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Dal candidate stages last-minute pullout

Kishanganj/Patna, April 15: Akhtarul Iman, the JD(U) candidate from the Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat, today withdrew from the fray in favour of “secularism”, inserting a body blow to chief minister Nitish Kumar’s efforts to rally the minorities behind his party.

“I have made the supreme sacrifice of getting out of the fray to save secularism. My continuance in the fray could have divided the Muslim votes, helping the BJP nominee, Dilip Jaiswal. I do not want the BJP to win due to the division in the Muslim votes in Kishanganj,” Iman told reporters.

Iman said he tried to contact the chief minister to keep him posted about the development but could not get through him. “I have intimated JD(U) leaders in Kishanganj about the decision,” he said. Sources in Kishanganj attributed the withdrawal to lack of support he was getting from the chief minister.

Iman’s decision has, apparently, caught Nitish in midair with his JD(U) unable to field a fresh candidate on the seat, dominated by over 60 per cent Muslims. The date of filing the nomination for the seat was over on April 5. The seat is scheduled for polling on April 24 — the third phase of election in Bihar.

However, Iman’s name will continue to be in the EVM machine — as the last date for withdrawing candidature was on April 9 — leaving scopes for confusion among the voters.

Though Iman did not say that he was quitting in favour of the RJD-backed Congress nominee, Asrarul Haq, his decision has left hardly anyone in doubt that it would suit Haq, who won the 2009 polls and is seeking re-election.

To Nitish’s dismay in the middle of the battle, Iman’s withdrawal from the fray has, apparently, created a perception that the minorities who constituted 16.5 per cent of the state’s electorate were not finding the JD(U) as a formidable option to take on Narendra Modi’s roller coaster.

His exit might send the message among the Muslims across the state to prefer the Lalu Prasad-led RJD-Congress combine as a “more formidable” option against the Modi-led BJP than the JD(U).

Nitish had dumped the BJP on Modi’s prime ministerial candidature issue in the hope that the minorities would consider his party as the most potent option against the BJP. Nitish also suffered a blow when Sabir Ali pulled himself out of Sheohar parliamentary seat. Nitish could field minister Shahid Ali Khan but in Kishanganj, he has no such option.

Though Nitish has, so far, not reacted on Iman’s action, the BJP was quick to allege that the JD(U) was “hand in glove” with the RJD and Congress. “As a matter of tactics, the JD(U) has withdrawn Iman from the fray to help the Congress and RJD against the BJP,” said Sushil Kumar Modi.

Iman, elected from the Kocha Dhaman Assembly seat on the RJD ticket in 2010, had quit his parent party and also the membership of the House ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and joined the JD(U) to bag its ticket on the Lok Sabha seat, which has highest concentration of the Muslims in the state. He was also among the 13 RJD MLAs to rebel and seek separate status.

Iman, however, did not announce to quit the JD(U). “I have nothing against the JD(U). I have sacrificed my ticket simply to stop the BJP from taking advantage of the division of the Muslim votes.”

He cited how Shahnawaz Hussain, a BJP candidate, had won the Kishanganj seat, exploiting on the division of votes between the RJD nominee, Taslimuddin, and Congress’s Asrarul Haq in 1999.

Iman’s exit from the fray might have its bearing on the Kocha Dhaman and Baisi Assembly seats in the same Seemanchal region going to polls on April 24.