Eight months after the BJP’s drubbing in the Bihar Assembly elections, there is a palpable sense of disquiet among a handful of the party’s Muslim leaders who insist that it needs to do more to gain the community’s support.
Most of them are not quite sure of their standing in the party. Two prominent Muslim leaders - former ministers Akhlaq Ahmad and Monazir Hassan, have already left the BJP. While Ahmad quit just before the polls, Hassan left shortly after the elections.
Sources in the BJP attributed this to the ‘flagging’ of the party’s Muslim outreach, that had ‘hordes’ of Muslims joining the party ahead of the assembly election, as a section of the community chose to bet on the BJP-led NDA’s possible victory in the Assembly polls.
But the NDA’s pathetic show, winning just 58 of the 243 Bihar Assembly seats against the RJU-JD(U)-Congress combine’s 178 seats, quickly muddied the scene for the BJP’s Muslim leaders. The BJP which accounted for 53 of the NDA 58 seats, has since shifted its focus to UP where elections are due next year.
With the BJP’s political activity taking a backseat in Bihar, its Muslim leaders, already at odds with their community’s anti-BJP sentiment that contributed to its big poll defeat, are feeling frustrated and do not seem to have a roadmap for themselves.
“The BJP clearly has a preference for Hindus. It seems to have lost interest in Muslims after the poll defeat although they constitute 18% of Bihar’s population”, said Abdur Rahman, one of just two Muslims the BJP fielded in the Assembly elections.
“I raise my voice in the party (on Muslim issues) but nobody hears it because there are so few of us in the BJP”, said Rahman, who secured 35,000 votes and came third from Kochadhaman in the Muslim hub of Kishanganj in eastern Bihar.
The party’s only other Muslim candidate in the Assembly elections, Saba Zafar who lost from Amour, said the BJP needed to do more to attract Muslim support.
“At a time when ground has slipped from under its feet in Bihar, the BJP needs Muslims more than ever before. I am trying hard to attract Muslims to the party but it is not easy. The party leadership needs to pay more attention to this,” said Zafar who was the BJP’s Muslim face in the Bihar Assembly for five years (2010-15),
Another former Bihar minister, Jamshed Ashraf, who ran a campaign called ‘Muslim Bedari Muhim’ to attract Muslims towards the BJP ahead of the Assembly elections, said ‘good work’ being done by PM Narendra Modi was not being used properly to attract Muslims to the BJP.
Former Rajya Sabha MP Sabir Ali, who was inducted into the BJP despite opposition from union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, sounded frustrated over not being ‘adjusted suitably’ in the party. “But it’s okay. Some things take time,” he said.
Former minister Monazir Hassan, who made an acrimonious exit from the BJP after the Assembly polls, for criticizing the party, said he got frustrated because the party never made him part of the decision-making process and denied him any say in ticket distribution.
Another ex-minister Akhlaq Ahmad quit the party to contest the Assembly election from Karakat in Rohtas district, on a ticket of Madhepura MP Rajesh Ranjan aka Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik).
BJP state spokesman Azfar Shamsi, a ‘loyalist’ who has been with the party since 1985, said the party needed greater realization of electoral arithmetic and suitably use its ‘credible’ Muslim leadership.
“Upsetting Muslims unnecessarily through irresponsible statements by some leaders serves no useful purpose. Such statements made Muslims vote more aggressively against the BJP, which contributed to our Assembly poll loss”, he said.
But BJP Bihar unit president Mangal Pandey insisted that the party has not become indifferent towards Muslims. “Political activity as a whole is at a low ebb in Bihar at present. As more time passes after the assembly poll, it will pick up again”, he explained.