With Modi at helm, BJP finds it tough in east Bihar
BJP’s faith in Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is going to face its first acid test on Thursday in this part of Bihar, which in the last two elections has emerged as stronghold of the saffron party. The ramblings of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Shazia Ilmi asking the Muslims to turn ‘communal’ attracted adverse attention in the national media however in the countryside of eastern Bihar, the politics of caste equations and communal polarisation is actually being played out most blatantly and without a smirk.
More than the refusal of mafia don Mukhtar Ansari to contest against BJP’s primeministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi to save division in the Muslim votes, it’s the case of Janata Dal (United) candidate Akhtarul Imam turning renegade in Kishanganj seat which is being touted as a case of ‘greater sacrifice’ for the sake of the ‘quam’ (community). Of the seven seats – Kishanganj, Araria, Purnea, Katihar, Supaul, Bhagalpur and Banka – going to polls in Bihar on 24 April, Kishanganj has nearly 70 per cent Muslim presence, Araria 40 per cent, Katihar over 30 per cent, Purnea 20 per cent and around 15 to 20 per cent in Bhagalpur and Banka.
When the BJP and the Janata Dal (United) fought in alliance on these seats in the last (2009) elections, the NDA managed a upper hand isolating the Muslim-Yadav combination, however, this time around with the JD(U) out of the alliance, the Muslims see the opportunity to stop Lotus from blooming again in the region. Towards this end is taking place the blatant playing of the communal card, especially in the five seats north of Ganges; Bhagalpur and Banka are towards the south.
Realising that polarising the Hindu votes in its favour was an impossible task especially given the large presence of Yadav community in region and with the local community stalwart Pappu Yadav joining hands withRashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) boss Lalu Yadav, the BJP strategists have tried finding a way out pitching the Bengali-speaking Muslims with the non-Bengali Muslims – Kulhaiya and Shersahabadi.
Narendra Modi during the public rallies here has even tried creating a connect saying that the Kulhaiya were ‘his own’ as they had migrated to this part of Bihar from Gujarat. It’s difficult to say whether there is a historical evidence to establish this migration theory but for Kulhaiyas Modi has even monetised this connect. The saffron party has given ticket to candidates from these two communities in the two assembly segments – Kochadaman and Baisi – which are facing by-elections.
‘This gesture of BJP of giving tickets to Kulhaiya and Shersahabadi Muslims is part of BJP’s design to divide the Muslim community in Kishanganj parliamentary seat. My staying in the contest would have only added to their comfort therefore I decided to withdraw,’ says Akhtarul Imam, the JD (U) candidate who has withdrawn in the support of sitting Congress MP Maulana Asrarul Haque, in a standard reply to the queries made about his withdrawal.
This move has affected voters’ mood on all the seven seats with the polarisation happening both ways except for the substantial portion of the Yadav community still remaining with Lalu Yadav.
‘This time around RJD-Congress in addition to the Muslim-Yadav has also tried to accommodate other dominant community of Gangauta (boatmen) making it a typical political combination based on polarising the minority community and creating an equation with the numerically dominant castes of the majority community. Though these votes are coming in chunk, we must not forget that the 22 percent upper caste in the state in addition to 13 percent Vaishya votes and a good portion of extremely backward communities are going with the BJP, giving it a fair chance on all the seats,’ says Ratan Mandal, who teaches in Tilkamanjhi Bhagalpur university and keenly follows the regional politics.
In 2009, polarisation gave BJP upper hand in Kishanganj’s neighbouring seats of Katihar, Araria, Purnea, Bhagalpur and Banka. ‘NDA in 2009 had the support of both the dominant Yadav and Gangauta communities. The two communities, at least the Yadavs, have now en bloc look to have shifted to RJD-Congress making the fight close and putting the UPA on equal footing with the BJP,’ says Binod Singh, a prosperous landholder and ‘man having knowledge of politics’.