15 Cong MLAs fence sitting, 3 city MLAs in talks with Ajit camp | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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15 Cong MLAs fence sitting, 3 city MLAs in talks with Ajit camp

Feb 03, 2024 08:52 AM IST

Speculation of former minister and Bandra MLA Baba Siddiqui and son Zeeshan, who is an MLA, jumping ship

Mumbai: Following the departure of Milind Deora from its ranks, the Congress party is looking at further depletion of its leadership in Mumbai. Both within and outside the party there is speculation of former minister and Bandra MLA Baba Siddiqui jumping ship to join the Ajit Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party ahead of 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Mumbai, India - October 24, 2019: Congress candidate Zeeshan Siddique along with father former MLA Baba Siddique celebrates after he won against Mumbai Mayor and Shiv Sena candidate Vishwanath Mahadeshwar at Bandar east Bandra east in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, October 24, 2019. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times) (Kunal Patil/HT Photo)
Mumbai, India - October 24, 2019: Congress candidate Zeeshan Siddique along with father former MLA Baba Siddique celebrates after he won against Mumbai Mayor and Shiv Sena candidate Vishwanath Mahadeshwar at Bandar east Bandra east in Mumbai, India, on Thursday, October 24, 2019. (Photo by Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times) (Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

Baba Siddiqui, mentored by Sunil Dutt, was a former minister and a key figure in the Congress’s past wins in the key Mumbai North-West Lok Sabha constituency. His son Zeeshan is at present the MLA from Bandra east, and is likely to follow his father before the Maharashtra assembly elections slated for later this year.

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Zeeshan,31, a first time MLA, denied such speculation on-record but heaped praised on Ajit Pawar likening him to a family member and someone who had “stood by me” in tough times.

The Siddiquis however are not the only leaders looking to exit the Congress. The Ajit Pawar faction, with the tacit support of the BJP, is also looking to induct two other prominent Muslim leaders from Mumbai Congress. They are Mumbadevi MLA Amin Patel and Aslam Shaikh the MLA from Malad West.

The Congress has 4 MLAs in Mumbai. Two of whom, Zeeshan Siddiqui and Aslam Shaikh, 51, are facing separate corruption probes by the Enforcement Directorate while Amin Patel is a close associate of Milind Deora. If the three quit, as widely expected, the party will be left with just one MLA in Mumbai, Varsha Gaikwad who represents Dharavi. Sources in the Congress also confirmed that working president of the state Congress Arif Naseem Khan too was approached to switch sides but refused to do so. Khan had lost the 2019 assembly election from Chandivali by a wafer-thin margin.

“While Khan has steadfastly refused to jump ship, at least two leaders (Siddiqui and Shaikh) are definitely in touch with the ruling parties. The effort by the BJP is to get them to switch before the Rajya Sabha elections slated for February 27 and the conclusion of Rahul Gandhi Nyay Yatra in Mumbai on March 20th,” admitted a senior Congress leader. “Senior leaders of the party are in touch with them and are trying to understand the issues behind their intention to leave the party,” he added, requesting he not be quoted. Another leader, who is in talks with the ruling alliance, however said, “At least 15 MLAs of the Congress are sitting on the fence and the next one month will see a lot of action.”

A senior BJP leader said that Amin Patel, 61, a close associate of Milind Deora, chose not to go with Deora because he did not want to join Shinde’s party which flaunts its Hindutva colours. However, added the BJP leader, Patel had been approached for a “tacit understanding with the ruling alliance.” When contacted, Patel, one of the Congress’s few popular leaders in south Mumbai, denied speculation that he was leaving the party. He responded with a smiley emoticon to a subsequent text message about his political plans.

The senior Congress leader quoted above said that by poaching these Muslim leaders and getting them into Ajit Pawar’s “secular” camp, the attempt was to weaken the Congress in Mumbai, the city where the idea of the Congress germinated in 1885. In the process, he said, the Ajit Pawar camp will get an widen its base in the city where it’s practically negligible. Mumbai has sizable pockets of Muslims in at least 10 out of 36 Assembly constituencies including Mumbadevi, Colaba, Deonar, Bandra, Andheri, Kurla, Anushakti Nagar, Malad and Govandi.

“Joining the Ajit Pawar faction for the Muslim leaders would be more convenient than joining the BJP or the Shinde faction as Ajit Pawar has deliberately tried to keep his ‘secular’ image intact,” said the Congress leader commenting in this story. “For instance, he had refused to visit Reshimbaug in Nagpur to pay tribute to RSS founder Dr KB Hedagewar at his Samadhi but despite this, Muslim voters are unlikely to vote for Ajit Pawar as they know that finally he is with the saffron alliance.”

Aslam Shaikh refused to respond to calls or text messages for his comment about his possible political shift.

Zeeshan Siddiqui, for his part said he could not speak about his father’s plan but that he himself was not shifting loyalties. However, he did say that Ajit Pawar treated him “like a son,” and called the deputy chief minister “an inspirational figure who supports young talent.”

Baba Siddiqui, under an ED probe for irregularities in SRA construction, and known for his connections across the film industry said, “As of now there is no truth in these speculations. If at all I will go, I will tell everyone and will not do so secretly. However, there is no chance of me leaving Congress for now,” he insisted.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Faisal is with the political team and covers state administration and state politics. He also covers NCP.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Surendra P Gangan is Senior Assistant Editor with political bureau of Hindustan Times’ Mumbai Edition. He covers state politics and Maharashtra government’s administrative stories. Reports on the developments in finances, agriculture, social sectors among others.

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