Darbhanga is not a microcosm of Bihar, but a minority pocket in this township does give a peek into the Muslim mood in north Bihar.
At the Madrasa Hamidia, principal Syed Amirul Hassan is all praise for Nitish Kumar. “It used to take me four hours to reach home. Now, it takes just over an hour. The government has provided support to this madrasa and matched our pay scale with the sixth pay commission.”
Does he think that Nitish has become weaker after breaking up with BJP? “The BJP left him with no choice. He has, in fact, become more powerful,” Hassan added.
The BJP was a partner in Kumar’s coalition government till the JD(U) severed ties last June over Modi’s elevation in the party. It is widely assumed that Kumar’s decision was made with an eye on Muslim votes. Around 16.5% of Bihar’s population is Muslim.
Asked about the perception that Muslims were predominantly with Lalu Prasad, Hassan retorted, “Does Lalu even have the Yadavs left with him?”
Half-a-kilometre away, on Urdu road, a group of men playing cards in the mellow afternoon sun presents the other side of the story.
Among them are auto-driver Mohammad Imtiaz, and Mohammad Qalam, a paan-shop owner. Both have a list of grievances against the government. “The hospital never has any medicines. Look at the price rise. And the corruption. Everyone in the sarkar, down to the lowest peon, wants a bribe.”
Qalam, the more vocal of the two, is more conservative. “Why is he (Nitish Kumar) giving reservations and benefits to women? Their place is in purdah. Eighty per cent of this area will vote for Lalu.”
A top BJP leader in the city said they sense a fragmentation among Muslims. “We won’t get their votes, but if they don’t consolidate, we are through.”
But veteran political observers claim it is too early to determine the mood, and refer to the famous “tactical voting” of Muslims.
“In the last week, they will rally behind the candidate best positioned to defeat the BJP, be it from our party or RJD. Their aim is to stop Modi,” said a senior JD(U) leader.
There could be ring of truth in observation. At the Ranti village in Madhubani, Mohammed Khalil, a 61-year-old labourer claimed there were 400 households in the area and he himself controlled 12 votes in the family.
Which way would they go? “Lalu did a lot for us. Nitish, too, helped. We will consult and see who is winning and back them. Let us wait for now,” he said with a glint in his eye.