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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

In Bihar's Seemanchal, votes split along religion

Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times  Araria, April 19, 2014
First Published: 16:35 IST(19/4/2014) | Last Updated: 18:08 IST(19/4/2014)

The BJP candidate from Araria, Pradeep Kumar Singh, is irritated. Constituents have been lining up outside seeking favours and expressing grievances.

But he has other, more important, matters to worry about.

"Look, in Kishenganj, a Muslim candidate withdraws so that their entire community can vote for one candidate. And our qaum (community) is divided. Instead of making demands, asking for money, Hindus should unite like Muslims," he said here.

Singh is referring to JD(U) candidate, Akhtarul Iman's decision last week to pull back from the contest in Kishenganj, for the stated reason that he did not want Muslim votes to split. Iman's contention was that since the aim was to defeat the BJP, all others should support Congress candidate Mohammed Asrarul Haque.

At a rally in Purnea on Thursday, chief minister Nitish Kumar mocked Iman, who had recently defected from RJD to JD (U).

"Did he not know earlier, there was a Congress candidate in the fray? Did he not know that BJP would put up a candidate? This is a Congress conspiracy to weaken secular forces."

Iman's withdrawal has meant that the result in Kishenganj, with 70% Muslims, is a foregone conclusion in favour of Congress, barring a last-minute hitch.

It has dealt a blow to the JD(U) which is struggling to establish itself as the principal challenger to BJP.

But it has also given ammunition to the BJP to play the games of competitive communalism in neighbouring seats in Seemanchal -- Araria, Purnea, and Katihar in particular -- which go to polls on 24th.

Araria also has over 40% Muslims.

At a rally in Katihar on Saturday, addressed by Narendra Modi, BJP candidate Nikhil Choudhary picked up the issue. "The JD(U) candidate withdrew so that no Hindu could win. This is Nitish Kumar's real character. His secular image is exposed."

Singh, whom his critics claim is unpopular among the voters, is facing a strong challenge from the RJD candidate, former minister and a man with an allegedly criminal past Mohammed Taslimuddin.

"The JD(U) has also put up a Muslim candidate here. If the Muslim vote splits between the two, I am through. The Kishenganj episode may help me in consolidating Hindu votes," Singh admitted.

A BJP candidate in another seat, who did not wish to be named, said, "Muslims may or may not unite but the perception they are uniting helps us polarise."

Taslimuddin's calculations are different. He believes that 70-80% of the Muslim votes will come to him and he will get support of Yadavs and upper-castes.

But aren't the upper castes with BJP? He retorted, "Why? Is Modi an upper caste? I have deeper personal ties with them here."

In this maze, where all candidates insist that issues don't matter and only identity does in the final few days, Manzar Islam, who retired as a social science teacher in an Araria school this January, is despondent about Imam's withdrawal.

"He should have withdrawn, that is fine. But he should not have given the statement that he is doing it to unite Muslims. This helps divisive politics on the other side."


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