The BJP is set to deploy members of its Gujarat-based Muslim wing to allay fears associated with the party’s perceived pro-Hindu image in poll-bound Bihar and field several candidates from the community this assembly election.
The strategy is part of the BJP’s attempt to counter polarisation of Muslim votes in favour of the rival alliance comprising chief minister Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Lalu Prasad’s RJD and the Congress —parties which had traditionally done well with Bihar’s minority communities.
“We have also asked our members from Gujarat to visit Muslim-dominated assembly constituencies in the state and share their experiences about the Gujarat model of development,” said Khalid Kamal, Bihar unit president of the party’s Minority Morcha.
They would tell Muslims in Bihar how peacefully they coexist with members of other communities in Gujarat, he said.
Party strategists hoped to dispatch teams, named Minority Bedari (awareness), after July 25 to educate Muslims about welfare schemes launched by the Modi government for the community.
“Very soon, 20 dedicated teams of Minority Morcha members from Gujarat will fan out across Bihar carrying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s message, Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas (inclusive development). Each team will comprise of 25 trained Muslim men and women,” Kamal said.
Besides, the BJP has decided to offer poll tickets to Muslims to prevent its opponents from running away with minority community votes. Bihar has a significant Muslim presence, particularly in the Seemanchal region of northeastern Bihar bordering West Bengal and Nepal.
“We will give proper representation to the minority community in terms of party tickets,” said senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who is likely to be chief minister if the BJP wins the election dubbed as a do-or-die battle between the BJP and Nitish Kumar’s alliance.
Modi refused to divulge how many Muslim candidates the party was planning to field, but sources in the party said the number could cross double digits.
In the 2010 assembly polls, when the BJP was in alliance with the JD(U), the party had fielded only one Muslim candidate — Saba Zafar in Purnia district’s Amour constituency. Zafar had won the election.
In bypolls in August 2014, the BJP had fielded two. “Both secured a significant number of votes,” said state BJP president Mangal Pandey, underscoring the “inroads the party has made in the Muslim belt”.
Pandey said the BJP got a boost after three prominent Muslim leaders — Jamshed Ashraf, Monazir Hasan and Akhlaq Ahmad — joined the party in the past few years.
“They are important voices of the Muslim community and their joining the BJP would definitely impact poll results.”
Ashraf, who joined the BJP after resigning from the Kumar cabinet as excise and prohibition minister in 2010, has proposed a Muslim conference on August 18. “We seek to spread the message among Muslims that the BJP is the only party which can improve their lot,” he said.
The BJP’s prominent Muslim faces such as Rajya Sabha MP MJ Akbar, Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi are also expected to woo minority votes. “Our Shahnawaz Hussain (former NDA minister) is already working hard,” said former deputy chief minister Modi.