He was acknowledged as the X-factor in the Bihar assembly polls, a potential game-changer who could be a serious threat to the political big guns. But with just one round left in the five-phase elections, All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi has ended up as a marginal player in what was seen as the party’s stepping stone to country’s northern states.
And how has this come about?
The answer to this comes from the crowds that emerge from a mosque after the Friday prayers at Sontha Haat in Kochadhaman assembly constituency of the Muslim-dominated Kishanganj district -- the political epicentre of Owaisi’s Bihar adventure.
“People such as Owaisi come and go, but Nitish Kumar is the one so has brought development. Our vote is for the ‘teer chhap’ (the JD-U symbol),” said 52-year-old Akram Raza, who works as a driver.
Rahid Anwat, a 21-year-old student, said: “Power is available for almost 22 hours daily, concrete roads have been built, there are no law and order issues. We want development and peace. Owaisi is a vote-katwa (non-serious candidate interested only in dividing vote banks) and has nothing to offer.”
The crowd suddenly breaks out into a chorus to assert: “No division of votes here. Our support is for the grand alliance”, the coalition of JD-U, Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress.
At a roadside meeting a few hours later at a place called Chargharia Haat, AIMIM candidate Akhtar ul Iman was going all sixes and sevens against chief minister Nitish Kumar for “not doing enough” for Seemanchal, four bordering districts of Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria and Katihar.
In the audience was 65-year-old Suraj Sahni, who had his own explanation: “Everybody has the right to speak what he likes. But the reality is that Nitishji has done a lot.”
A veteran political observer pointed out that if “If Akhtar ul Iman, state AIMIM president who been an MLA for three terms, is struggling at Kochadhaman, the outlook does not appear particularly bright for the party.”
Bihar was supposed to have been Owaisi’s launch pad before the big plunge into the political terrain of Uttar Pradesh. But his experience in the eastern state has been uninspiring so far.
“Initial damage was done when Owaisi scaled down plans by deciding to contest just six of the region’s 24 seats. This region has largely had a history of communal harmony, which is not in sync with Owaisi’s brand of radical minoritism,” said Purnea-based historian Rameshwar Prasad.
But for one reserved constituency where he has fielded a Dalit candidate, Owaisi has put up Muslim candidates in all other places that have up to 70% minority population.
“But electoral battles are not a numbers game alone. Victory or defeat often depends on the perception that candidates and their leaders create. So far, Owaisi has not been able to convincingly demonstrate that he will stay and fight for Bihar,” said Pramod Thakur, who runs a school in the Kochadhaman constituency.
Owaisi generated palpable excitement -- particularly among the youth -- at initial meetings he addressed, but the magic has apparently waned.
“The curiosity value has declined, while the electorate seems to have made up its mind to give a decisive mandate instead of supporting parties that will help the process of government formation in case of a hung assembly. As I see it, it is a direct contest between the grand alliance and the BJP,” said businessman Kamal Agarwal.
Besides Owaisi’s AIMIM, smaller players including Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Morcha and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party are in the race for a stake in government formation.
“As polling dates get closer, the contest is increasingly turning bi-polar and smaller players are losing relevance,” said a local Congress leader Maroof Hussain.
Past trends show that Seemanchal has usually swung one way or another.
In the 2010 assembly elections, the BJP-JD(U) combine swept the polls, winning 19 of the 24 seats. The trend was reversed in the last parliamentary elections, when the Congress bagged the Kishanganj and Supoul seats.”
Ahead of the polling date of November 5, all roads appear to be leading to Seemanchal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Nitish Kumar are among those scheduled to address rallies over the next few days.