Mithun Chakraborty to Abbas Siddiqui: Making sense of the shifting sandmen of Bengal

Abhijit Majumder
·3-min read

His long hair sat famously curled on his shoulders, white jacket fluttering in the breeze from the fans onstage. Mithun Chakraborty entered the dais at Salt Lake stadium in 1986 to the roar of thousands. The show was Hope 86, the Left Front government's star-packed extravaganza to woo Bollywood to do business in West Bengal.

Mithun was extremely close to the Left regime. He could not have turned down the call from the other Chakraborty, the then all-powerful state minister Subhash Chakraborty.

Cut to 2014. Just before the general elections, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee nominated the star to Rajya Sabha on a Trinamool ticket.

Within a year, the Enforcement Directorate was questioning Chakraborty in Saradha, the ponzi scam which left nearly 17 lakh mostly middle- and lower-middle-class depositors financially marooned.

Six years later, there is a strong buzz that Chakraborty is joining the BJP on Sunday and will likely be on the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Brigade Parade Ground rally. Mithun recently set the ground for his entry, praising the RSS for its social work.

What could Mithun's newest turn in politics mean? What has the BJP to gain from an ageing superstar?

The BJP has been inducting Bengali film personalities almost en masse for the last two years. Most of them make no difference to the party's fortunes on the ground. But by acquiring them, as also a superstar like Mithun who is well past his prime, the BJP is simply sending out a daily weather report to voters of Bengal: "Look which way the wind is blowing."

Far from Tollygunge and Bengal's filmdom, its gargantuan Muslim world is experiencing the flutters of change.

Once, the custodians of Furfura Sharif €" one of the state's most-revered dargahs €" were robustly behind Mamata Banerjee, like the rest of her Muslim voter base. Things began to change after the Furfura Sharif cleric Toha Siddiqui started making dissenting noises over TMC offering Durga Puja committees money to repair its minority appeaser image.

Now, Toha's nephew and Muslim hardliner Abbas Siddiqui has floated his own party Indian Secular Front (ISF) and joined the CPI(M)-Congress front. The young cleric is especially close to the 'godless' Communists now.

The Left is not known to platform leaders with such extreme religious views. Why did it make this egregious exception?

Abbas commands a strong following among the 85 percent Bengali Muslims, many of whom feel the Mamata regime has been partial towards the small section of Urdu-speaking Muslims. His joining the Left-Congress front is certainly going to take at least a slice of Muslim votes away from the TMC.

But the Left is also aware that the Abbas alliance will push a sizeable chunk of the Hindu vote away from itself. Why then did the Left so decisively opt for this marriage, however temporary it may be?

The Left realises that it has no real chance this time. However, the BJP is a blow away from vanquishing Mamata's TMC. Mamata's party does not have an ideology or cadre discipline to hold itself together in case of a crushing defeat. It could well crumble if it loses the state Assembly election.

That gives the Left a horizon of four-five years to revive and become the main Opposition party if the BJP comes to power. It still has a shrinking but loyal base in West Bengal which can start growing again if the TMC is out of the equation.

The shifting sands of Bengal point at fascinating eventualities. With every change, a new shape of the future is emerging. And that makes it one of the most important and captivating state elections in Independent India.

Also See: West Bengal Assembly Election: Abbas Siddiqui's ISF seals deal with Left in 30 seats, talks on with Congress

West Bengal polls: Left, Congress and ISF finalise seat-sharing deal for first two phases

Trinamool Congress likely to release list of all 294 candidates on Friday, poll manifesto on 9 March

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