India’s 21st Century Jinnah
Every election in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh has analysts scurrying for measuring the degree of consolidation of Muslim voters behind one or the other party. The analysis is based on one assumption that the Muslims always vote differently from the Hindus. The tendency of Muslims to rally behind a party is neither unique nor a solitary example of community consolidation. In Muslim-dominated seats, the traditional caste factors become a secondary consideration.
Three days after the Bihar election dates were announced, Asaduddin Owaisi, Chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and MP from Hyderabad, announced that they will contest in Bihar’s Seemanchal region, which mainly comprises Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnia and accounts for roughly 24 of 243 seats in the state. Till now, the party was confined to Telangana, and parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Last October, nearly 60,000 Muslims had crammed into the dusty parade grounds at Aurangabad to hear Asaduddin Owaisi. During his speech, Owaisi left the stage midway for a Muslim call to prayer. Tens of thousands of people from the crowd followed him into the mosque. Owaisi and his party are now systematically moving beyond his traditional base of Hyderabad. Two of his party’s candidates won in the Maharashtra elections last November, and dozens were elected in municipal elections.
The BJP never expects Bihar’s Muslims to vote for them. It may be a strange coincidence but Owaisi’s presence has always helped the BJP, as it did during assembly polls in Maharashtra. His entry in Bihar could help the BJP-led alliance. The battle for the Muslim vote has only got tougher for politicians in Bihar. Of the three parties of the grand alliance, Owaisi’s entry is likely to cause more harm to Lalu Prasad’s RJD, which has courted the Muslim-Yadav combination over the past 25 years. Owaisi is going to be both a dividing and a uniting factor in Bihar. While he can divide the Muslim voters, he is going to help the BJP consolidate Hindu votes behind it. The RJD polled nearly 22 per cent votes and the JD(U) garnered 15 per cent votes even during the strong Narendra Modi wave in last year’s general election. But observers say Owaisi’s entry could lead to a change.
Bihar’s Seemanchal has always been a hotbed of Muslim politics. Muslims make up more than 69 per cent of the electorate in Kishanganj while their presence in other constituencies in Seemanchal is between 20 per cent and 40 per cent. The data of Census 2011 shows that Araria has 42.95 per cent Muslims, Purnea has 38.46 per cent, Katihar has 44.47 per cent and Kishanganj, the only district in the area, which shares an international boundary with Bangladesh, has 67.98 per cent Muslims. The number of Muslim lawmakers in the Lok Sabha has dropped to 22 of 543 seats, while the Rajya Sabha holds 24 of 245 seats. Bihar sent four Muslim MPs to Lok Sabha in 2014 out of total community strength of 20 in Parliament. Owaisi’s decision to contest the Bihar elections has come a bit late. To the other parties, this move appears that AIMIM and BJP are hands in gloves with each other. Even though their ideologies and the statements made by the leaders show them as sworn enemies, there are quite some similarities between them. Both the parties are right wing parties, albeit with different religious ideologies.
Muslims have always been the real king makers in Bihar. Their 17 per cent per cent votes are sought by all the parties. In the nineties, it was the Muslim vote that made Lalu Prasad Yadav, a hero in the country. They deserted the Congress and preferred the RJD. When they realised that Lalu was just a gasbag, they switched to support to Nitish Kumar, even though he was in alliance with the BJP.
Till a few weeks ago, the Bihar electorate could have been seen as the thousands of caste which were divided into four major sections of Forward Caste, Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. With Owaisi’s entry, reverse polarization is a certainty. The caste factor will take a second seat, religious identity will rule, at least in areas where AIMIM will contest. Owaisi’s campaign in Bihar will ensure a huge chunk of Hindu votes shifting to the BJP. Contrarily, Muslim votes too will also get divided as the youth sees Owaisi as their messiah. It is about time that Muslims should realise that he is not a messiah and his brand of communal politics will destroy India.
Muslim leaders of the past had realised this threat. On December 28, 1947, S.A. Barelwi and Maulana Ahmad Said, vice presidents of Jamiatul Ulama, advised Muslims to dissolve communal groups. “The time has come when Muslims of all shades of opinion must take a united decision to abjure communal politics which, far from serving the real interest of the masses and affording them necessary protection and security, (tends) to encourage social and political reactions and injure national life by encouraging false and unnatural divisions and fostering hatred and suspicion among different communities.” These words could not ring truer in today’s Bihar.