Bihar assembly elections are round the corner. Election Commission has said that the polls will have to be concluded well before the end of November this year. Amidst the rampaging pandemic the thought of going out and vote may unnerve many voters, however, what may be occupying the minds of the Mahagathbandhan or the Grand Alliance leaders is something completely different.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the maverick Member of Parliament from Hyderabad and the leader of the AIMIM has recently announced the intent to fight from as many as fifty assembly constituencies across the state. It is needless to say that all these seats are going to be invariably those Muslim dominated seats from where the Mahagathbandhan has been winning for quite sometimes.
This is going to give heartburns to many a people across the state, though the BJP and its NDA allies including Nitish Kumar led Janta Dal United must be very delighted to hear. Earlier this year, the AIMIM was the first to announce candidates for 36 assembly seats. While the party has opened its account from Kishanganj, with one of the highest concentration of Muslims in the country, it was in a bypoll and therefore it is not certain if the party will be able to retain the seat in the Bihar assembly elections 2020.
A day before announcing the names of the candidates from 50 assembly seats, the maverick politician, Asaduddin Owaisi said, “I would like to say to the people of Bihar that person voted by you in the names of secularism is now with Modi. That is why my request to strengthen the Majlis in Bihar and not get seduced by anyone now”. Unmistakably, his target was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who had fought the last assembly election in alliance with RJD and Congress, but later ditched the alliance and formed the government with the BJP. The party has been trying to send a message across to anyone ready to listen to it, that many people who the Muslims vote for in the name of secularism tend to jump the ship and join the BJP.
Other leaders of his party too have been trying to parrot the same message. AIMIM’s Bihar chief Akhtarul Eman, who was groomed by the RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, while releasing the names of 50 assembly seats, said his party is contesting elections not to help anyone but to ensure the rights of the people from the minority and Dalit communities. He said that these two sections of the population have always been exploited just for electoral gains by other parties. “Whosoever accusing us of jumping into the electoral fray in Bihar are obviously frightened by our growing popularity” he said.
He went on to attack Nitish Kumar accusing him of exploiting minorities and the deprived sections of the population. “Nitish Kumar has done nothing for the people of minority and sided with the BJP on the issues of NPA, NRC, and CAA. The people of Seemanchal in Bihar are reeling with flood fury and he has done nothing to help them. The Congress party and others have also cheated the minorities and used them for only electoral gains”, Akhtarul Eman said.
AIMIM has been trying to project its Kishanganj bypoll win as a game changer. However, this was more to do with the absurd decision of the Congress party and its Lok Sabha MP Muhammad Jawed, who in order to keep the seat as a family heirloom, pitted his mother Saeeda Bano from the constituency. People, despite being the supporter of the Congress party felt betrayed and voted overwhelmingly against the Congress candidate. Bano, who was fielded as its candidate came third on the seat and lost her deposit. Qamrul Huda of the AIMIM won the seat comprehensively. However, this was not a Majlis win, but a drubbing of the Congress’s local MP for trying to keep the seat within the family. It is also said that overconfidence saw the Congress lose a rather safe seat.
Over the last few months, ever since Nitish Kumar ditched Mahagathbandhan and joined hands with the BJP once again, and particularly after Congress loss in Madhya Praddesh and Karnataka, AIMIM has been trying to send a message to the community. The Hyderabad based party is trying to convince Muslims, and with a degree of success, that whoever you vote, they will invariably go with the BJP.
The BJP’s success in managing defections within the Congress party as seen in Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh and in some other smaller states has given it’s a potent weapon to discredit secular parties. I have seen many so called Muslim intellectuals parroting this aspect day and night without actually talking about the carrot and stick approach of the ruling BJP in different parts of the country.
Recently, everyone saw as to how the Congress fought off a similar poaching exercise in Rajasthan where a section of the Congress MLAs rebelled against Ashok Gehlot. They were led by none other than Sachin Pilot who was obviously backed by the BJP. Almost everyone has a clear idea now as to how tough it was for a shrewd politician like Ashok Gehlot to keep his flock of remaining MLA’s together.
AIMIM and its leaders talk about the backwardness of Kishanganj and Katihar and accuse RJD and the Congress to keep the region backward. When I put the same question to Soroor Ahmad, a Patna based analyst, he told me that this was false and misleading. “Owaisi brothers and his cronies talk about the backwardness of Katihar and Kishanganj. But the truth is that the region is among the most developed compared to any part of the state except probably Patna and Gaya. All sorts of educational institutions including Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) special campus are housed in the region. Both the districts have medical colleges and all associated facilities with it. This is the most well connected region in India and you can find trains to almost every part of the country from here. The narrative of the region’s backwardness is merely to antagonize the people with secular parties and nothing more” Ahmad told me.
There is no denying that the biggest beneficiary of the AIMIM fighting from so many seats will be the BJP led NDA here. Most of the 36 assembly constituencies in Seemanchal are held by the Mahagathbandhan and the AIMIM putting candidates from all these seats will impact their chances in at least a few seats. There is apprehension if AIMIM will be able to even win a single seat, however, it is certain that it will dent the chances of RJD/ Congress Mahagathbandhan in a couple of constituencies.
Muslims make more than 17 percent of the population and have played a larger than life role in state politics. Along with the Yadavs, they have been in the forefront in deciding the outcome of any elections. AIMIM and the BJP, both are trying to break the strong electoral bond between the two important communities of the state.
More Columns by Syed Ubaidur Rahman:
Despite muted denials, NRC will target Muslims
Bhagwat, Madani meet: End of the maddening divide
Ahmadullah Shah: Hero whose head and body are buried
Muslim women's entry in mosques: What is the truth?
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