Patna: The Janata Dal (United) Tuesday sought to perform delicate political acrobatics, staging a walkout from the Rajya Sabha to oppose the Triple Talaq bill but, at the same time, facilitating its passage by not voting against it. The contradiction between its words and actions on this contentious legislation underlined its dilemma in Bihar where it wants to woo Muslims while being in partnership with the BJP.
Party spokesperson Sanjay Singh said the JD(U)’s stand in Parliament should not come as a surprise.
“We had made it clear that our stand on Ram Mandir, Triple Talaq, Uniform Civil Code and Article 370 would not agree with the BJP’s,” he told ThePrint.
The JDU leadership feels the time is ripe for it to try and convince Muslims to switch their allegiance from Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal. Assembly elections are to be held in Bihar next year, and the RJD is at its lowest point, having drawn a blank in the Lok Sabha polls.
M-Y combination split
For the last three decades, Muslims, who make up around 17 per cent of the population of Bihar, have stood firmly behind the RJD, part of Lalu’s famed Muslim-Yadav vote bank.
Nitish had made a play for their support in 2013, when he snapped his 17-year-old ties with the BJP on the pretext of Narendra Modi being made the prime ministerial candidate. But the Muslims stood firm, leaving the JD(U) with just two of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats.
Having formed an anti-BJP ‘Mahagathbandhan’ with the RJD and the Congress for the state polls in 2015, CM Nitish then pulled out of the alliance and realigned with the BJP again in 2017.
In this year’s state polls, the NDA won 39 of the 40 seats, but a CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey revealed that the Muslims still remained with the RJD and its allies — 77 per cent of them voted for the Grand Alliance while only 6 per cent voted for the NDA. In contrast, the NDA did manage to make inroads into the Yadav vote bank, with 55 per cent voting for the Grand Alliance and 21 per cent for the NDA.
But now, according to a senior leader, the JD(U) believes the time is ripe for Muslims to shift their support to Nitish. Since the results, the CM has repeatedly pointed towards the result in the Kishanganj parliamentary seat, which has around 70 per cent Muslim voters — the JD(U) came second, finishing only around 30,000 votes behind the Congress.
Muslim leaders say the community faces a dilemma because of the RJD’s fall.
“The Muslims remained with Lalu since the 1990s because they felt socially secure in the M-Y combination. Today, they feel insecure and isolated, and know that Lalu’s M-Y combination is not going to work,” former MLA Akhlaq Ahmad told ThePrint.
“Muslims want to join a strong force, and Nitish Kumar is certainly a strong option.”
A Congress MLA who did not wish to be named also conceded that Nitish was an option the community was considering.
“Despite being with the BJP, he dealt with communal forces in the BJP with a strong hand during Ram Navami last year, and got the son of Union minister Ashwani Choubey to surrender. He has been including communalism along with corruption and crime as the 3Cs he will not tolerate,” the Congress MLA said, adding that the problem is his alliance with the BJP.
‘2020 is no 2010’
When asked about the Muslims’ dilemma, NDA politicians and supporters point to the 2010 assembly elections, in which the JD(U)-BJP alliance won 206 of the 243 assembly seats, and many Muslims voted for the alliance and even the BJP.
But Muslim leaders insist that next year’s assembly elections won’t be a repeat of 2010.
“In 2010 and even 2014 (Lok Sabha polls), there were no issues like Triple Talaq, cow vigilantism and mob lynching. Laws being framed in Parliament are making Muslims’ sense of security plummet to an all-time low,” Ahmad said.
Other leaders say the community might vote for the JD(U)’s Muslim candidates, but not for the BJP.
There is talk about the formation of a non-BJP, non-RJD alliance, but so far, there are no signs of Nitish being a part of it.
“The JD(U)-BJP alliance swept the Lok Sabha polls despite Muslims voting against them. To expect Nitish to snap ties with the BJP and go for an uncertain alliance is too much to ask for,” said a JD(U) minister.