| BSF jawans guard the polling station at the Muslim Minority Inter College in Bhagalpur on Wednesday. Picture by Deepak Kumar |
An estranged friendship followed by an unequal split in the key minority and upper caste vote bank — Seemanchal is ready to witness a unique poll battle on Thursday.
Apparently, an ominous trend is noticed for the two former allies, the JD(U) and the BJP, in at least four Lok Sabha seats — Araria, Purnea and Katihar in the Seemanchal region besides Bhagalpur, which has a striking similarity with Seemanchal in terms of demographic composition and voting behaviour.
While the much-vaunted “NaMo hawa (Narendra Modi wave)” has swept the critical Muslim votes from the BJP nominees, chief minister Nitish Kumar’s “principled” decision to dump the BJP has alienated the upper castes from his JD(U) in the region.
If the wily Lalu Prasad-led Congress-RJD alliance is seeing a better chance for itself in comparison to 2009, when the two parties fighting separately then had drawn a blank in the region, it is because of the political equations that backed the BJP-JD(U) alliance going haywire now.
Fighting in company with Nitish, arguably a votary of the secular and socialist ideas, the BJP candidates succeeded in securing at least 20 to 25 per cent of the Muslim votes, if not more, and a big chunk of the extremely backward classes and Mahadalit votes, romping home safely in 2009.
The BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain, Uday Singh (Pappu), Nikhil Choudhary and Pradip Singh had comfortably won the Bhagalpur, Purnea, Katihar and Araria seats, respectively, thanks to the Bihar chief minister keeping the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at bay and aggressively campaigning for them.
“The BJP will be extremely lucky if it manages to retain even one of these four seats that it had won in 2009,” said Akhtar Javed (30), a social activist at Narpatganj in the Araria Lok Sabha constituency.
Akhtar’s remarks sounded credible in the context of Araria where Congress-backed RJD’s old warhorse Mohammad Taslimuddin seems to have generated a “wave-like situation” in his favour. It is evidently the “wave” in favour of Taslimuddin that seems to be sweeping the BJP incumbent, Pradip Singh, in the Muslim-dominated Araria seat rather than the Modi wave rescuing him.
His party colleague Shahnawaz faces a similar situation in Bhagalpur, south of the Ganga with the RJD’s Bulo Mandal on the way to repeat what Chun Chun Yadav had done to the fate of Congress veteran Bhagwat Jha Azad in 1989.
Banka does not have a large Muslim vote bank as the BJP’s Putul Kumari faces a strong candidate in Jai Prakash Narayan Yadav of the RJD and Santosh Kumar of the CPI, which is in alliance with the JD(U).
Putul Kumari won from Banka as an Independent in 2010 following the death of the sitting MP and her husband Digvijay Singh, a former JD(U) leader who had also won the seat as an Independent. She joined the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There is a strong resentment among the local people against Putul Kumari, as she “has done nothing for the constituency”.
However, with a strong support of the upper castes, the BJP, although it has a weak organisation in Banka, is pinning its hopes on the Modi wave. This is one of the few seats which the BJP has not contested in its 17-year alliance with the JD(U).
Uday in Purnea is no longer in as comfortable a zone as he was in 2009. Conversation with a cross-section of people in Purnea revealed that the JD(U)’s Santosh Kushwaha, who seems to have emerged as a “better option” for the Muslims — accounting for 22 per cent of the Muslim electorate — than the Congress’s Amarnath Tiwary, is apparently giving Uday a run for his money.
The BJP’s Nikhil Choudhary faces a tough challenge from the Nationalist Congress Party nominee, Tariq Anwar, strongly backed by the RJD and the Congress, in Katihar. To Tariq’s advantage, his Lok Sabha seat accounts for 42 per cent of the Muslims — backing him solidly unlike in 2009 when a section of them had supported Nikhil in “fascination” with Nitish’s secular credentials.
Unfortunately for Nitish, his JD(U) does not seem to be benefiting in proportion to the BJP losing out on the grounds on which it stood firmly in his (Nitish’s) company in the past.
Most of the Muslims The Telegraph spoke to in the course of its whirlwind tour from Banka and Bhagalpur in the south of the Ganga to Purnea and Kishanganj in the north of the river and from Kishanganj to Katihar to Araria bordering Nepal and Bengal spoke in glowing terms for the embattled chief minister for his performance and also for his decision to break out from the BJP.
But the refrain was the same. “Yeh upar ka chunav hai, is baar Modi ko harana hai. Vidhan sabha mein Nitish ko hi vote dengein (It is the election for the top position. We have to defeat Modi this time. We will vote for Nitish in the Assembly elections),” said Mohammad Iqbal, a participant in an election rally that Lalu had addressed at Kasba in the Purnea Lok Sabha constituency on Tuesday.
Lalu is the “original” and more raw and belligerent opponent of the Sangh parivar — be it L.K. Advani or Modi — who seems to have emerged as the “vehicle” for the anti-BJP forces to board their antipathy on to defeat the saffron candidates stopping their icon, Modi, from becoming the Prime Minister. “Is baar Lalu ka saath khoon maaf hai..Modi ko harana hai (We will pardon Lalu even if he has committed seven murders this time around…we have to defeat Modi),” said Mohammad Shahnawaz Alam, a Muslim farmer in Araria.
The spirited drive of the Muslims in Bhagalpur, Katihar, Purnea and Araria to “smother” the Modi wave in the land where the community matters so much has placed the RJD-Congress and NCP nominees in almost as well-placed a state as they were in the 1990s till 2004. What has given an X-factor to such drives is the strong presence of the Yadavs, Lalu’s caste men, who have all along voted against the BJP and are gearing up once again to vote against the saffron brigade.
A conversation with a cross-section of the pachpaniyas — numerically preponderant EBCs in the region and also Mahadalits, Nitish’s newly built votebank — revealed that Nitish lives in their hearts. But they did not look as politically organised and conscious as the Yadavs, Muslims and even upper castes in the region.
Araria, Purnea, Katihar, Bhagalpur and Banka vote today