Bihar elections: What options do Muslims have?

Source :SIFY
Last Updated: Tue, Jul 28th, 2020, 12:22:32hrs

Elections are slated to be held in Bihar merely less than three months from now. While the state is in the midst of a severe pandemic, there is every reason to believe that the elections will be held on time. While the ruling NDA is finding itself in unusually strong position due to multiple reasons, political pundits are wondering as to who Muslims will vote.

Muslims make around twenty percent of the state population and have helped many leaders to come to power in the state. From Lalu Prasad Yadav to Nitish Kumar, both have been patronized by the Muslims of the state. For close to fifteen years, during the reign of Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, the MY or the Muslim, Yadav combination brought to power the affable Lalu Yadav to power with huge majority. There are reasons to believe that holding elections during pandemic will give undue advantage to the ruling alliance.

Elections during pandemic

There is no denying that it is a bad time for Bihar like the rest of the country. Covid-19 has been a horrible experience for the people of Bihar, where health facilities were already among the least developed in the country. When the Covid-19 hit the nation, like the rest of India, Bihar was least prepared to confront it. However the worse aspect was the fact that during at least one and half month of lockdown, the state failed to prepare for the worse of Coronavirus.

The same media that used to eulogise Nitish Kumar has started hounding him day and out for the poor health infrastructure across the poverty stricken Bihar. It may be very scary proposition for the Bihar Chief Minister who a couple of years after becoming the chief minister used to invite media to highlight how great change his government has brought about in the rural health sector, especially the Primary Health Centres across the state. It is needless to say that the media used to lap up on every word of the chief minister. However, the same media is now hounding Nitish Kumar by showing the visuals from different hospitals where the condition seems to be getting out of hands.

The way Covid-19 cases across Bihar are mounting, it has exposed the wretched state of hospitals and health care services across the state. Notwithstanding the fact that the number of people being tested in the state is abysmally low, the cases are skyrocketing. While Tamil Nadu has tested as many as 2.41 million people so far, Maharashtra has tested 1.9 million people, Uttar Pradesh 1.83 million people and Andhra Pradesh tested 1.69 million people, Bihar has tested less than half a million people thus far. This is among the lowest for one of the most populous states in the country. Much smaller states like Delhi, Haryana, Assam and Gujarat have tested many more people than Bihar, the second most populous nation in the country with more than 123 million people.

While the state is witnessing a health crisis, this is surprising that the state government and the ruling parties including Chief Minister Nitish Kumar led JDU and the BJP are going out to woo the voters. BJP has already held several online rallies across the state. Janta Dal United is also trying to do the same though at a smaller level. This is happening when the health infrastructure across the state is unravelling. Patna Medical College and Hospital, and other medical college hospitals, besides other government run hospitals across the state including the ones in Corona hotspots like Patna, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Gaya and other cities are presenting a doomsday like scenario with horrible scenes visible almost everywhere.

While the BJP and JDU are pretty sure about their success in the forthcoming assembly election despite their complete failure in dealing with pandemic, the opposition Mahagathbandhan comprising of RJD and the Congress are wondering if the Muslim community will back the alliance.

Will Muslims still back RJD/ Congress?

Many Muslims are apprehensive about the chances of Mahagathbandhan in the forthcoming election due to the absence of party chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. He is in jail for the last more than three years where he is serving a 14 year jail sentence for his alleged involvement in the fodder scam. The last assembly elections were fought by RJD and the JDU together and the RJD despite getting the largest number of seats in the state assembly had allowed Nitish Kumar to be sworn as the chief minister of Mahagathbandhan. However, after two years he ditched the grand alliance and went with the BJP.

Muslims are worried that the grand alliance may not hold forte in the absence of Lalu Yadav as his sons are not as capable in running the organization very smoothly. There are other grouses too. This include a misplace grumble that the party is not giving the Muslim community due representation when it comes to assembly and Parliamentary elections. However, this seems completely baseless as the party despite the absence of party supremo, Lalu Yadav, is giving due representation to the Muslim community at all levels.

Muslims make close to 17 percent of the state population and in the last assembly elections RJD gave tickets to as many as 16 Muslims when it put up candidates in 101 seats. During the same election, its alliance partner, Congress, fielded as many as 10 Muslims out of 41 seats it contested. This was as much as 25 percent of the total candidates that the party fielded. Janata Dal United, that was an alliance partner of the Mahagathbandhan gave the least number of seats. It contested 101 seats, but gave tickets to only seven Muslims. Even going by the total candidates fielded by the Grand Alliance the ratio was almost similar to the population of the community in the state.

Soroor Ahmed, a Patna based political analyst says that RJD is giving more representation to the Muslim community that sometimes is much more than their proportion in the state population. “In the last Lok Sabha polls RJD gave tickets to five Muslims when as a Grand Alliance partner it contested only 19 out of 40 seats in Bihar.  Thus Muslims got 27 per cent representation, that is, more than 10 per cent of their population in the state”, Soroor Ahmed tells me. He tells me that the misgivings about the ‘poor’ representation to Muslims or the backward Muslims are often spread by media or some community leaders to confuse the common Muslims. Usually these leaders get exposed in the poll, he goes on to add.

Will Owaisi affect the chances of Grand Alliance?

There are apprehensions that Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM may impact the chances of the Grand Alliance in Bihar. Hyderabad based strongman, Asaduddin Owaisi’s, party made a grand announcement merely a few days after the virtual rally of the BJP of fielding as many as 32 candidates in the forthcoming assembly elections in the crucial state.

AIMIM, despite the fact that it opened its account in the state assembly by winning a seat in a by-election, doesn’t have organizational structure to impact the chances of Mahagathbandhan. The most it can think about is to get a few hundred votes in constituencies where it will fight elections. This may impact the chances of the RJD/ Congress in a few seats, but may not be able to destroy their chances even in the Muslim majority seats of North Bihar where Hyderabad based party seems to be concentrating its efforts. It may also face difficulty in getting candidates for constituencies as it has no organizational structure at grassroots level.

Barring a few seats in North Bihar, the AIMIM may not be able to impact the outcome or affect the chances of the Mahagathbandhan in the state. “This is simply because outside the Muslim-dominated Kishanganj district of Bihar, AIMIM is considered by Muslims in general as the B-team of the BJP. Their first option across the state would certainly be the RJD-Congress led alliance. However, in case of any compulsion they would instead of opting for AIMIM throw their lot behind NDA candidates, preferably of Janata Dal United or Lok Janshakti Party. So barring a few youths the community in general would not waste their votes by exercising their franchise in favour of Owaisi’s outfit”, says Soroor Ahmed.

More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:

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Syed is a New Delhi based author and commentator. His forthcoming book 'Ulema's Role in India's Freedom Movements with Focus on Reshmi Rumal Tehrik will be out in October