July 31, 2016 4:57:01 am
When BSP chief Mayawati linked BJP’s demand for Naseemuddin Siddiqui’s arrest over “obscene” slogans at her party’s protest with “an attempt to communalise the elections”, she was also trying to use the controversy for her party’s benefit. Rebuffing all demands of action against Siddiqui, who was leading the protest on July 21 when “obscene” slogans targeting the daughter, sister and wife of former BJP leader Dayashankar Singh were raised, Mayawati not only defended him but also gave him more responsibilities in the party.
At a press conference held last week in Lucknow, she chose to repeat what Siddiqui had said two days ago instead of coming up with her own remarks on the controversy. Siddiqui, 56, who is the BSP’s longest-serving national general secretary and a trusted lieutenant of Mayawati for over two decades, is currently the Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council – a post with the rank of a Cabinet minister – and is regarded as his party’s Muslim face.
For the upcoming elections, BSP has made him the in-charge of western UP to “build a Dalit-Muslim combine”. He is also the BSP’s coordinator for Lucknow division, and is the one to recommend names of possible candidates and hold rallies announcing their candidacy. Earlier this month, he acquired additional charge of neighbouring Uttarakhand where BSP has been trying to expand its base. He has also been asked to tour all the assembly seats reserved for SC/STs, while focusing on wooing Muslims.
Siddiqui turned out to be the only leader who remained a close aide of Mayawati since coming into contact with her in early 1990s. A few others like Babu Singh Kushwaha and Swami Prasad Maurya have either been expelled or left the party after falling out of favour with her. As the party continues to be hit by desertions, Siddiqui stands as a “symbol of loyalty” for Mayawati.
A resident of Banda’s Syorha village and the fifth of Qamaruddin Siddiqui’s eight sons, Siddiqui joined politics in late 1980s after coming in contact with Kanshi Ram. He had left his job as an accountant at the Controller of Defence Accounts, Meerut. He contested the 1991 assembly elections from Banda, and won. While he lost the polls in 1993, he was elected as an MLC later.
A party leader said it was during the 1996 elections that Siddiqui, having worked in west UP for the BSP, came close to Mayawati. He has since been a minister in all her governments and was a co-accused with her in the Taj Corridor scam.
Party sources maintain that BJP is targeting Siddiqui “because he is a Muslim”, but also add that BSP is “unlikely to take any action against him” and will continue to promote him in order to attract Muslim votes. Mayawati, as the Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, had sacked about half-a-dozen ministers after their indictment by Lokayukta over corruption charges in 2011 and early 2012. She, however, rejected such notions when Siddiqui and his wife Husna were held guilty by the anti-corruption watchdog for “amassing wealth disproportionate to their known sources of income”. He was the minister of nearly one dozen departments in her government. Even his wife was an MLC.
Despite all the support within BSP, what works against Siddiqui, though, is that he lacks a following among the masses. Most of the BSP leaders privately describe him as “a good manager but not a popular politician”. This has resulted in Siddiqui eulogising himself in no uncertain terms. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which his son Afzal was one of the candidates from Fatehpur, Siddiqui had told The Indian Express that he does not contest an election when he can help 100 candidates win. His son Afzal had lost to the BJP. Siddiqui was party’s coordinator in Bundelkhand, east and central UP then.
Nevertheless, Siddiqui’s importance has witnessed a consistent rise within the party where he is not only seen as a “trusted aide” of Mayawati, but also “an efficient organiser”. Almost all the mammoth rallies of Mayawati are held under his supervision – from setting up the tent and controlling the crowd to rousing them with slogans.
After the dismal performance of the party in the 2014 polls, Mayawati made several organisational changes and removed most of the coordinators. However, Siddiqui was given more important role and made in-charge of west UP where the BSP has maximum stakes.
“If BJP continues to target him, Muslims will definitely sympathise with him. But how many of them do so remains to be seen,” said a BSP coordinator in west UP.
Siddiqui’s younger brother, Hasanuddin, who joined the Samajwadi Party in 2011, said it is the responsibility of everyone to not disturb the harmony of the state. “Our chief minister (Akhilesh Yadav) has already said that there is a competition going on between the two parties over the obscene statements,” he said about the slogans at BSP’s protest rally and the derogatory remarks made by BJP’s Dayashankar Singh.
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