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HindustanTimes Sat,20 Dec 2014

The myths and reality of Muslim 'tactical voting'

Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times  Patna, April 15, 2014
First Published: 19:48 IST(15/4/2014) | Last Updated: 20:04 IST(15/4/2014)

As campaigning draws to a close on Tuesday, Maulana Anisur Rahman is sitting, cross-legged, inside his office in the Muslim pocket of Phulwari Sharif.

He is the general secretary of Imarat Shariah, an influential socio-religious institution working in the fields of education and welfare. And he has a busy 36 hours ahead.

Phulwari Sharif is located in the Pataliputra Lok Sabha seat, witnessing a fierce three-cornered contest between RJD's Misha Bharti, daughter of Lalu Prasad; BJP's Ram Kripal Yadav, who recently defected from RJD, and sitting MP Ranjan Prasad Yadav of the JD(U).

Polls are scheduled for Thursday.

Conventional political wisdom suggests that Muslims decide on their vote collectively and 'tactically', on the last day, and back the candidate best positioned to defeat the BJP. But is it true? And how does it work?

"It is true that the single-most important agenda for Muslims today is to defeat Narendra Modi," says Rahman.

"But we do look at candidates, too."

There is a mixed demography in each constituency, he says. Pataliputra itself has over four lakh Yadavs, one-and-a-half lakh Koeris and Kurmis, a substantial Bhumihar population, as well as Dalits and Mahadalits.

Read: Maulanas endorse candidates, leave voters confused

"Of course, Muslims cannot decide the outcome an election on their own. In this seat, we are about a lakh and a half. I will start getting reports from villages by this evening and tomorrow about how different caste groups are voting. Are Yadavs pre-dominantly with Lalu or splitting three-ways? Where are Dalits voting?" Rahman says.

Only after ascertaining which candidate is placed where can they decide which way the Muslims should tilt to defeat the BJP, he says.

"So far, Lalu has successfully projected that he has a solid core base, and is the biggest challenge for the BJP."

Asked why Nitish had not been able to win the Muslim vote despite challenging Modi, he said, "He didn't have the time. Plus, Lalu has a better organisation. Many Muslims will go back to Nitish in the assembly elections, but this is for the Centre, where he is not seen as a player."

Rahman admits, though, that their influence should not be overestimated, and Muslims often choose not to go by the collective choice.

Read: Will Muslim votes make a difference in LS polls?

But if advice is sought, it is given. "With technology, mobile phones, etc, it is easy to spread the word for one candidate."

Rahman adds that phase-wise elections influence choices.

"In a day or two after polling, people will know who is winning, Assume Yadavs have split in this seat, we will know that in future contests, the community may go with Yadav candidates of BJP and JD (U). That will affect our decision in those seats."

As the conversation wraps, Shafrul Haq Khan of Rajabazar comes to give Rahman a thin pamphlet in Hindi and Urdu, on all that Nitish Kumar has done for Muslims.

"I will vote for Nitish irrespective of what others say," says Khan.

Driven by fears about a particular leader and party coming to power, Muslims will strategise and organise. But every single voter ultimately exercises his or her own choice.

Full coverage: My India My Vote


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