WITH JUST MONTHS left for the assembly elections, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee stares at the possibility of losing a community she claims to have nurtured well.
At the forefront of the possible political realignment stands Furfura Sharif of Hooghly, a powerful Muslim shrine that had swung the community’s vote into Banerjee’s kitty in 2011.
Muslims in Bengal, who form close to 30 per cent of the population, largely follow either of two religious institutions—the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind (which conforms to the Deobandi ideology) and Furfura Sharif.
While followers of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind are found mostly in Kolkata, Howrah, a small part of North 24 Parganas and the two Dinajpur districts in north Bengal, Furfura Sharif holds sway in south Bengal—in districts such as Hooghly, Burdwan, Murshidabad and North and South 24 Parganas—which account for 120 of the 294 assembly seats.
The followers of Furfura Sharif vastly outnumber those influenced by the Jamiat, whose leader in Bengal, Siddiqullah Chowdhury, is a minister in Banerjee’s cabinet.
The strongest challenge to Banerjee comes from Abbas Siddiqui, a pirzada (religious leader) from Furfura Sharif, who has been holding congregations in remote villages of south Bengal and bashing her for not doing enough to uplift the community.
Siddiqui first saw red when eight Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha members were absent during the voting on the Citizenship Amendment Bill last year. He had asked then why the chief minister had sent “such girls to Parliament who are useless?”He was referring to two of the MPs who were actors.
Siddiqui, in his early forties, has been in touch with the Election Commission and hopes to launch a party in December. But even before that, he had put forward the idea of an alliance with Banerjee, asking for 44 seats.
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