Published On : Sat, Aug 22nd, 2015

Owaisi’s Bihar entry: a ‘bad omen’ for Lalu-Nitish alliance

When firebrand Muslim leader Asaduddin Owaisi, president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), visited Kishanganj on August 16, an impressive crowd of over 15,000 Muslims were eagerly waiting since early morning in the Rusidhansa stadium to hear him, braving incessant rains and waterlogged roads around.

Unlike his earlier fiery speeches which have become his trademark, Owaisi, however, looked calm and composed here except for hitting at the today’s brand of politicians craving for the minority votes but doing nothing for their upliftment, and seeking a special package for Seemanchal region comprising four north-eastern district known as the “Muslim hub” of Bihar.

Yet, his entry into Bihar just ahead of upcoming assembly polls has caused quite much consternation in state political circles. Especially it comes as a “bad omen” for Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar combine which was hoping to get the chunk votes of the vast minority class voters with their grand secular alliance locked in a straight contest with the BJP. Muslims account for some 17 percent of the total votes in Bihar, indicating their political significance in the caste-ridden state politics.

The worry for the grand alliance comprising RJD, JD-U and the Congress is that the more the Owaisi’s party gets stronger, the greater the chances of BJP-led NDA coming to power in Bihar. In fact, the RJD has its support base primarily among the Muslims and Yadavs (M-Y). While the Yadav voters already look undecided for Lalu’s move to shake hands with Nitish who is blamed for destroying his active political career and also inflicting tortures on his fellow caste men during latter 10 years in office, the Muslim voters too have become doubtful with Owaisi’s entry.

The tension is already palpable in the RJD-JD-U camp with strong reactions coming out from the two parties although it’s still not clear whether AIMIM will jump into the poll arena and how many seats it will be contesting. Unofficial sources said the AIMIM could field its candidates on at least 25 seats falling under the bordering region comprising Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnia having significant presence of Muslim voters. Of them, Kishanganj accounts for some 70 percent of the Muslim population whereas in the rest three districts, their population ranges from 30 to 40 percent.

“There seems to be a larger conspiracy to pollute the prevailing atmosphere of communal harmony in the Seemanchal region by inviting Owaisi to contest the upcoming elections. His party doesn’t have any presence in the region and it will prove only ‘votekatva’ but we will defeat his ugly designs,” declared a senior RJD leader and former Union minister Mohammad Taslimuddin, a close confident of Lalu.

A JD-U leader refused to make comments on Owaisi’s entry to Bihar but asked the masses to be wary of BJP’s agents, indicting the JD-U nervousness.

In fact, Nitish’s JD-U does not have a permanent support base among any community nor it is a cadre-based party like RJD of Lalu which can claim its support among particular social class. One prime reason why Nitish had decided to tie up with Lalu was latter M-Y equation which so far had stood with him through thick and thin.

While the Yadavs had lent their unflinching support to the RJD, Muslims were left with no option other than rallying round Lalu for his tested “secular” credentials. Whereas many of his one-time close colleagues, such as Nitish himself, Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav switched their loyalties with the passage of time, Lalu went on fighting the “communal” BJP single-handedly, making him as the darling of the minority class. Even in the last 2014 LS polls, the RJD polled a little more than 20 percent votes, five percent more than Nitish’s JD-U which could poll only 15 percent votes.

In the now changed political situation, Owaisi’s Bihar foray could harm Nitish-led grand alliance’s poll prospects in two ways. While it is likely to cut into the significant Muslim votes of the grand alliance, it also holds the potential to polarise voters along the communal lines.

Although both the situations are dangerous for the grand alliance, the second one is deadlier given the fact it could impact the poll process across the state which will only benefit the BJP, feel the observers. Muslims have never been loyal to the BJP. Given this situation, the BJP is fully sure it is not going to get the support of the minority class voters, so it would more like to see polarisation of votes along the communal lines. “It’s anybody guess what will happen if the 83 percent Hindu voters polarise against some about 17 percent Muslims owing to Owaisi effect,” remarked a expert pleading no to be named.

Almost similar situation had helped the NDA quite much when the electioneering got comunalised in an unprecedented manner during the last Lok Sabha polls leading to higher degree of Hindu consolidation, ultimately benefitting the NDA which bagged 31 out of Bihar’s total 40 LS seats.

The entire situation was created after the JD-U candidate from Kishanganj LS seat, Akhtarul Iman, withdrew his candidature in favour of Congress candidate at the last moment, saying it was a must to defeat the BJP. Although his withdrawal from the contest led to the smooth victory of the Congress candidate, it only led to huge polarization of Hindu votes in favour of the BJP as the result was obvious for anyone to see. This time again, it was Iman who invited Owaisi to Bihar.

Owaisi’s move has already begun polarising the Hindus well ahead of the elections. A clear hint of this was seen during the NDA rally addressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Saharsa on August 18, held barely two days after Owaisi’s visit to Kishanganj. Media reports have said the crowd at the Saharsa rally was more than the other rallies addressed by the PM in Muzaffarpur, Gaya and Ara towns. It was significant to note that the the crowd registered its massive presence despite heavy rains in Saharsa. “This was clearly the Owaisi effect. By thronging the venue in huge numbers, the Hindus wanted to display their solidarity for Modi,” commented a local journalist who had covered the Saharsa rally.

Past records also show Owaisi’s presence in the electoral arena has hugely benefitted the BJP. The BJP-led alliance gained majority in Maharashtra assembly polls after Owaisi jumped into the poll arena although his party could win only two seats. The BJP lost badly in Delhi elections as Owaisi decided against contesting the elections. Now that he had planned to contest the Bihar elections, it has only brightened the BJP’s poll prospects as it evident from saffron camp’s mysterious silence over the issue. Unconfirmed reports say Owaisi allegedly has a tacit understanding with the BJP. It is said he meets BJP chief Amit Shah whenever the former is in Delhi though there is no official confirmation about it.

…. by Manoj Kumar ( firstpost )