Bihar’s 3rd front may dent RJD alliance’s base
An alliance consisting of the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and three less known groups is out to queer the pitch for both the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-Left coalition in the upcoming Bihar elections.
The Grand Secular Democratic Front, as it calls itself, has pockets of support among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), especially Kushwahas, Muslim minorities and scheduled castes – the vote base votes of RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and BSP chief Mayawati.
It has caused a degree of consternation in the so--called Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) of the RJD, Congress and three Left parties because it could erode the RJD’s support base of OBCs and minorities, mainly in the minority-dominated Seemanchal belt of Kishanganj , Araria and Kaimur, and the Buxar belt bordering Uttar Pradesh. The NDA is more sanguine.
The coalition, stitched together hurriedly ahead of the assembly polls by projecting RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha as its CM face after his exit from the GA before the polls over a dispute on seat sharing, has fielded candidates in most of the 243 seats with Owaisi’s AIMIM contesting 18 seats, RLSP in the race for 104 and Mayawati’s party in the fray for 80 seats. The AIMIM got its first success in Bihar in by-polls last year when it won the Kishanganj assembly seat.
This time, AIMIM is contesting 13 seats in Seemanchal, out of 18 all over Bihar. The party has fielded mainly Muslim faces in minority-dominated constituencies like Jokihat, where Shahnawaz Alam, younger son of late Union minister Mohammad Taslimuddin is in the fray as its nominee. He switched to the AIMIM from the RJD after being denied a nomination.
Similarly, in Bahadurganj, Kishanganj and Thakurganj as well in seats like Amour and Baisi in Purnea and Pranpur in Katihar, the AIMIM has fielded candidates, mostly from the dominant Soorjapuris , Kulhaiya and Shershadbadi (different groups among local Muslims), seeking to give a tough contest tothe RJD and Janata Dal (United) nominees.
Muslims constitute almost 70% of population in Kishanganj and Araria districts where polarisation on religious lines has in the past decided the electoral fate of candidates. This time, the BJP is contesting the Kishanganj seat, hoping to clinch it in a triangular fight with the GA and AIMIM candidates.
“AIMIM is banking on support of youths among Muslims in Seemanchal as Owaisi has gained some influence by through his regular visits to this belt in the last few years. The front, with BSP and RLSP as partners, is keen to broaden its base by garnering some slice of Dalit votes and Yadav votes in the region though it is not in big numbers,” said, Ramji Singh, a local businessman in Kishanganj who is a keen political observer.
The support of veteran socialist and former MP Devendra Yadav to the front is also being viewed as a catalysing force to cobble Yadav votes in both Seemanchal and Mithianchal ( Darbhanga, Samastipur belt) where Kushwahas also have a sizeable vote base.
“ We are a formidable front now as we have support of Dalits , Muslims and OBCs including Yadavs and Kushwahas for our candidates. Our front will be a game changer this election,” said Faizal Malik,a spokesperson for the RLSP,. Aftab Ahmed, general secretary of the AIMIM, made a similar claim. “Our front is a viable alternative to RJD and NDA. It will be visible in poll outcome. We hope to do well both in Kaimur and Gopalganj and the Seemanchal belt,” he said.
Observers said Kushwaha’s entry into the front had given some legitimacy to the coalition, but it will remain a marginal force as it was cobbled together late and lacks an organisational set-up. Many views it as a potential vote splitter that could spoil the RJD and Janata Dal (United) prospects in few seats in Seemanchal and central Bihar; Both RJD and JD (U) are banking heavily on Muslim votes. The GA is fielding 33 Muslim candidates and the JD(U) 11.
RJD leaders claim to be unfazed, claiming that the RLSP could not transfer his base votes to alliance partners in the 2019 parliamentary polls , a reason why it was offered a smaller number of seats this time, forcing the exit of Upendra Kushwaha from the GA.
“The secular front is a coalition of marginal leaders who have lost their base and pushed to the extent of irrelevance in state politics. Kushwaha’s pact with BSP and Owaisi is an attempt to keep his relevance, nothing more. There would be no impact of the front . AIMIM may make an impact in a few seats in Seemanchal by playing its politics on religious lines and local issues but it would not be influencing the minority votes across the state in general,” said Nawal Kishore Choudhary, a political observer and former Principal of Patna College.
RJD’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Prasad Yadav took a swipe at the front, saying: “Some people come as vote splitters during elections. Such experiments happened in Jharkhand and the result was seen. People gave a decisive mandate’’.
“ Muslims should not be seen in isolation. I feel minorities in the state would vote by looking into the credentials of candidates and also who could address development issues instead of getting guided by misinformation and rumours. They should vote without any fear forthe progress of the state,” said Maulana Shibli Qasmi, general secretary of Imarat Shariah, a prominent social and religious trust.
Scholar and general secretary of the All India Personal Law Board Maulana Mohammed Wali Rehmani , who lives in Munger, said the people of Bihar including the minorities are not influenced by sloganeering and want development .
“During elections, many fronts spring up. But do they matter? I do not know why Kushwaha has joined hands with Behenji (Mayawati) ,” he said. stressing that Bihar had progressed during the 15-year tenure of Nitish Kumar as chief minister.
“ In Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has worked for the state’s development without compromising on his principles. The change is discernible and there has never been an attempt by him to create any wedge among communities,” he said.
BJP national spokesperson Sanjay Mayunkh said the NDA is fighting the election on development issues and has the support of people. “ We have no contest with any front like that Kushwaha and Owaisi. They are nowhere in the scene. Kushwaha himself had lost election and at crossroads.”