Over the past two years, Peerzada Abbas Siddiqui, head of the Furfura Sharif dargah in Bengal, has often been in the news — sometimes making inflammatory speeches and on other occasions, being assaulted by the Trinamool Congress cadre. On Thursday, the 34-year-old religious leader announced the establishment of a new party called the Indian Secular Front that will contest all seats in the upcoming Assembly elections in Bengal.
In the following interview, he discusses what made him jump into politics, why Muslim leaders are maligned and more.
Edited excerpts follow:
Why did you form a new party?
We have seen since Independence that no party has cared for the backward sections of society, which include Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and even many Hindus. They have never been given the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. So now, they must fight for these rights. Our intention is to fight for those who have no education, no house and no facilities. Their percentage (among the population) is very high. We want to bring them into the mainstream.
We can only succeed in doing so if we get power and for that, we need to fight elections.
In Bengal, have the Left Front and Mamata Banerjee done nothing for these sections?
They have not given them all the rights that they should have. They’ve given maybe 10 percent, 90 percent is still lacking.
It’s not just that. Mamata, especially in the 10 years that she has been ruling, has done something very wrong. Without actually doing anything for Muslims, she’s spoken all the time about “Musalman, Musalman“. This has damaged the harmony that existed between Hindus and Muslims, because Hindus think Muslims are being given everything, while they are actually getting nothing.
Has she done nothing for Muslims?
She promised so much, but what did she do? All she did was give an allowance for imams! Did we ever ask for that? Muslims need education, jobs…
But Mamata is the most vociferous opponent of the CAA-NRC. Aren’t you weakening her by opposing her?
Both the BJP and Mamata are making fools of people on this issue.
We are not opposed to the CAA. Those who have lived here for 30 to 40 years and have contributed to the State should, of course, be given citizenship. But why have so many conditions for that, why ask where you have come from etc?
As for Mamata, she says she won’t allow NRC to be implemented. But she hasn’t gone to the Supreme Court against it. So how can we believe her?
But it is not yet a law.
We don’t have any personal enmity towards her. As a non-political organisation, we agitated more than anyone else against CAA-NRC. But instead of taking us along, she had us beaten up by the police. So many atrocities were committed against us. Even I was attacked last August when I was visiting one of my injured followers. They threatened to burn down my house. What kind of justice is this?
Is it right for religious leaders to get into politics?
What a question! A mahant is the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and nobody says anything! I am not standing for election by myself. I am going to put up good candidates and tell people that these candidates have my blessings. Voters should see me in them and vote for them.
Anyway, where in the Constitution is it written that religious leaders should not be in politics? There are so many Babajis and Sants in politics.
In the freedom movement, so many Ulema gave their lives for freedom. At that point, you didn’t tell them, “Go away, sit inside the masjid!”
If you as a religious leader campaign, it could drive Hindus to the BJP.
Why? Aren’t Hindus our brothers? When I say this candidate will work for the welfare of Bengal, for the welfare of Bengal’s Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and poor Hindus, won’t Hindus vote for him? I’m not fighting only for the 30 percent Muslim population. I have many Hindu followers.
I’m asking this because of the atmosphere being created by the BJP in this election, the way it is using religion.
Hindus who live in Bengal are not such fools. They are not so communal. Our Hindu brothers believe in Rabindranath Tagore, Subhash Chandra Bose and Qazi Nazrul Islam.
And who brought the BJP into Bengal? It was Mamata. Wasn’t she railways minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government? At that time, wasn’t the BJP dangerous?
You say you are fighting for all. But you are teaming up with Asaduddin Owaisi, who fought and won only in predominantly Muslim constituencies in Bihar last year.
Owaisi told me, “You know Bengal better, we will follow you.” So he will do what we tell him. Our fight will be for the poor, for humanity.
As for Bihar, what everyone says about Owaisi is wrong. Had he wanted to help the BJP, he would have put up his candidates in all Muslim-dominated constituencies in Bihar and divided the vote. But he didn’t.
Tell me, has Owaisi ever said a word against any other religion?
His brother Akbaruddin has and he has not condemned it.
I am teaming up with the AIMIM chief, not his uncle’s son or his brother.
This kind of maligning always happens with Muslim leaders. Nobody wants Muslims to assume leadership, because they know that a Muslim will treat everyone equally. That is what Islam teaches us. Those who want to exploit the poor will never want any Muslim to become a leader, because they know a Muslim leader will see to it that everyone gets education, everyone gets a house. That’s what these blood suckers don’t want.
So India’s condition is so bad because there’s been no Muslim leader?
Why else would the people of such a rich country be so poor? Whether it’s the Left parties or Congress, did they do anything for 70 percent of the people?
Yet it’s reported that you may join the Left-Congress alliance.
To ward off a big calamity, you need to go with the lesser evil.
Which is this big calamity: The BJP or Mamata?
For us, both are the same, two sides of the same coin.
So all the Muslims who vote for Mamata are fools?
No, even we supported her initially. We only gradually realised what she truly is. Look, you don’t feel the sun’s heat till its rays actually reach you. We did our own research and found out so much about her. In 2005, she gave her resignation to the Lok Sabha Speaker saying illegal Bangladeshis are infiltrating into Bengal. In 2002, she supported Narendra Modi even after Gujarat.
You say you will fight for Hindus too. But videos of some of your speeches show something else.
Those are clips taken out of context by my enemies, who can’t bear to see lakhs and crores of people following me, affectionately calling me Bhaijaan. This includes so many Hindus.
Your followers see you as a peerzada. Will they also follow you as a political leader?
Oh they are so happy, it’s like they are celebrating Eid now. They say this step should have been taken 50 years ago.