 125 crore – all donated by Muslim families.
Do you have any tie up with the AIUDF of Assam?
A: Yes, we do have links with the AIUDF headed by Badruddin Ajmal. Ajamlji had come to Kolkata on several occasion and we held discussions. He is aware of the electoral tie up we are having with the Trinamool Congress.
Do you think Mamata Banerjee government has delivered on minority development?
Serious development initiatives have been undertaken. I will not say that all have been achieved. But in the burial grounds, in minority education, in issuing OBC certificates to minorities, in higher studies for Muslims, and in modernizing madrasa education, this government has made major breakthroughs…better than any government in independent India. I have traveled across rural Bengal and I have no hesitation in admitting that she (Mamata) is a strong force to reckon with.