West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Monday hit back at colleague Anand Sharma for criticising their party’s alliance with the Indian Secular Front for the Assembly elections in the state.
The Indian Secular Front was formed in January and is led by Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, who is the cleric of Hooghly district’s prominent medieval shrine Furfura Shareef. Siddiqui 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 controversial comments made by him in his religious speeches. Popularly known as “bhaijaan [brother]” by his supporters, Siddique had shared the stage with the Left Front and Congress leaders on Sunday at a historic joint rally in Kolkata.
Sharma had said that the tie-up “militates against the core ideology” of the Congress, adding that the party cannot be “selective” in fighting communalism. The former Union minister, who is among a few dissenting Congress leaders, or the “G-23”, said the alliance needs to be endorsed by the Congress Working Committee, the highest policy-making body of the party.
Hours later, Chowdhury in a series of tweets said Anand Sharma’s criticism was “only serving the polarising agenda” of the Bharatiya Janata Party. “CPI(M)-led Left Front is leading the secular alliance in West Bengal of which Congress is an integral part,” he wrote. “We are determined to defeat BJP’s communal and divisive politics and an autocratic regime.”
Asking Sharma to “know your facts”, Chowdhury said that the Left Front was allocating seats for the polls from its share to the Indian Secular Front.
Chowdhury added that those committed to fight against the BJP’s “venomous communalism” should support the Congress and its campaign in five states where elections are scheduled to be held, instead of undermining it.
The Congress leader also urged “a select group of distinguished Congressmen to rise above always seeking personal comfort spots” and to stop singing praises of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was apparently referring to Sharma and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad. Azad had recently praised Modi, claiming the prime minister “never hides his true self”.
The BJP shared Chowdhury’s Twitter thread and wrote, “Such is the burden of loyalty that he despite being PCC President, floor leader in Lok Sabha and a former Union Minister gets insulted on stage, yet he is made to live with this insult and defend communal elements. What a pitiable position to be in.”
Meanwhile, the Left Front has said that it was working with both Congress and Siddiqui to iron out differences on seat-sharing.
“Initially, it was only the Left and the Congress so the seat adjustment was done in a particular manner,” Chowdhury said at a press conference on Monday. “At first, we had sought 130 seats. Now, we have another party in our Sanjyukta Morcha (United Front). So the equations changed. We now have 92 seats, and few more seats are being discussed.”
Left Front chairperson Biman Bose said talks will be held among the three sides to sort out the differences. He also cautioned Siddiqui for speaking out against the Congress, saying it was not the way to talk when in an alliance. Siddiqui had criticised the Congress leadership for not conceding his demands on seat sharing, while thanking the Left parties.
Both the Trinamool Congress and the 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,” Samik Bhattacharya, BJP’s state chief spokesperson, said on Sunday. “This goes to show how, despite their lofty claims, they are actually believers of identity-based politics.”