The Furfura Sharif shrine in Bengal. Photo by Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
The Furfura Sharif shrine in Bengal. Photo by Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

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Furfura Sharif: The battle for Bengal may just become more interesting, with support coming in for the state chief minister in the form of a fatwa which is likely to be issued, appealing to the followers of Furfura Sharif and other Muslim sects to vote for “a party that would not interfere in the religious practises of Islam”. At the heart of this fresh action is one of the most-revered families of pirs in the state, which now stands divided over the pursuit of political power by one of its own.

Qutubuddin Siddique, the eldest pir at Bengal’s most influential Muslim shrine Furfura Sharif, in an exclusive interview to ThePrint not only spoke of the possible fatwa, but also said that he would never want members of his family to participate in active politics and would not support “the one, who has floated his own political party”.

Qutubuddin, who rarely meets people, was referring to Peerzada Abbas Siddique, one of his nephews, who floated his own party — the Indian Secular Front (ISF) — three months back. While other family members may have sided with a particular party or the other in the past, or even worked as a party member — one of Abbas’ cousins, Nuruddin Siddique, is a former Trinamool Chhatra Parishad leader — this is the first time that someone from the Siddique family has involved himself in politics to the extent of launching his own party.

Abbas Siddique, who has launched the Indian Secular Front (ISF) party. Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

The young pirzada’s action has created a rift within the Siddique family, the leaders of the cult of Furfura Sharif. While the elder members of the family seem to be following Qutubuddin’s example in siding with Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, the younger lot is drawn more towards Abbas.

He also seems to have the support of many among his constituency, who share his disillusionment of Mamata Banerjee’s alleged poll-time rhetoric and vote-bank tactics. Supporting syndicates of anti-socials, who extort money from people on any pretext, is a common allegation against the Trinamool across constituencies, one that has also been repeatedly raised by Abbas.

The pirzada, who has entered into an alliance with the CPM and the Congress, has ambitious political plans. He has fielded at least 30 candidates across Hooghly, Howrah, South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Kolkata and Birbhum. In an attempt to create a secular image for the new party, his list of candidates includes Muslims, tribals, Hindu Brahmins and others.

But even though he is getting political traction in his immediate neighbourhood, in Hooghly’s Jangipara constituency and the adjoining constituencies of Chanditala and Khanakul in the district, the ISF chief is apprehensive about vote transfer from the Congress to his party in areas such as Birbhum and North Bengal, where the Congress enjoys a support base.

Talking to ThePrint at Furfura Sharif, Abbas iterated that Muslims have not taken an oath to always help Mamata Banerjee win elections. Muslims, he said, have the right to choose. “I will win or lose and learn,” he added, pointing out that many young Muslim leaders have quit Mamata Banerjee’s party and joined hands with him.

The Muslim shrine and the Siddique clan command a cult following across districts and is known to influence the electoral choice of Muslims in Bengal. Which explains why senior leaders from across parties — be it the Trinamool Congress, the Congress or the CPM — have been known to visit the shrine ahead of elections and seek the blessings of the elders.

What may, however, turn the tide in this election is the split within this very family.

Jangipara, where Furfura Sharif is located, has around 27 per cent Muslim population; adjoining Khanakul has around 25 per cent. The ISF is contesting from both seats.

Beginning in 1972, the Congress won the Jangipara seat in four consecutive assembly elections, while the CPM too has won for four terms here, starting with the 1991 assembly polls. The Trinamool won the seat in the 2011 assembly elections, and then again in 2016, with an almost 50 per cent vote share. Traditionally, Furfura Sharif has backed whichever party has been in power. The extent of support though, seems to have weakened in recent year. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party’s victory over BJP in the assembly segment was only by a slim margin of 11,000 votes.

Also read: How West Bengal elections will change the course of national politics

A family divided

With Abbas floating the ISF, politics has taken on a whole new meaning for the Siddiques, one that has split the very family. Qutubuddin Siddique, the 95-year-old pir saheb told ThePrint, “I cannot issue a Fatwa against my own blood, my nephew. But I can issue a fatwa appealing to lakhs of my followers across Bengal to vote for the true face of secularism in the state, one who has never interfered in our religion. We live here happily. We do not want to do or support something or someone that may give an edge to the communal BJP.”

“If I do issue a fatwa”, he added, “I will list reasons from the Quran to justify why I am doing it”.

His views are echoed by Jiauddin Siddique, another family elder. “Mamata Didi has definitely worked for the upliftment of Muslims in the state. She will support the madrassas, she has introduced so many state schemes for our benefit. She has never denied us our religious right.”

