With the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar only four months away, the political scene has been infused with sudden excitement with the announcement by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, head of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), that the party will be contesting at least 32 assembly seats spread across 22 of Bihar’s total 38 districts.
In other words, the AIMIM’s move will be splitting the Muslim votes, which is set to make things easier for the NDA in Bihar battling hard to retain the fourth term after being in power for the past 15 years.
So, is Owaisi indirectly trying to help the NDA comprising the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Bihar?
Although AIMIM claims the move is simply aimed at gaining national status for the party, experts and opposition leaders doubt the claim. They say the AIMIM is dancing to the tune of the BJP and the lone idea is to help the BJP which lost the last 2015 assembly polls badly.
“Owaisi is getting highly ambitious by the day and wants his party to get national status by contesting elections in many states but his politics is hardly different from the RSS,” commented prominent political expert DM Diwakar.
What Owaisi seems to be trying right now, Diwakar added, is to split the Muslim votes which looks to be going to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) headed by Lalu Prasad.
“But the Muslims are very much aware of who will benefit from the split in their votes,” he opined.
What raises doubts over the ‘intention’ of the Owaisi is that all the 32 seats where the AIMIM announced to field its candidates are Muslim-dominated, majority of which went to the opposition Grand Alliance in the last Assembly polls.
Of the 32 seats, seven were bagged by the RJD and two by the Congress while one seat went to the CPI. All those 10 legislators emerging victorious from these seats were Muslims.
Nobody doubted the intention of Owaisi when his party first made entry to the state in the last assembly elections, fielding its candidates on six assembly seats, although all, including state president Akhtarul Imam, lost badly.
But the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls amply indicated the deepening roots of the AIMIM in the state when its candidate Akhtarul Imam polled close to three lakh votes or 26.78 per cent of total in the elections for the Muslim-dominated Kishanaganj LS seat.
Although he lost the election, he gave tough contests to both the Congress and JD-U candidates. As a result, a Congress candidate managed to win elections by a small margin of only around 35,000 votes.
The AIMIM finally tasted the much-needed victory in assembly bypolls from Kishanganj seat held in October 2019 when its candidate Qamrul Hoda defeated the BJP candidate by around 20,000 votes, pushing the Congress candidate to the third slot.
Strangely, the elections were necessitated by the resignation of the Congress candidate Mohammad Jawed who was elected to the Lok Sabha.
But the poll scene has undergone a complete change post-December 2019.
After the nationwide protests over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register for Citizens (NRC) which also claimed around 25 lives in the country, there has been sudden consolidation of Muslim vote bank against the BJP.
In Bihar too, the Muslims have hugely shifted their loyalty towards the RJD, the main opposition in the state, although Muslims and Yadavs have been the traditional vote-bank of the party.
Muslims (around 16.90 per cent) and Yadavs (14 per cent) constitute a robust around 31 per cent, and hence it is the RJD-led Grand Alliance which faces the threat from AIMIM’s plan to contest good many seats in the state.
“Owaisi’s move threatens only and only the RJD which heavily banks on the support of the Muslims. It is obvious that the AIMIM will be splitting mainly the Muslim votes. So, even if its candidate polls only 500 or 1,000 votes, it will be cutting into the vote-bank of the RJD only. So the message is loud and clear,” said political expert Soroor Ahmed.
He said the move would significantly impact the politics in Bihar and that is the reason the BJP obviously wants Owaisi to grow.
“Owaisi’s gain clearly makes the BJP’s chances brighter,” he explained.
Experts say although the BJP has allied with the JD-U and also declared so many times that it will go to the polls under the leadership of chief minister Nitish Kumar, yet the party is not looking fully confident.
What has shaken its confidence is the humiliating defeat it had to face in the last 2015 assembly polls that too at the height of its popularity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself had led the NDA poll campaign addressing as many as 30 election rallies, the highest by any Prime Minister in the country, and also making a plethora of poll promises.
One of them was his announcement for granting a mega economic package of ₹1.25 lakh crore in central funds for Bihar. Then he went on showing in poor light both the “RJD and the JD-U” which were fighting in alliance then, questioned the “DNA” of Nitish Kumar and then focussed his campaign over beef yet the end result was very distressing for the BJP in general and Modi in particular.
Given this background, Owaisi’s move indeed brings cheers in the BJP camp. Excitement runs high in Bihar as Owisi announces to contest in 32 seats in upcoming elections