Ahead of elections, senior leaders of major political parties are making a beeline for Furfurasharif, a holy place for Muslims, 50 km from here, and bowing and scraping to a bearded cleric who appears to be in a foul and unforgiving mood.
"All of them are turning up to inform me how pro-Muslim they are. But the truth is they have broken promises made to us. And I'm saying this to their faces," Furfurasharif's pir Huzur Toha Siddiqui told dna in an exclusive interview.
Twenty five per cent of West Bengal's voters are Muslims and so it is natural that political parties are trying to get the Pir on their side. Toha heads the Order of Furfurasharif, which has millions of followers in West Bengal, Assam and Bangladesh. The Islamic religious order was founded in the 19th century. Besides the order's headquarters, Furfurasharif is home to a mosque built in 1375 and to Bengal's oldest madrasa established in 1908. The place is a magnet for pilgrims during the order's annual congregation in March.
Among those pinning for Toha's approval are the Trinamool Congress, the Congress and the CPI(M). Those who have visited Toha in the last few days are CPI(M) secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose, Mamata's second-in-command, Mukul Roy, her party's Muslim faces Sultan Ahmed and Firhad Hakim, state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury and expelled CPI(M) leader Abdur Rezzaq Mollah, who is trying to forge a Dalit-Muslim front in Bengal.
But Toha is upset with them all, particularly with chief minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. Apart from accusing it of neglecting Muslims since coming to power in the state in May 2011, he has a specific grouse: the abject failure of three of the party's railway ministers — Mamata, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy — to build a 44-km rail link between Furfurasharif and Dankuni despite giving their word on it.
"Any politician who calls on me must answer one fundamental question: is there any chance of his party entering into an alliance with the BJP either before or after the elections?" declared Toha.
Media accounts of the meetings reveal Toha's disenchantment with the Trinamool, which he expressed while addressing last week's congregation. Fearing that his speech would cost the Trinamool dear at the hustings, Mamata dispatched Sultan to placate Toha. But Toha gave Sultan such a tongue lashing that he blamed the bureaucracy for mismanaging welfare measures for minorities and left hurriedly.
Mamata then sent her alter ego, Mukul, to appease Toha. Mukul went there accompanied by Firhad, who is extremely close to Mamata. Toha wanted to know whether Trinamool had any secret plans to align with the BJP. Moreover, he had a litany of complaints and kept repeating that promises made to Muslims had not been honoured.
Significantly, at the 2013 congregation too, Toha had lashed out at Trinamool.
Toha's heavyweight visitors have been photographed with their Muslim skull caps. "There is no dress code. I don't insist on visitors donning a cap. Covering one's head at religious sites is anyway an Indian custom. But most visitors wear a cap out of deep respect for the Furfurasharif order which believes in the brotherhood of man," said Toha.