Updated: March 2, 2021 7:42:58 am
A day after senior Congress leaders shared the stage with an influential Muslim cleric at an election rally in Kolkata, Anand Sharma, a prominent member of the party’s dissident “G-23 group”, said such association flew in the face of the core ideology of the Congress.
The alliance with the Indian Secular Front (ISF), a party formed in January by Abbas Siddiqui of the Furfura Sharif shrine in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, needed to be endorsed by the Congress Working Committee, the highest policymaking body of the party, Sharma said on Monday.
Late in the evening, Congress leader in Lok Sabha and West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury hit back at Sharma, saying his criticism was “only serving the polarising agenda of BJP”.
Siddiqui, who had earlier been in talks with Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, formally joined the Left Front-Congress alliance for the West Bengal Assembly elections at Sunday’s rally, which was attended by Chowdhury, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, and Congress in-charge of West Bengal Jitin Prasada.
Sharma was among the G-23 leaders who attended a rally in Jammu on Saturday, along with former Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad, former union ministers Kapil Sibal and Manish Tewari, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former MP Raj Babbar, and sitting Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha.
Twenty-three senior Congress leaders had written to Sonia Gandhi in August 2020, demanding sweeping changes at all levels in the party. Interestingly, one of these 23 leaders was Prasada; another was former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, whom the Congress leadership on Monday appointed head of the screening committee for selection of the party’s candidates for the Assembly elections in Assam.
“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. Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement (of the) West Bengal PCC President (Chowdhury) is painful and shameful, he must clarify,” Sharma posted on Twitter.
Asked about the Congress’s alliance with Badruddin Ajmal’s All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) in Assam and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala, Sharma told The Indian Express: “That (tie-up with the AIUDF) was approved by the party. Historically it has existed. That has been endorsed in the past by the CWC. The IUML is part of the UDF in Kerala and totally endorsed by the CWC.”
On Congress being part of a government led by the Hindutva party Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, Sharma said: “We are not an alliance partner…we are not fighting elections together. There is a huge difference. That (arrangement in Maharashtra) was to keep the BJP out. This (the Bengal alliance) has never been discussed in the CWC.”
Chowdhury reacted sharply to Sharma’s attack. “It is not fair on his part to make such remarks without knowing the ground situation or understanding the ground reality,” Chowdhury said.
“It is the Left parties which are leading the coalition in Bengal. We have been in talks with the Left parties. We wanted to create an atmosphere where all the secular forces are together to fight the BJP and Mamata Banerjee. When the CPM is leading it…no one can question their secular credentials,” he said.
“The CPM after talks with the ISF has given it 30 seats. And the Congress has got 92 seats from the Left. So instead of talking against communal forces, why are they talking against communists? The dais had leaders like Sitaram Yechury. The Congress was also invited. The ISF was also invited. We went there on the invitation of the Left. Then what is the reason for giving such statements? The question is who do they want to strengthen – the communal forces or the secular forces? It is strange,” Chowdhury said.
Asked whether he meant the Congress was not in an alliance with the ISF, Chowdhury said: “That is not the question. We were given 92 seats by the Left. It is the Left which is leading the front. And the idea is to keep all the secular forces together. So what can we do?”
Sharma, Chowdhury said, could have spoken to him before tweeting his opinion. “Perhaps they don’t understand the ground reality or they want to spoil the secular image of the Congress. He (Sharma) could have spoken to me before tweeting. We are in the same party. We are colleagues. I would have explained to him the whole situation. It is strange that he is in the same party and he finds it difficult to talk to me.”
“There is nothing to be discussed in the CWC,” Chowdhury said. “Our alliance is with the CPM. They have given us 92 seats..they are heading the anti-communal alliance.”
He reiterated these points in a series of tweets later, beginning each with “Know [yo]ur facts Anand Sharma ji”.
“Those who are committed to fight against #BJP parties venomous communalism should support the Congress & campaign for the party in five states rather than attempting to undermine the party by remarks in tune with BJP’s agenda,” he said.
Chowdhury also appeared to take a potshot at Azad, who had spoken appreciatively about Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday. “Would urge a select group of distinguished Congressmen to rise above always seeking personal comfort spots & stop wasting time singing praises of PM. They owe a duty to strengthen the Party & not undermine the tree that nurtured them,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, former union minister M Veerappa Moily, who too was a signatory to the letter to Sonia, distanced himself from the meeting of several leaders of the G-23 in Jammu on Saturday.
It was not a “dissident meeting”, and “we are not part of it”, Moily told PTI on Monday. He said the letter to Sonia was not meant to be dissident activity, and that it does not need to be discussed frequently. “Once the memorandum (letter) is given, the purpose is over. It’s not (correct) every day…to rake up that issue,” Moily told PTI.
Late on Monday night, Jitin Prasada tweeted: “Alliance decisions are taken keeping in mind the best interests of the party and the workers. Now is the time for everyone to join hands and work towards strengthening the prospects of the Congress in the poll bound states.” He tagged both Sharma and Chowdhury on the tweet, along with the Congress party and party general secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala.
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