New Delhi: A day after releasing its final list of candidates for the Bihar assembly election, the Congress party has come under attack from the BJP for fielding former Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) student leader Maskoor Usmani as a candidate.
“Congress and Mahagathbandhan leaders have to answer the country if the Jale candidate supports Jinnah. Congress and Mahagathabndhan have to tell if they also support Jinnah? Will Sharjeel Imam be their star campaigner?” BJP leader and Union minister Giriraj Singh said Friday.
Usmani will be contesting from Jale constituency in Darbhanga district of Bihar, and his candidature has invited ire from certain sections within the Congress party as well.
Upset over not being given a ticket, Rishi Mishra, son of former Union Minister L.N Mishra, questioned the Congress leadership for giving a ticket to “anti-national and Jinnah worshipper”.
Usmani shot to fame in May 2018 when the AMU found itself mired in a controversy over a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the university premises. Violence had erupted in the university campus after the then BJP Aligarh MP Satish Gautam wrote to the university vice-chancellor objecting to the portrait.
The AMU Students’ Union, however, had maintained that Jinnah’s portrait had been hanging in the university since 1938 — when he was given honorary membership of the students’ union, as were several other leaders of the time.
Usmani, who was the students’ union president, had alleged that the protestors had planned to attack Hamid Ansari, the former vice-president of India, who was at the campus for an event.
“I had just written a letter to PM Modi at the time, asking him why the portrait is a problem when it is a part of the legacy, and when it is hanging in other important institutions too such as the Bombay High Court. I never got a response, but they made me out to be a Jinnah-supporter,” Usmani told ThePrint.
Usmani alleges that the BJP is scared of how the Congress is “giving an opportunity to young Muslims” in the state polls.
Congress fields highest percentage of Muslim candidates
The Congress party has fielded Muslim candidates on 12 out of the 70 seats it is contesting on, the highest percentage of Muslim candidates (17 per cent) among all the parties contesting elections in the state.
Muslims account for around 17 per cent of the population in Bihar and are a substantial vote-bank in the state.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the party’s ally in the Mahagatbandhan, has fielded Muslim candidates on 17 out of the total 144 seats (11 per cent) it is contesting on.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has fielded 10 Muslim candidates out of the 115 seats it is contesting on (8 per cent), while the BJP hasn’t picked any Muslim candidate.
Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has so far announced names of only five candidates, of which two are Muslims.
Congress seeks to regain traditional vote bank
The Congress seems to be attempting to regain its traditional vote bank of Dalits, Muslims and the upper castes, as reflected in its choice of candidates for the Bihar polls. It has fielded 14 Dalits, 9 OBCs and 33 upper caste candidates. Among the upper caste candidates, nine are Brahmins and Rajputs each, four Kayasthas, and 11 Bhumihars.
In Uttar Pradesh, too, the party has been trying to strike a balance in attempting to woo Dalits and Muslims, as well as Brahmins.
While these vote banks traditionally belonged to the Congress, the BJP, in recent years, has been able to attract both Brahmin as well as Dalit voters.
However, in Bihar, the Congress wouldn’t just be competing with the BJP for the votes of these communities, but also the JD(U) and the LJP — both parties enjoy support from different sections of the Dalit community.
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