By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Come the Bihar elections and Mr. Md Owaisi’s direct attacks on the grand RJD-JDU-Congress alliance, for doing nothing for the material upliftment of the community, treating Muslims as vote bank and raising the bogey of BJP/Hindutva to keep them in perpetual fear and ghettos, seem to be finding a lot of takers in the Muslim community.
Back in the Maharashtra Assembly elections Owaisi’s Hyderabad-based AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) party got only 2 seats. But it ensured religious polarization that led to the defeat of NCP-Congress candidates in a number of seats, resulting in a victory for BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. This time around, in the Bihar elections, the party has decided to put up its candidates in 24 seats of the Seemanchal region which comprises of the 4 districts (Araria, Kishanganj, Katihar and Purnea), and have a significant minority population, varying from around 40 percent to 70 percent of the total.
The JDU-Congress-RJD grand alliance is in a tizzy because of what is popularly being termed as the ‘Owaisi factor’ that has the potential to polarize the electorate on communal lines and also, lead to the division of so-called secular votes which the alliance has assiduously cultivated.
To top all of that, his enunciation of a new assertive, aggressive and exclusive Muslim polity has found traction among Muslim youths throughout the country in the aftermath of electoral victory of BJP at the Centre and increased belligerence of fringe Hindutva outfits on matters like conversion, uniform civil code and cow slaughter.
While on a visit to Araria, I saw a lot of development deficit in the region which has become synonymous with poverty and illiteracy. No wonder, Owaisi’s pitch for constitution of Special Development Council under Article 371, has endeared him to the people there for what is being termed as an ‘out of the box solution’ for the area. However, R.S. Thakur of Araria College opines that Owaisi may not be able to cut into minority votes significantly as Muslims tend to vote tactically to defeat BJP. The minority voters had consolidated in favour of RJD and Congress in the previous LS 2014 Elections to prevent BJP from coming to power, and 2015 Assembly Elections would be no different. Grand alliance is their best bet to counter NDA in Bihar. The grand alliance has accused AIMIM of being hands in glove with BJP to divide anti-BJP votes.
Dr. M.N.A. Baig, a JNU product and scholar of Arabic and Persian, who hails from Sitamarhi district of Bihar, feels that local influential minority leaders like Taslimuddin of RJD and Tariq Anwar of NCP have their own pockets of influence which can’t be breached easily. Owaisi is merely testing the waters of Bihar for his future forays into state polity. Dr. Baig refuses to buy the theory of homogeneous Muslim voting and emphasizes that Muslims vote heterogeneously like other communities in India.
Muslims constitute around 16-17 percent of the state population which makes it a sizable electoral block. Considering the fact that apart from NDA and Grand alliance, the Bihar Third Front is also in the fray, any minor fluctuation in voting trend may upset the entire electoral picture. Even if Owaisi manages to secure 4-5 percentage minority votes, it will give reasons to the BJP to rejoice. The kind of crowd support that his rally drew in Kishanganj had the messiahs of Muslim polity gasping for breath. In the 2010 Assembly Elections, the NDA got 19 seats out of 24 despite Muslim consolidation towards RJD. It is pertinent to mention that BJP had lost all the 3 MP seats in the region despite a perceptible saffron wave throughout the country.
Whatever the outcome of the election results, Owaisi has succeeded to some extent in exposing the sham mainstream secularism of the alliance. The very idea of the RJD-JDU combine is that secular votes should not be divided, and that shows their communal mindset. Their hypocrisy gets manifested in their attempt to prevent communal polarization while advocating for caste polarization. Prevention of communal riots is not a favour that the RJD or Congress has done to the minorities but their constitutional obligation. Rather than be guided by genuine concern for minorities and their incorporation into the power-sharing structure, the constituents of the grand alliance have treated them as vote banks. Mandal survived because minorities were its palanquin bearers after their disenchantment with Congress without getting anything substantial in return. However, lack of an alternative for the minorities may compel them to support the alliance candidates.
For long, the Muslims had put their stakes in mainstream parties and rejected the shrill cries of the exclusive Muslim parties that crop up from time to time but that may be set for change. The Muslims seem to suffer from a trust deficit and a lack of conviction in the state. This perhaps, is the reason for their politics of exclusion and drift towards religious fundamentalism. The rise of AIMIM and All India United Democratic Front in Assam and their increasing popularity may have wide-ranging implications for our polity. The days of Muslim League may be revisited if the state fails to address their concerns. And Owaisi and his politics might just make those days come sooner than later.
‘Bihar Elections With Ojha’ is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of the Bihar 2015 elections.