Congressmen who are accusing the party of breaching secularism are those who “have already extracted their own pound of flesh,” said the party’s angry Bengal chief in an interview to NDTV today.
Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who is the Congress president in Bengal, offered this unflattering appraisal in response to allegations that the party, by allying with a powerful Muslim cleric in Bengal, has abandoned its long-held commitment to secularism. That charge has been levelled by Anand Sharma, former union minister, who is a member of what has been nicknamed the “G-23 club”, a group of 23 Congress leaders who hold the party’s leadership, in particular the Gandhis, of inaccessible and inconsistent direction.
Yesterday, Mr Sharma, 68, tweeted, “Congress cannot be selective in fighting communalists but must do so in all its manifestations, irrespective of religion and colour. The presence and endorsement West Bengal PCC President is painful and shameful, he must clarify.”
The Bengal chief of his party retaliated today by describing him and his G-23 cohort as “leaders, who over the decades, have enjoyed the power of the Congress party.” Now that the Congress is reduced to a far more modest standing, he professed, “they think the Congress does not have resources to offer them…so that is why they are castigating the Congress.”
Mr Chowdhury was present at a public event on February 28 when cleric Abbas Siddiqui, who is the peer or chief cleric of Bengal’s Furfura Sharif, a revered Muslim shrine, hit out at the Congress for not finalising seat-sharing with his party. The tension was palpable. When Mr Siddiqui had arrived at the venue moments before that, the Congress leader was mid-speech and was reportedly halted by Left leaders who wanted to announce the cleric’s entry. The Congress leader first refused to stop, then refused to continue; he ultimately completed his address with some persuasion from Left leaders who wanted to prevent a spectacle.
Critics of the Congress including the BJP say that comment is suffused with communalism. The party is in alliance with the Left in Bengal, and it is the Left who signed up Mr Siddiqui as a partner. G-23ers feel Mr Chowdhury should not have agreed to Mr Siddiqui and his Indian Secular Front joining a platform that includes the Congress.
Mr Chowdhury has retorted that those openly attacking him are in fact looking for greener pastures. “They thought to appease the party who may offer something for their bright future,” he told NDTV today.
He had earlier suggested that the G-23ers are looking to defect the BJP by calling out the “singing of the praises of the Prime Minister” by them, a reference to a meeting in Jammu and Kashmir on the weekend where G-23 boss Ghulam Nabi Azad offered positive comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Bengal votes for its new government starting March 27. Voting will take place on eight different days and results will be announced on May 2.