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Identity politics, spiritual leadership: Furfura Sharif cleric’s party modelled on IUML

IUML has refused to join hands with Siddiqui or let him form a political outfit that could work as a coalition.

Written by Liz Mathew | New Delhi |
January 25, 2021 3:47:18 am
Abbas SiddiquiPirzada Siddiqui at home in Furfura Sharif. (Express Photo: Ravik Bhattacharya)

Before he launched the Indian Secular Front (ISF), Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, the 34-year-old cleric of Furfura Sharif in West Bengal, visited Kerala and closely monitored the activities of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), led by the spiritual leader of Muslims in Kerala.

Inspired by the way the Panakkad Thangal family wields political and social influence in Kerala politics and among the Muslims in the state, Siddiqui tried to be part of the IUML, which has units in most of the states in the country.

However, IUML refused to join hands with Siddiqui or let him form a political outfit that could work as a coalition.

“The cleric and his associates had visited Kerala during the floods in 2018 after collecting money for relief work. They had seen how the Thangals, spiritual leaders, led the political and social activities of a party. He was impressed by how the party keeps the community moderate and away from fundamentalist groups,” said Sabir Ghaffar, the former national president of IUML youth wing who had tried to convince the IUML leadership to join hands with Siddiqui.

He added that Siddiqui had several interactions with Panakkad Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal, the number two in the IUML.

Ghaffar resigned from his post in IUML Saturday to work with ISF.

He has played a key role in the formation of ISF and its decision to contest the West Bengal elections along with the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM.

IUML president Panakkad Syed Hyderali Shihab Thangal has inherited the spiritual leadership of the community from his father P M S Pookoya Thangal, said to be the 39th descendant of Prophet Muhammad. Everyday, hundreds visit the family’s ancestral home, Kodappanakkal Tharavad in Panakkad, Malappuram, seeking Thangal’s blessings and political intervention.

“The ISF will model identity politics with a spiritual leadership to transform the society into a politically significant, developed, moderate, modern society. West Bengal has 30 per cent Muslims. If this support base gets split into groups, the BJP will form the government there. We want to make the Muslim population a strong support base that prevents the BJP,” Ghaffar told The Indian Express.

The ISF will work with not only the AIMIM but a number of other social and political outfits spread across the state, he said. “In its efforts to stop the BJP, the party is ready for any pre or post-poll alliances with non-BJP parties. But the TMC should apologise for neglecting the community. In constituencies where ISF does not have candidates, it will back other candidates against the BJP,” Ghaffar said, countering the argument that the new outfit would dent the Muslim support base of the TMC.

While launching his party, Siddiqui said, “Years of Congress rule, then that of CPM and then Trinamool Congress in Bengal did nothing for the Muslims or the poor people.”

“Furfura Sharif is the second most prominent Mazar in the country after Ajmer Sharif. It has followers in Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and even in Bangladesh. And politics is not strange to the family – it played a key role in the formation of the Indian Muslim League, but took political backstage for long,” Ghaffar said.


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