The BJP’s bid to be seen as a more inclusive party faces an acid test in Bihar’s Muslim-dominated Seemanchal belt encompassing 24 assembly constituencies where election will be held in the fifth and final phase on Thursday.
The ongoing beef row, Dadri lynching, intolerance and terror imageries did not made the party’s task in Seemanchal comprising four districts — Katihar, Purnia, Araria and Kishanganj — easy. The BJP thus relied more on its Minority Morcha and Muslim faces such as Shahnawaz Hussain there than Prime Minister Narendra Modi or party chief Amit Shah.
The BJP is contesting 18 of the 24 seats in Seemanchal, leaving six for its NDA partners. This underscores the importance of this belt in the NDA’s goal of gaining majority in Rajya Sabha by conquering Bihar.
Party leaders admit Seemanchal is their ‘ultimate hurdle’, and the responsibility of leaping over it was entrusted to its Minority Morcha chief Abdul Rasheed Ansari and its state unit head Khalid Kamal. Both camped in the area, strategising the BJP’s campaign and guiding Morcha teams that visited every Muslim household in the constituencies carrying Modi’s message of development.
“We have tried to convince the people that the theory of ‘intolerance’ was cooked up by the opposition to tarnish the image of the NDA government at the Centre,” said a local Morcha leader.
The strategy was 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. Bihar’s minority communities have traditionally backed these parties.
BJP’s chief spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member MJ Akbar, who consistently monitored the party’s programme in the region, told HT: “The PM’s six-point development agenda captured the imagination of the whole of Bihar. The Seemanchal area is one of the least developed, so the impact there has been greater.”
Muslim Bedari Muhim, a socio-political organisation floated by BJP leader Jamshaid Ashraf, helped motivate the Seemanchal voters too. “After crisscrossing the districts, I am convinced the NDA will win a majority of the seats,” he said.
BJP had won 13 seats in the Seemanchal region in the 2010 assembly polls
It expects more this time with Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM making it a multi-cornered contest in 6 seats
Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party and NCP also queered the pitch by fielding their nominees
The BJP has fielded only two Muslim candidates in Bihar, both in Seemanchal – Abdur Rehman (Kochadaman) and sitting MLA Saba Zafar (Amour).