Maulana Anisur Rahman at his Phulwari Sharif seat. Picture by Sankarshan Thakur
Between one Akhtarul and one Anisur could lie the scrambled clues to the confounded run of the Muslim voter in Bihar.
The former junked his JD(U) ticket from Kishanganj on Tuesday in the name of preventing a split in the Muslim vote. The latter sits a little shaken if the move will leave the minority voter confounded mid-election. Anisur sounds not terribly pleased with what Akhtarul has done. “We have prospered under Nitish Kumar as has the whole state, such decisions spread confusion, this is not the time to be confused.”
As general secretary of the Imarat-e-Sharia, a pre-Independence charitable body with a jurisdiction spread across Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and parts of Bengal, Maulana Anisur Rahman believes he has commitments to the community that transcend the exigencies of an election.
“We must be able to think ahead,” he sagely counsels no one in particular. “This is an important election, probably the most important we have seen in recent times, this is a time for united approach, not confusion. What Akhtarul has done creates khalbali (confusion), I find it hard to approve.”
The maulana’s gaddi, or spiritual-temporal seat, is located in west Patna’s Phulwari Sharif neighbourhood, not far from the Bihar Assembly, the seat of political power. “Sitting here,” the maulana says, “I can feel the drifts of power, I can feel today that we are at a very critical juncture and we have to act united.”
Contrary though they may sound, Maulana Anisur’s apprehensions and Akhtarul Iman’s action are driven by the same sentiment: the need for unison in the face of Narendra Modi’s aggressive approach. What Anisur is pleading for is what Akhtarul has put out as explanation for his decision to vacate the JD(U) ticket ahead of the Kishanganj ballot — I don’t want the Muslim vote divided.
In the process, though, Akhtarul may have dealt Nitish’s expectations on minority support a killer blow, and signalled a shoring up in favour of the Lalu-Congress combine. He has shown up the JD(U) ticket possessed of weaker appeal to minorities, and blown wind into the Lalu-Congress sails.
Nitish is at the wrong end of a strange paradox: the ones he risked his government for are refusing to reward him for it. He is in fact living Mirza Ghalib’s couplet of unrequited love: “Ke jisko dekh ke jeete hain, Usi qaatil pe dum nikle (The one I must see in order to live is the one who I must die for).”
“We cannot vote for Modi, but we must do more than that,” says Izhaar Alam, who runs a wholesale trade not far from the Imarat-e-Sharia headquarters in Phulwari. “We must vote unitedly and with purpose, and Laluji looks the better bet against Modi. This election is not about Bihar, this is about Dilli, oopar kaa chunaav hai.”
Alam is one with the respected maulana in praising the “development” under Nitish. “He has been the best chief minister of Bihar in many decades, he has done very good work, he has shown a determination to govern, we have benefited, as Biharis and as Muslims, but we must go with the man that can check Modi, Nitishji frankly does not look like the man who can do that in this election.”
Muslims could tilt the balance in a little more than half of the state’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. They form an average of 16-17 per cent of the vote. They count for more than 20 per cent in seven constituencies, and in a handful of seats in the north-eastern corner, their numbers are far more handsome. Close to 40 per cent in Araria, 43 per cent in Katihar and in Kishanganj, the minority comes into a majority — Muslims in Kishanganj make up nearly 70 per cent of the populace. That is where Akhtarul has sent his message out from — the JD(U) is not a winner ticket, not for the minorities.
Nitish must shiver, just like Maulana Anisur of Imarat-e-Sharia, how quick and far that message will travel across Bihar.