Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s strategy to forge an alliance with Pirzada Abbasuddin Siddiqui, the scion of the Siddiqui family, the custodian of the famous Furfura Sharif shrine in Bengal’s Hooghly district, will not yield electoral dividend in the coming polls, prominent Muslim clerics, imams and political experts have said.

Accused by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC), Congress and the Left parties of helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by splitting Muslim votes in the perviously held Uttar Pradesh and Bihar assembly polls, the AIMIM, several Muslim clerics and imams told HT, will not be accepted by voters in Bengal.

Siddiqullah Chowdhury, a minister in the TMC government and president of the Jamiat Ulema – e –Hind’s state branch has also declared that Owaisi has no place in Bengal politics.

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The reaction from heads of the minority community against the AIMIM’s entry into Bengal is significant because all political parties are aware that it not possible to come to power solely with the support of Hindu voters.

Bengal’s Muslim population stood at 27.01% during the 2011 census and is projected to have increased to around 30% now. Among the districts where the Muslim population is substantially high are Murshidabad (66.28%), Malda (51.27%), North Dinajpur (49.92%), South 24 Parganas (35.57%), and Birbhum (37.06%). There is a large number of Muslim voters in East and West Burdwan districts, North 24 Parganas and Nadia as well.

The BJP, which has been accusing chief minister Mamata Banerjee of appeasing the minority community for years, has said that AIMIM is an independent party and can contest anywhere.

According to surveys done by the TMC and the BJP, a swing in Muslim votes can influence poll results in as many as 120 assembly seats. Union home minister Amit Shah has announced that his party will oust the Mamata Banerjee government by winning over 200 of the state’s 294 seats while Banerjee’s election strategist Prashant Kishor recently tweeted that he will give up his job if the BJP’s tally crosses 99.

Making his first noticeable move to emerge as a threat to the TMC in the polls due in a few months, Owaisi, on Sunday, met Abbas Siddiqui, who has emerged as a critic of the ruling party in recent months. Siddiqui has even talked about his plans to launch a broad political platform with Hindu Dalits and tribal communities for contesting the polls. Owaisi said on Sunday that Siddiqui will decide how AIMIM will contest.

The Furfura Sharif shrine is one of the most popular pilgrimage olaces in Bengal. It is built around the mausoleum of Pir Abu Bakr Siddiqui. It also has a mosque built in 1375. Furfura Sharif draws millions during the Urs festival and the annual fair dedicated to the Pir.

The West Bengal Imams’ Association has reacted to Owaisi’s plans, saying there is no place for communal politics in Bengal. Of about 40,000 mosques in Bengal, clerics from at least 26,000 are members of the association.

“Whether Hindus or Muslims, people in the state have only one identity. They are all Bengalis. On one hand, Bengalis are being branded as ghuspetiya (infiltrators in Hindi) by the BJP while on the other, some leaders from Hyderabad and Gujarat are coming to Bengal to divide the population on communal lines. This will not be accepted,” said Md Yahiya, chairman of the imams’ association.

In April last year, Yahiya made news by writing to Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, accusing him of “trying to disturb the communal harmony from a constitutional position” and seeking the retraction of his remarks on the Nizamuddin markaz in Delhi in a letter to the chief minister.

In a significant development, other members of the Siddiqui family, including Pirzada Toha Siddiqui, the most prominent among the elders whose support helped the CPI(M) and TMC in the past, has made it clear that he will not support any move that can help the BJP. “Hindus comprise 70% of the state’s population. If they wanted, the BJP could have come to power long ago. We will not do anything to let our Hindu brothers down,” he said after Owaisi met Abbas Siddiqui at Furfura Sharif.

On Thursday evening, Pirzada Jiauddin Siddiqui, another scion of the family told HT that Furfura Sharif cannot be dragged into politics. “Neither Pir Abu Bakr Siddiqui nor any of our ancestors joined politics. This is a religious place and so shall it be. What Abbas is doing is entirely his business,” he said.

Maulana Md Shafique Qasmi, the imam of Nakhoda Masjid, said no party can benefit by propagating the politics of religion.

“I am a religious man. I don’t know what happened in politics before my birth but today people of Bengal do not accept communalism. No political party, whichever it may be, can benefit from it,” he said.

Built a century ago as a replica of the mausoleum of emperor Akbar in Agra, the Nakhoda Masjid is the biggest and most important mosque in Kolkata.

Kolkata-based political science professor and election analyst Udayan Bandopadhyay said a tie-up with Abbas Siddiqui can help Owaisi in only a few pockets of Bengal.

“Siddiqui’s influence is limited to some parts of Malda, North Dinajpur and South 24 Parganas. Unless the imams support him, Owaisi won’t benefit much. However, even if they manage to get only 1% of the Muslim votes it will be substantial,” Bandopadhyay said.

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