Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma on Monday questioned the party’s alliance with newly formed Indian Secular Front, led by Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, for the upcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal.

Siddique, the cleric of Hooghly district’s prominent medieval shrine Furfura Shareef, shared the stage with the Left Front and Congress leaders on Sunday at a historic joint rally in Kolkata. Siddique is considered to have great influence on Muslims in south Bengal, but his party has earned the reputation of being a fundamentalist group due to the controversial comments made by Siddique in his religious speeches, according to The Wire.

Sharma, who is one of the dissenting Congress leaders, or the “G-23”, opposed the alliance with the Indian Secular Front. “Congress’ alliance with parties like ISF and other such forces militates against the core ideology of the party and Gandhian and Nehruvian secularism, which forms the soul of the party,” he tweeted. “These issues need to be approved by the CWC [Congress Working Committee].”

The Congress leader added that the presence of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury at the Brigade Parade ground gathering was “painful and shameful”. He also asked Chowdhury to clarify his stance. “Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour,” Sharma wrote.

Earlier in the day, Chowdhury said that there was no direct negotiation with the Indian Secular Front yet, according to ANI. “Talks with [the] Left party on alliance is on,” he told reporters in Kolkata. “We want to finish the seat-sharing matter with the Left soonest. In 2016, we came into an alliance and this time also things are in the same continuation.”

He also said that he never took any decision without the approval of senior party leaders, NDTV reported. “We are in charge of a state and don’t take any decision on our own without any permission,” he said.

Reports said that Chowdhury was also apprehensive about the tie-up with the Indian Secular Front. Siddiqui, popularly known as “bhaijaan [brother]” by his supporters, on Sunday called Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress as the “team of the BJP”. During the rally, he urged his supporters to ensure that TMC should be brought to “a zero” in the Assembly elections. He has also targeted the West Bengal chief minister often for her alleged betrayal against the Muslim community, as well as the Other Backward Classes.

In February 2020, the young religious leader had said that Trinamool Congress MP Nusrat Jahan earns money “by showing [her] body”.

Both the TMC and BJP have also said that the Left-Congress alliance has turned “communal” with Siddiqui’s inclusion. “They are unmasking themselves before the people ahead of the elections,” said Samik Bhattacharya, BJP’s state chief spokesperson. “This goes to show how, despite their lofty claims, they are actually believers of identity-based politics.”

Political observers say the presence of the Indian Secular Front opens the possibility of triangular contests, The Hindu reported. According to the last available census, Muslims comprise 27.01 % of West Bengal’s population and they have been supporting the TMC over the past several elections.