Owaisi has few takers among Bihar’s Muslims

By Imran Khan,

Patna: For Tufail Ahmad and Riaz Ansari, residents of Bihar’s Seemanchal region, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is their leader, not firebrand Muslim leader Asaduddin Owaisi.

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“Humralog ka neta to Nitish Kumar hain, Owaisi nahin,” said Ahmad, who is in his early 40s, from Araria and works as a labourer in construction sites in Patna.

Similarly, Ansari, in his mid-50s and from Purnea town, said he had voted for Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United in the last four elections and would do so again.

“Nitish Kumar is our leader. We live in peace, and development has taken place in the last 10 years,” Ansari, a construction contractor, told IANS.

“Electricity is no more a luxury for us. Roads have connected our towns and villages,” he added, explaining the reasons why he is loyal to Nitish Kumar.

Ahmad and Ansari are two of hundreds of Muslims from the Seemanchal region working in lowly paid jobs here who openly support Nitish Kumar and aren’t ready to accept Owaisi’s brand of politics.

Owaisi, who heads the Hyderabad-based All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, has announced his decision to contest the Bihar assembly polls.

Ansari said: “We are poor people, we don’t want trouble. Owaisi and the BJP are part of the same coin. We want to give another chance to Nitish Kumar.”

Another group of five labourers — Mohd Salim, Manjoor, Javed, Haroon and Shakir from Bhagalpur, which borders Seemanchal — echoed similar views.

“We know only Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, we will vote for them,” said Salim, speaking here for the group.

But Belal Mian and his friend Raju Mian, who work in a bakery here, said they will support Owaisi’s party if it contests from Patna.

Ahmad Imam, a businessman in Patna, and Sami Khan, a writer in Nawada district, also favour Owaisi whose electrifying speeches are known to create waves among young Muslims in particular.

Speculation is rife that Owaisi will field candidates in Muslim-dominated constituencies in Seemanchal comprising Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria and Katihar districts, accounting for 24 of Bihar’s 243 assembly seats.

Muslim intellectuals doubt if Owaisi can command the kind of support in Bihar he does in Hyderabad — or he did in parts of Maharashtra last year.

“Owaisi is behaving like a BJP agent to help Hinduvta politics. But he is unlikely to cut much ice in Bihar,” said Abdul Qadir, who teaches economics at Gaya’s Mirza Ghalib College.

“Owaisi will find it difficult to make inroads into the community,” which is widely expected to vote for the alliance of the JD-U, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress.

“But Owaisi’s entry will certainly help anti-Muslim consolidation,” added Arshad Ajmal, a political commentator.

Ajmal said Owaisi’s party had contributed to the BJP’s victory in the Maharashtra assembly polls.

Irshadul Haque, a Dalit Muslim activist, felt Owaisi may make some impact and the Bharatiya Janata Party will try to polarize Hindus to benefit from his electoral presence.

“But most Muslims will not support him,” said Haque, who hails from East Champaran district.

Asad Rahman, who runs a school in Kishanganj district, insisted that Owaisi will prove a spoiler for the JD-U and RJD and indirectly help the BJP.

Soroor Ahmad, a socio-political analyst, wanted to know why Owaisi was focussing only in Muslim-majority constituencies.

“Owaisi is only helping the BJP to polarize Hindu votes,” Owaisi told IANS.

Muslims form 16.5 percent of Bihar’s 105 million population. In the Seemanchal region, they account for nearly 67 percent in Kishanganj, 37 percent in Purnea, 43 percent in Katihar and nearly 40 percent in Araria.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])