By Tirthankar Mitra
Politics makes strange bed fellows. But eyebrows were certainly raised when Subhendu Adhikari, a state leader of BJP which makes no secret of his outfit’s affinity for Hindutva recently spoke of supporting a representative from another political outfit at Lok Sabha constituency of Diamond Harbour to defeat Trinamool Congress’s Abhishek Banerjee.
Peopled mostly by Muslims and minority community leaders and activists, the other outfit which has been hinted at happens to be Indian Secular Front (ISF) which a single legislator Naushad Siddiqui represents in the state Assembly. The day after Adhikari’s announcement, Siddiqui stated he wants to take on Banerjee at the next year’s Lok Sabha election is a pointer to the fact that Adhikari was not kite flying.
Siddiqui’s words are indeed storm signals for the TMC dispensation. For it indicates that ideologically divergent forces in the Opposition are closing ranks as even PCC chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has sounded muted support for Siddiqui if he contests from Diamond Harbour.
For once the Trinamool leadership displayed neither contempt nor complacency at words of their political opponents. At a time when allegations of leader of the Opposition Subhendu Adhikari are derided and dismissed, Abhishek’s take on Siddiqui’s words showed no signs of contempt.
For the day after Siddiqui spoke his mind about contesting from Diamond Harbour it’s MP Banerjee addressing a meeting warned his voters of the efforts of communal elements to stir up trouble. Putting up a brave face, Banerjee said that anybody can contest from this constituency and at the same time called upon his supporters to push up his victory margin to 4 lakh votes come 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Apart from pre-election jitters including party supremo and his aunt, Mamata Banerjee asking him whether he would opt for a Rajya Sabha seat, the de facto second in command of TMC had won by a margin of 3.12 lakh votes in 2019 elections. Yet his alacrity in reacting to a legislator of a political party cannot camouflage his concern
If one is intrigued at Banerjee’s alarm at the apprehension of Siddiqui’s “ingress” in Diamond Harbour, the causes for the former’s concern are not unfounded. Siddiqui hails from a family who are custodians of the famous shrine at Furfura Sharif which holds immense influence over Muslims in the rural areas of the state.
Supported by the Congress and Left, Siddiqui won in 2021 assembly poll from Bhangar in South-24-Parganas which had been an epicentre of an agitation over acquisition of land for a power station. His victory which preceded ISF turning into an year old political outfit has been a wakeup call for the Trinamool Congress.
For the Muslims have always voted en masse for the TMC nominees post Nandigram agitation in which the majority of those who were likely to lose their land if a chemical hub came up were from this community. It is Siddiqui’s appeal to the members of his community which is worrying Banerjee and Trinamool.
Though Bhangar Assembly segment is not part of Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha constituency, both are part of South-24-Parganas district. According to 2011 Census report, South-24-Parganas is inhabited by 35.57 per cent Muslims. More than 50 per cent voters of Diamond Harbour are Muslims. Even if Abhishek has won twice from this seat, he is not taking any chances the third time.
Siddiqui, according to Trinamool sources have carried out a recce in this riverside Lok Sabha constituency before throwing his hat in the ring. To cut a long story short, he is banking on the Muslim votes.
When the ISF nominee won from Bhangar in the Assembly elections, not a single Congress or Left Front candidate won from any other constituency in the state. It was BJP which emerged as the principal Opposition party and the saffron camp offering it’s support to Siddiqui if he contests from Diamond Harbour indeed conveys grave tiding to the state’s ruling dispensation. Post Assembly polls, the ISF influence showed no signs of being washed away in the panchayat elections. It won a large number of seats in Bhangar.
Opposition game plan seems to be boiling down to Sagardighi model where Left-supported Congress nominee Bayron Biswas with tacit backup from BJP defeated a Trinamool candidate who happened to be related to the party supremo. Incidentally, like Bhangar and Diamond Harbour, Sagardighi happened to be a Muslim majority constituency in Murshidabad.
Two time MP Abhishek’s concern is a reflection of party supremo Mamata Banerjee’s worry at slipping away of Muslim votes from the TMC kitty post Sagardighi electoral reverse. This vote bank have stood by her in 2019 and 2021 elections, spelling electoral success even after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah had criss crossed the state campaigning for the saffron camp candidates.
Banerjee has taken several measures to woo the Muslim votes, including changes in the party’s minority cell. Meanwhile, the Diamond Harbour MP has promised several schemes for inhabitants of his constituency and promised the “gifts” would be delivered to the people’s doorsteps by TMC activists.
If finally Siddiqui becomes the ISF candidate he which is in alliance with the Left Front and the Congress is allowed in the state by the high command to ally with the CPI(M) led Left Front and ISF and the BJP supports the ISF candidate from outside, that might be a formidable combination to take on Abhishek Banerjee. The ISF may not win but the margin will certainly come down from more than 3 lakh of 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
But there is a big question. With Mamata Banerjee’s influence on INDIA leadership and Abhishek’s personal rapport with Rahul Gandhi, will Congress allow the state Congress to be a part of a combine that is challenging the member of the coordination committee of INDIA bloc and also being overtly or covertly supported by the BJP. Congress leadership has no liking for ISF which has all the backing of the CPI(M) state secretary Mohammad Selim. For the CPI(M) central leadership also, it will be a delicate issue if the CPI(M) becomes a party to a combine which is being supported by the BJP also.. Only when this issue is solved, the time will come to assess whether Siddiqui will be a real competitor to Abhishek or like 2021 assembly elections, the CPI(M) will lose its face again. (IPA Service)