(Incorporating additional quote, background) Kolkata, Feb 4 (PTI) Amidst seat sharing talks with the Left Front, Congress in poll-bound West Bengal Thursday sought AICC's nod to initiate formal dialogue with the newly formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) of Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui for a grand alliance of secular parties in the state sans Trinamool Congress.
Senior state Congress leader Abdul Mannan, who is also the leader of opposition in the assembly, in a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi said he has already started 'unofficial dialogue' with ISF and WBPCC president Adhir Chowdhury has visited Siddiqui of Furfura Sharif shrine.
The Muslim cleric has called the Congress move a 'positive development'.
'The addition of ISF in the Left-Congress alliance may be a game changer in the ensuing assembly elections ... I have started unofficial dialogue with the ISF and the PCC president visited Siddiqui's place recently. He has discussed the issue with me and is seeking my help because of my personal relation with Pirzada Siddiqui's family since decades,' Mannan said.
CPI-M Politburo member Md Salim has also started discussions with Siddiqui, he said.
'He (Siddiqui) is popular for his oratory skills among Muslims, as well as dalits and tribals,' Mannan said in his letter and added that lakhs of people gather at his meetings in minority, tribal and dalit areas.
Stating that 30 per cent of the population in the state are Muslims, he said of them 90 per cent are Bengali speaking and are the traditional vote bank of the Congress.
The 34-year-old Pirzada told reporters 'It is a positive development. But it is too early for us to comment on the issue.
'Let us see how things unfold,' he added.
In a development that might upset political equations in highly polarised West Bengal, Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, who heads the Furfura Sharif in Hooghly district, floated his political outfit on January 21 contending that he wished to be the kingmaker after the assembly polls due in April-May.
The influential cleric, who became the first religious leader in West Bengal to take the plunge into politics, had said Indian Secular Front plans to contest the elections.
The Pirzada had also exuded confidence of a possible tie-up with the Left-Congress alliance.
Siddiqui had said in recent interviews that the Mamata Banerjee government has done 'more harm than good' for the Muslims by creating a Hindu-Muslim divide.
He had asserted that his newly floated political outfit will prove to be the 'kingmaker' in the state and rejected as 'baseless' the accusation that he has decided to jump into the electoral battle to cut into TMC's Muslim vote base which has been assiduously nurtured byChief Minister Mamata Banerjee over the last ten years. PTI SUS KK KK KK