| Akhtarul Iman |
Akhtarul Iman (50) was emerging as the generation next Muslim face in Muslim dominated Seemanchal (comprising Kishanganj, Araria, Katihar and Purnea Lok Sabha seats). That might still happen.
When the three-term MLA from Kochadhaman bagged the JD(U) ticket from Kishanganj, it appeared he was about to replace “entrenched” war horses like Congress candidate Maulana Asrarul Haq in Kishanganj and RJD candidate Mohammad Taslimuddin in Araria.
But, in a sudden turn of events, Akhtarul withdrew from the fray, dealing a body blow to embattled Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s efforts to improve his secular rating among Muslims. By staying out of the fray, Akhtarul is also believed to have given Asrarul, now in his 80s, a “cakewalk” in Kishanganj. In the process, Akhtarul seems to have lost whatever he had gained politically. He had resigned as RJD member and MLA from Kochadhaman to get the JD(U)’s ticket. He has, now, lost the prospect of becoming an MP, at least in the immediate future. And the by-election in Kochadhaman, for the Assembly seat he vacated, is taking place on April 24 along with polling for Kishanganj and other seats.
Akhtarul’s saga is aptly surmised in the famous Urdu couplet: “Na khuda hi mila, na vishal-e-sanam; na idhar ke rahe na udhar ke rahe (Neither did I get Allah nor the comely beloved, neither I am here nor there, I am nowhere).”
Explaining why Akhtarul virtually axed his own feet, Motiur Rahman, a muezzin at a mosque in Pipla village of Kochadhaman Assembly segment, said: “When he bagged the JD(U) ticket, he failed to sense he would not get the community’s backing against the highly respected cleric, Maulana Asrarul Haq. He (Akhtarul) had no way out than return the ticket or face the community’s rejection.”
Another namazi (one who offers regular prayers) at the mosque, Mohammad Saifuddin said: “Maulana sahib buzurg hain, aakhri ladhai ladh rahe hain.. Qaum ke logon ne unko antim mauka dene ka man bana liya thaa (Asrarul is an elderly person, fighting his last battle. Community members have decided to give him one last chance).”
Asked what forced him to withdraw from the fray, Akhtarul retorted poetically: “Main wo kevat hoon jo kashti ko jaan ki baji lagakar kinare laya hoon (I am the boatman who staked his life and rescued the boat).” Akhtarul, a post-graduate who is well versed in Urdu literature and religious scriptures, continued with poetic riposte: “Mera qurbaani khali nahin jayega, rang layega ek din (My sacrifice won’t go in vain. It will pay off one day).”
He is not way off the mark. Kishanganj accounts for 70 per cent of the Muslim population — the highest among 120 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. A cross-section here believes Akhtarul withdrew keeping long-term politics in mind. “Woh lambe race ka ghoda hai (Akhtarul has a long way to go). He knows that Asrarul and Taslimuddin’s day are numbered. He wants the community to accept him after that,” said a professor at the local government college on condition of anonymity.
Akhtarul, who started as an RJD MLA from Kochadhaman in February 2005, is holding his cards close to his chest for now. “I made a supreme sacrifice to save secularism. I am no longer in any party. I simply wish for the victory of secularism,” said Akhtarul, in Patna these days.
While his exit from the scene has emboldened Congress nominee Asrarul’s prospects, it has stolen whatever sheen BJP nominee Dilip Jaiswal had. The BJP was hoping to exploit the division of votes between the Congress and JD(U) nominee. That hope now stands dashed for the BJP as there are just 30 per cent Hindu and 70 percent Muslim voters in Kishanganj.
In fact the fight for Kishanganj has turned into a one-sided affair with Akhtarul’s exit. Sources close to Akhtarul confided: “He withdrew on Rahul’s assurance to project him as a future Congress leader here.” Political observers feel Akhtarul might join the Congress and emerge as Rahul’s “main man” in Kishanganj, Araria, Purnea and Katihar. Expectedly, nobody is seriously waiting for May 16 to know the known. Everybody is keeping an eye on what happens to Akhtarul later.
Kishanganj votes today