No one wants Bihar’s ‘Osama’ this time

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Patna : Meraj Khalid Noor, a young businessman who campaigned in the 2005 assembly polls and was dubbed Bihar’s Osama bin Laden due to his uncanny resemblance to the Al Qaeda chief, finds himself unwanted by political parties this time.

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“I am not in demand any more this time. I am busy with my business and personal work,” Noor told IANS.

Noor, who is tall, well-built, has a long black beard and sports a white robe and turban just like bin Laden, had campaigned for the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar in the past to woo Muslim voters. He was expecting to be roped in by these parties again this year.

But no one has approached him so far even as the Bihar elections are set to begin Oct 21. The first phase of polling covers 47 of the state’s 243 assembly constituencies in the Seemanchal and Kosi region where the Muslim factor may tilt the outcome.

Noor, who runs a men’s salon and a school in Patna, admitted that Bihar has changed in the last five years.

“In place of caste, community or religion card, development has become the main issue in the polls. I am not relevant in politics for development,” he said.

Noor recalled that he was much in demand during the 2005 assembly elections. “I was much sought after then, but that’s not the case in the coming elections,” said the businessman.

He however admitted it was only his resemblance to the world’s most wanted man that parties last time wanted to capitalise on as he was “neither a good speaker nor a leader with any support base”.

“Nobody remembers my real name. Even now everyone calls me bin Laden,” he added.

Noor’s close friend Salam Iraqui said the businessman took the plunge into politics in late 2004 when he sought nomination by the LJP to contest the assembly polls but was turned down.

But LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan decided to use Noor for campaigning, introducing him as “Osama bin Laden” at his various poll rallies then.

This “Osama” switched over to the RJD in September 2005 and campaigned for it in the November 2005 assembly elections.

“I shared the dais with Paswan and (RJD chief) Lalu Prasad at several meetings during the assembly elections and was honoured by both of them,” said Noor, a commerce graduate from Patna University and a post-graduate in rural management from Delhi University.

For all his looks, Noor is no hardliner. He is the grandson of Kazi Muzahidul Islam, a former president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, while his father Noor Ahmad was a close associate of veteran socialist leader George Fernandes.

Interestingly, Lalu Prasad and Paswan have been using some bearded Muslims in public meetings during the campaign but they are not like Noor.

Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U) has been using another long-bearded man – Maulana Ghulam Rasool Baliavi – in its poll campaign to attract Muslim voters.

Baliavi, who was earlier with the LJP but later joined the JD-U, was seen accompanying Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well as JD-U national president Sharad Yadav during campaigning.

“Baliavi has a permanent seat along with Nitish Kumar and Sharad Yadav in their helicopters for election campaigning these days,” a senior JD-U leader said.

After the caste factor in Bihar, the Muslim factor is also significant.

About 16.5 percent of Bihar’s 83 million population is Muslim. The community has sizeable populations in dozens of assembly constituencies in Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria, Katihar, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Siwan and Katihar.

Bihar goes to the polls in six phases during Oct 21-Nov 20.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])