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Bihar polls: Will Asaduddin Owaisi's entry tilt the balance against Lalu-Nitish?

New Delhi: The decision of Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM (All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen) to enter the electoral fray in Bihar has the potential of changing the political fortunes of the two main contenders, NDA and
Raj Singh September 18, 2015 18:58 IST
Raj Singh

New Delhi: The decision of Asaduddin Owaisi led AIMIM (All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen) to enter the electoral fray in Bihar has the potential of changing the political fortunes of the two main contenders, NDA and RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance, in upcoming state Assembly elections.

Obviously, Owaisi's party will damage the prospects of the “grand alliance” that consists of Nitish Kumar's JD (U), Lalu Prasad's RJD and Sonia Gandhi's Congress party.

The “grand alliance” is relying heavily on the consolidation of Muslim votes for its electoral success against Narendra Modi led NDA. But the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi may spoil their chances in this battle.

Muslims constitute around 17 percent of electorate in Bihar.  In 1990, after arresting Lal Krishna Advani in Samastipur during his famous “Rath-Yatra”, the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad became a hero for Muslims in Bihar.

Since then, Muslims of Bihar, impressed with Lalu's courage in arresting Advani, have largely voted in his party's favour. In fact, it was the combination of Muslim (17%) and Yadav (14%) voters that  helped RJD continue in power for 15 long years.  

Once upon a time, Lalu's M-Y equation appeared invincible.  Lalu's RJD lost power in 2005 because all non-Yadav, non-Muslim voters got united under the leadership of Nitish Kumar who had allied with BJP.

Read Also: Can Narendra Modi pull it off against ‘grand alliance' of Lalu-Nitish?

After Nitish Kumar broke off with BJP, Lalu Prasad once again sensed a golden opportunity to storm back to power in Bihar albeit under Kumar's leadership given the fact that he himself has been debarred from contesting elections after his conviction in a case related to fodder scam. He still had Yadav voters on his side but a section of Muslims were in two minds given the fact that Nitish Kumar had continuously tried to cultivate them since the day he took over the reins of power in Bihar.

Muslims were impressed with the way Nitish walked out of NDA on the question of Narendra Modi's PM candidature before 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There was a possibility of Nitish Kumar getting a fair chunk of Muslim votes, had he decided to contest these Assembly elections on his own.

The alliance between RJD, JD(U) and Congress made things easy for Muslims of the state. There was no longer any confusion and they would have voted en mass in favour of the “grand alliance”. But the sudden entry of Asaduddin Owaisi has created a new headache for Lalu-Nitish alliance.

Asaduddin Owaisis is trying to emerge as the new political Messiah of Indian Muslims. He has the persona and articulation to strike the right chord with Muslims of India who are feeling bereft of any viable leadership after 2014 parliamentary elections.  Owaisi seems to have made up his mind to leave no stone unturned in filling this void and not limit himself to his traditional stronghold of Hyderabad.  

After Narendra Modi's spectacular victory in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Owaisi sniffed an opportunity to convince Muslims of India that their traditional leaders, most of whom are Hindus,  are no longer in a position to halt the juggernaut of their biggest political enemy- Modi and that it's time to opt for a leader who is “one of them”.

Read Also: Owaisi's AIMIM decides to enter electoral fray, to contest in Seemanchal region

Owaisi initiated the experiment in Maharashtra where he contested 24 Assembly seats out of which he won 2. His victory in these two Assembly seats emboldened his spirits and now he has decided to spread his wings all across the country.

And his fierce opposition to the hanging of Yakub Memon was a well calculated ploy to tell Muslims of this country that  even the system is against them and that they need a leader like him who has the guts to call a spade a spade.

After Maharashtra, Bihar was bound to be his next political destination.  In Bihar, he has decided to focus only on “Seemanchal” region which has a sizable Muslim population.  And this is not surprising given the fact that even in Maharashtra he had decided against contesting all Assembly seats and focused on 24 seats only which had considerable Muslim presence .

Since the upcoming Bihar Assembly elections, in all probability, is going to be a neck-to-neck fight between NDA and “grand alliance”, even a minor division of Muslim votes may cost dearly for Lalu-Nitish combine.

Owaisi may spoil the party for “grand alliance” in Seemanchal region because in Assembly elections, the victory and loss, generally, is decided by not more than 5,000 votes.

Now the question is - how crucial Muslim vote is in this “ Seemanchal” region?

Seemanchal has 4 Lok Sabha constituencies – Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar.

Muslims are in decisive numbers in all these 4 constituencies. In Kishanganj, Muslims constitute around 70 percent of electorate while they are around 40 percent in all of the remaining three Lok Sabha constituencies.

In 2009 Lok Sabha elections , the BJP had won three out of the four seats in Seemanchal. At that time, the party was in alliance with Nitish Kumar who had cultivated Muslims for a long time and that's why they were not very antagonistic towards BJP. It prevented the tacit voting by Muslims against BJP and the saffron party reaped the dividends.

However, In 2014, when BJP fought on its own after Nitish walked out of NDA,  the party lost all four seats. This defeat was stunning given the fact that BJP alliance had won 32 out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. Obviously, tacit voting by Muslims did the party in.

Seemanchal has 23 Assembly seats. In 2010 Assembly elections, like in 2009 Lok Sabha polls, BJP won a lion's share of these 23 seats in alliance with JD(U). The party won 13 seats while JD(U) won 4 seats. Out of 23 seats, the BJP-JD(U) combine won 17 seats.