Janata 'parivar' unity forces BJP's Muslim vote rethink in Bihar

  • Rai Atul Krishna, Hindustan Times, Patna
  • Updated: Dec 04, 2014 09:22 IST

Undeterred by its summary rejection by Muslims in the Lok Sabha poll, the BJP has embarked on its most ambitious drive ever to woo the minority community ahead of the assembly poll in Bihar next year.

The party has set itself a target of enrolling 50 lakh members in the state by March next year. What is unsaid is the party is making every effort to ensure "7-8%" of the new members are Muslims. "Difficult but not impossible," said a party leader.

"We are also looking at a 10 fold increase in the number of Muslims candidates we will field for the Bihar assembly poll, due in October 2015," Bihar BJP president Mangal Pandey told HT on Wednesday.

Just one out 86 BJP MLAs in the 243-member Bihar assembly is a Muslim. Saba Zafar, the lone Muslim candidate fielded by the party in the previous assembly election in 2010, won from Amour in Purnia district of eastern Bihar.

"This time, we may field up to 10 Muslim candidates", said the BJP state chief.

Pandey's declaration was significant for its timing.

It came a day ahead of the proposed 'Janata' parivar parties' meeting at the New Delhi residence of Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, to consider the possibility of their merger to take on a resurgent BJP.

In the context of Bihar, the unity move may translate into a JD (U)-RJD union, as has already been indicated by JD (U) general secretary KC Tyagi. There is a sense that this merged entity will be the primary claimant of Muslim vote in Bihar.

In the May Lok Sabha poll, the BJP led NDA won 31 out of 40 seats in Bihar. By contrast, the RJD-Congress-NCP combine could win just seven seat and the JD (U) merely two seats, down from 20 in 2009 poll.

A significant aspect of this result was that despite its stellar overall show, the BJP lost all four 'sitting' seats in eastern Bihar, known as the 'Muslim hub' because of their high percentage of Muslim electors.

The overall Muslim population of Bihar is estimated to be about 17% but it varies between 30% and 40% in Purnia, Katihar and Araria and is an insurmountable 70% in Kishanganj, which borders West Bengal.

The Muslim community's suspicion of and antipathy towards Narendra Modi, the BJP's PM candidate at the time, was cited as the main reason why these constituencies bucked the trend for Bihar as a whole.

This 'Muslim hub' voted to office one candidate each of the Congress (Kishanganj), NCP (Katihar), RJD (Araria) and JD (U) (Purnia), the catch phrase being to 'back one best suited to defeat Modi's nominee'.

Six months later, the BJP is citing the development orientation of the Modi regime and its 'inclusive approach' to claim a gradual change of heart of the Muslim community at large.

"PM Modi's promise of a welfare package for weavers of Varanasi, mainly Muslim, and the regime's success in getting released Muslim workers trapped in Saudi Arabia and its ability to curb inflation is working," claimed Saba Zafar.

The lone BJP Muslim MLA said many Muslims wanted to be part of the Modi's development agenda. "Hundreds of Muslims have approached me to join the BJP. We will win more seats in this area than what people may think," he said.

It is another matter that the Muslim intelligentia of this eastern Bihar hub doesn't agree.

It insists Muslims have enduring and undiluted concerns about Modi and BJP - be it over the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, the Gujarat riots in or their alleged quest to tamper with the shariat law and usher in a uniform civil code.

"Anybody who speaks of a Muslim change of heart towards Modi is leading you up the garden path. Those joining the BJP are guided by their personal interest. They don't reflect community sentiment," said Mohammad Mansoor Alam, a Purnia college professor.

But such statements are small deterrents for the BJP leadership which has inducted two former MPs, Monazir Hassan and Akhlaq Ahmad and former Bihar minister Jamshed Ashraf, into the party recently.

"At least 4,000 prominent Muslims have joined the BJP in the past three months. Many more will be inducted during Ashraf's ongoing 'bedari' yatra, undertaken with the aim of causing awareness towards the party," said state chief Pandey.

Voting figures from the May Lok Sabha poll show the BJP will need all the Muslim votes it can get if it is to have a realistic chance of winning the forthcoming Bihar assembly poll.

The BJP's vote share in the LS poll, along with its allies, the LJP and RLSP, was 38.8%. By comparison, the combined vote share of the RJD (20.1%) and the JD (U) (15.8%) - which contested the poll separately but are now talking merger, works out to a marginally lower 35.9%.

Add to that 8.4% votes polled by the Congress and the anti-NDA vote in the Lok Sabha poll climbs to 44.3%, substantively higher than the NDA's 38.8%.

The Congress is now backing the Jitan Ram Manjhi-led JD (U) regime in Bihar and formed a 'grand alliance' with the JD (U) and RJD for the August 21 Bihar assembly by poll with success.

The alliance won six out of 10 by seats to the BJP's four.

The BJP needs to break any monolithic Muslim vote that promises to go to the alliance if it is to repeat in LS success in the Bihar assembly elections. It is this reality that has persuaded it to woo Muslims in a big way.

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