Patna: As campaigning continues for the third and final phase of the Bihar assembly election, National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United) are playing the good-cop-bad-cop routine in areas that have a sizeable number of Muslim voters.
Addressing a public rally in Katihar Wednesday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declared that “Bangladesh infiltrators” would be deported if the NDA is re-elected to power, as he referred to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the Nerandra Modi government last year.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar quickly denied this at a public rally in Kishanganj, without naming the UP CM. “Some people are spreading propaganda. Who will get whom out of the country? No one has the power to throw anyone out as everyone belongs to India,” he said.
Opposition leader and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) national vice-president Shivanand Tiwari alleged that there is an understanding between the partners over raking up controversial issues and stating divergent views.
“This is a fixed game between the BJP and the JD(U). Yogi Adityanath raised the issue for Nitish Kumar to respond. Nitish Kumar remained a mute spectator in the anti-CAA agitation. He has not uttered a word when PM Modi raised the issue of Jai Sri Ram in Champaran. BJP and JDU are fooling nobody,” said Tiwari.
Out of the 78 assembly seats in the final phase on 7 November, the BJP and the JD(U) are contesting 35 and 41 seats assembly segments, respectively.
The electoral arithmetic
The contradictory stand taken by the BJP and the JD(U) appears to have more to do with electoral arithmetic than ideological differences.
The regions where assembly seats are going to polls include Seemanchal, where four districts have a sizeable Muslim population — varying from 65 per cent in Kishnaganj to 32 per cent in Katihar.
The region also has areas like Darbhanga, Madhubani and West Champaran, which have pockets where Muslims have a substantial say in the electoral result.
In the past, the BJP has always played the ‘soft communal’ card in an attempt to divide voters along communal lines and managed to win quite a few seats like Katihar, Purnea and Araria, among others. Even in the 2015 assembly polls, when JD(U) and RJD had fought together under the Grand Alliance, the BJP had raised the issues of cow slaughter and Pakistan.
But JD(U) relies more on the substantial economically backward class (EBC) votes and the hope that Muslims will not vote aggressively against it.
Over a dozen of the 123 JD(U) candidates over all the phases in this election are Muslims.
In the last decade, the JD(U) has also taken over Muslim-dominated seats like Kishanganj from the BJP. Nitish Kumar’s efforts to woo Muslims through schemes like walling of graveyards and scholarships for students of the minority community also yielded results in the 2010 assembly polls.
But now with alliance partner BJP managing to push its agenda issues of Article 370, triple talaq and Ram Mandir over the last year, it could get difficult for JD(U) to get Muslim votes, which could be a reason why Kumar is trying not to antagonise the community.
Pre- and post-Modi era
In the early 1990s, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated student body, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, had launched an agitation in Seemanchal against illegal infiltration. But the issue was put in cold storage when Nitish Kumar and BJP came to power in 2005.
Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi era, the Muslims in the area were divided sharply along sects.
There were the Suryapuri Muslims represented by late Congress MP Asrarul Haque, Kulhaiya Muslims led by former RJD MP Mohammed Taslimuddin, and Bhatia Muslims.
The division was so sharp that in the 1995 assembly elections, the BJP won all three assembly seats in Kishanganj. Three years later, the party’s Shahnawaz Hussain won the Lok Sabha polls too due to division of votes between Taslimuddin and Haque.
However, after the emergence of PM Modi, this division in the Muslim community has diluted. Now, the JD(U) keeps the seat with it under the alliance.
What the BJP says
Asked about the divergence in Adityanath and Kumar’s comments, the BJP stressed that there is no contradiction between their stand.
“Yogi ji was making a statement on illegal migration from Bangladesh. Nitish ji did not say anything about illegal migrants,” said BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel.
However, party sources said raising the illegal migration issue has a limited purpose, and it has been in the cold storage for almost two decades.