Adding that Furfura Sharif does not approve the banning of the triple talaq by the Parliament in 2019, he said, “This is an interference in our religious practice. We do want such things to happen in Bengal. Triple talaq is part of Islam and it has been explained likewise.” Explaining why a section of the family is against the political ambitions of one of its own members, he added that Abbas’s political venture may help the BJP by creating a split in votes. “We cannot accept that,” he said.

Jiauddin Sidduqi, an elder member of the family of the Furfura Sharif pirs. Photo by Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
Jiauddin Sidduqe, an elder member of the family of the Furfura Sharif pirs. Photo by Madhuparna Das | ThePrint

Meanwhile, the young pirzada maintains that the Quran never mandated anyone to stay away from politics and he is justified in his attempt to raise the issues that he thinks are relevant for the people.

“I can decide my actions. Islam and our constitution allow me to think and act independently. If chacha (uncle) is asking others to vote for Mamata Banerjee, he is also supporting a party,” he said, adding that the Quran, in fact, does not permit issuing a fatwa to influence the political choice of people. “I have not joined any party, but floated my own, because I did not want to depend on any party. I felt our people should have a party of their own. I have allied with two other big parties,” he said .

Speaking of the Trinamool, he said, “painting some walls and putting up lights cannot be termed as development. I will accept that there has been development when Muslims will be inducted in all high administrative posts in the state and all Muslim children are enrolled in schools. We do not want doles in the name of Imam allowance. We want our rights. If my thoughts are wrong or not permitted in Islam or in the constitution, anybody can challenge me. I will leave everything and walk away.”

Abbas’s words have found resonance with the younger members of the Siddique family, many of whom are now taking a stand against their elders by coming out in his support. One such is his cousin, Nuruddin, a former Trinamool Chhatra Parishad leader. “I have quit Trinamool to work for Abbas,” he said.

“Trinamool is a party of syndicate owners. They have never done anything for Muslims, but used them [for votes]. Many of our family elders get money from the party and that is why they are supporting Mamata Banerjee,” he alleged. One of Abbas’s brothers, Naushad, is contesting from the Bhangar assembly seat in South 24 Parganas on an ISF ticket.

Also read: How BJP is using Mamata’s ‘outsider’ jibe to pit Bengali vs non-Bengali & pull the votes

The voice of people

Meanwhile, even as Abbas is being blamed by some members of his family and Trinamool leaders for indulging in Muslim identity politics, many of the questions raised by him against the party in power in the state are echoed by people across districts. One such common complaint against the Trinamool is the flourishing of syndicates of party-backed anti-socials, who extort money from people on any pretext – a complaint that is being heard from many constituencies.

Abdul Rahim, the imam (cleric) of a Masjid said, “We get an imam allowance, but that’s not what we want. We want our children to be educated and to get jobs. We want them to be economically self-reliant. Didi only remembers us during elections. That doesn’t help anybody. Our youths are being dragged into the politics of violence and crime. We don’t want this.”

He added: “We are not with Abbas because he has floated a party for the community. We are with him because we want an alternative [to the Trinamool] and we cannot support the BJP because it is a communal party. We do not want to have to bear with this extortion and ‘syndicate’ raj of the Trinamool anymore.”

Giving an example of the Trinamool’s alleged corruption, Rahim Ali, a tea-stall owner in the area, said, “I had to pay Rs 20,000 for a small repair work in my shop to a local Trinamool leader. My relatives, who are beneficiaries of a government scheme, pay at least 50 per cent of the cash as cut money to local Panchayat members. Will you call it development for Muslims? Their [the Trinamool’s] syndicates are all over and they extort money for everything”.

Alauddin Sheikh, a farmer, pointed out that Muslims living in and around Furfura Sharif are familiar with the false promises made by Mamata Banerjee. “She talks about the Furfura Sharif Development Board. But we have never ever seen its officers. How does it function? The Muslim shrine is centuries old, but there has been no development. The road to the mazhar is in a terrible state.”

Furfura Sharif has around 30 madrassas, including four for girls, and at least a dozen orphanages. But none of these are government aided.

Abbas too has repeatedly raised the issue of party-backed anti-social syndicates and cut-money demanded by Trinamool workers. On Thursday, while addressing a public rally at Hooghly’s Chanditala constituency in support of CPM candidate and politburo member, Mohammed Salim, he had said, “Mamata Didi has brought the BJP here. She stopped the immersion of Durga idols for Muharram. Why? She wanted polarisation. She has promised credit cards for students. But did she ever mention the interests they would have to pay on the bills? This is the kind of duplicity she indulges in.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

Also read: Win or lose, BJP is gaining a foothold in the East. That’s a seismic shift in India’s politics


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