Patna: Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is set to reprise its role from the 2015 Bihar assembly elections — only on a larger scale. Back then, the AIMIM contested on just six seats, but this time, it is likely to contest more than 50, according to Owaisi’s followers.
During a media interaction in Patna Saturday, Owaisi called himself the ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ of Bihar politics — implying that his party is a marginal player. However, Owaisi seems to have caused more than a few jitters in the grand alliance led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, whose leaders have denounced him as a “BJP stooge”.
“This is like an old cassette being played. But tell me, in the parliamentary polls, I contested just one seat in Bihar. What happened in the other 39 seats?” Owaisi hit back, referring to the fact that the RJD and its allies, except the Congress, drew a blank in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
“No questions are raised about the Congress joining the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra,” he added.
Why AIMIM’s entry matters
Muslims constitute about 16 per cent of the population in Bihar, and mostly live in the Seemanchal and Mithilanchal areas. They form the majority in some assembly seats, and decide the fate of at least 50 assembly seats.
Muslims were traditionally Congress voters, who switched allegiance to Lalu Prasad Yadav after the Bhagalpur communal riots in 1989. Since then, along with Yadavs, they have formed the core voter base of the RJD. But now, with AIMIM’s entry, that calculation could change.
The AIMIM fought polls in Bihar for the first time in 2015, contesting six seats in the Seemanchal region, which has a significant Muslim population. But only one of its six candidates managed to save their deposits (i.e. get 10 per cent of the total votes polled).
Then, in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, it contested one seat, Kishanganj, which has a 67 per cent Muslim population. The AIMIM candidate, state chief Akhtarul Imam, finished third, about 50,000 votes behind victorious Congress candidate Mohammad Jawed and 25,000 votes behind Syed Mahmood Ashraf of the JD(U). However, in the October 2019 bypoll for the Kishanganj assembly seat, necessitated by Jawed’s election to Parliament, AIMIM’s Qamrul Hoda won by over 10,000 votes, and the Congress was pushed to the third position.
This has made the growing influence of AIMIM in Muslim-dominated areas undeniable, with analysts saying the younger generation is more inclined towards it than traditional secular parties like the RJD and the Congress.
RJD leaders have slammed Owaisi and the AIMIM for “helping” the NDA.
“Owaisi is the B team of the BJP. He has been pushed here by the BJP to polarise voters. The more he speaks, the more polarised voters become,” remarked RJD MLA Mohammad Nematullah.
Other RJD leaders have called him the “RSS version of Muslims”.
“Like the RSS, which has radicalised a section of Hindu youths, Owaisi does the same in the Muslim community,” said Qari Sohaib, president of the youth wing of the RJD.
But Owaisi does not care if his party ends up helping the NDA.
“If NDA wins, it will be the fault of the Congress and the RJD,” he remarked Saturday.
The situation this time
Unlike 2015, Owaisi has gone in for an alliance with smaller political outfits, called the United Democratic Secular Alliance (UDSA). A key part of the alliance is former Union minister Devendra Prasad Yadav, a four-time MP from Jhanjharpur in the Mithilanchal region, who still has pockets of influence.
A couple of months ago, there was talk of Owaisi trying to replicate what he did in Maharashtra — form an alliance with Dalit outfits. Attempts were made for an alliance with former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular). But since then, Manjhi has gone to the NDA camp to join CM Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the BJP.