Firhad Hakim. (File Photo: IANS). Image Source: IANS News

New Delhi, Feb 27 : The Trinamool Congress, which has often been accused of "minority appeasement" and is now trying to correct its image under the aegis of Prashant Kishor's IPAC is facing a Catch-22 situation where it can neither go all out to embrace the hardline Hindutva politics of BJP, nor clutch to its core Muslim votebank.

In an event that has rocked West Bengal politics, the Trinamool has left an influential Muslim cleric enraged. So much so that he has called out the Mamata Banerjee-led party's key Muslim face -- Firhad Hakim aka Bobby Hakim as a "non Muslim".

The Shivratri that boomeranged: It all started this Shivratri, when ruling Trinamool Congress's Muslim face and Mamata Banerjee's close confidante Hakim offered prayers in a Shiva temple amid Sankskrit chants and sounds of Indian cymbals, known as 'kansha' in the eastern state.

Wearing a white kurta and grey Modi jacket, Hakim's Shiv-puja was performed to a T. He started by washing his hands followed by standing with folded hands in front of the idol as one priest continued to chant mantras and the other sprinkle Gangajal, considered sacred by the Hindus.

The TMC Minister and Kolkata Mayor is considered No 3 in the party, after Mamata Banerjee and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee. Some even say, he is more powerful and yield greater sway over the Bengal Chief Minister than the suave Derek O'Brien.

The entire event on February 21, was recorded on mobile and later went viral. From 'tilak' being put on Hakim's forehead to him holding flower petals on his palm for offering the deity -- Firhad Hakim did it all.

He was also spotted pouring water on the Shiva linga amid "Om Shivay Namah" chants.

This Hindutva outreach by the Mamata Banerjee governmnet's biggest Muslim face didn't have intended results. Rather than wooing the Hindu votes that constitute 70.54 per cent of the population (according to the 2011 census), Hakim ended up angering a very influential Muslim cleric who holds sway over the Muslim population (above 30 per cent) in the state .

Hakim called a 'non Muslim' Furfura Darbar Sharif, contains the mazhaar of one Abu Bakr Siddique and his five sons, popularly known as the Panch Huzur Keblah situated in the Hooghly district. Its influential cleric Md Abbas Siddique in a recent address to his followers called Hakim 'non Muslim', non believer of Islam.

"Bobby Hakim, is a traitor,... He is not from our religion. He betrayed us," Siddique mounted a vitriolic attack.

The cleric said Hakim "abused our religion".

IANS tried to contact Hakim, but he did not respond.

Siddiqui commands influence not just in West Bengal but also in surrounding states as well as in Bangladesh.

Earlier this month, when two Trinamool leaders criticised him for his rantings against the party over CAA in Madhyamgram (24 Pargana district), the TMC supporters did not think twice before beating up their own leaders.

Last December, he had threatened with blocking the Kolkata airport if the contentious CAA was not revoked. He had, in fact, asked Mamata Banerjee to either move the apex court or bring a resolution against the legislation following which she brought the anti-CAA resolution in the state Assembly.

In 2010, the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee had started the railway line project from Furfura Sharif to Dankuni. With the Modi government in place, that got shelved. However, such was the pressure that Trinamool Congress raised the matter in Lok Sabha last year.

Last June, party MP Kalyan Banerjee made a case for the project, and told the Parliament about "a mosque at Furfura Sharif built by Muqlish Khan in 1375 and it is a pilgrimage site for Muslims, specially during the Pir Mela".

The Trinamool had faced flak for giving stipends to Imams and for introducing Urdu vocabulary into Bengali, like 'asmani' in place of 'akashi' (sky blue). Despite all this, the BJP unsettled TMC in the 2019 general elections with 18 seats.

Now, with Prashant Kishor's IPAC guiding it, TMC is being steered towards soft Hindutva where larger sums are being given for Durga Puja and party MP Nusrat Jahan making a Parliament appearance wearing sindoor.

With the assembly election in 2021, TMC is caught in the cross roads. The road it takes will determine its future and that of West Bengal.

(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at anindya.b@ians.in)

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