Bihar politicians in Catch-22 situation over crucial Muslim votes in India Elections 2009

| |

By Danish Ahmad Khan

India’s Election Commission has finally announced the dates for 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The parliamentary election this time round promises to throw up significant elements of surprises which is bound to change the very grammar of politics in the country. The elections come at a time when neighbouring countries have already undergone revolutionary changes. In Nepal, a popular revolt brought Maoists into power overthrowing the 250-year-old monarchy and subsequent loss of the status of world’s only Hindu kingdom. In Bangladesh, Awami League’s Sheikh Hasina Wajed came to power after securing landslide win in recent parliamentary elections.

The formation of Central Government largely depends on the number of seats political parties win in at least two key states – Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. In Bihar, Lok Sabha elections will be conducted in four phases spread over 40 constituencies. The notification for the first phase will be issued on March 23; last date of filing nomination papers will be March 30; scrutiny of nomination papers on March 31; last date for withdrawal of nomination papers will be April 2; and voting will take place on April 16. The first phase of polls will be conducted in constituencies namely Gopalganj, Siwan, Maharajganj, Saran, Ara, Buxar, Sasaram, Karakat, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada and Jamui. The notification for the second phase will be issued on March 28; last date of filing nomination papers is April 4; scrutiny of nomination papers will be on April 6; last date of withdrawing nomination papers April 8; and voting will be held on April 23. The constituencies to go for voting in the second phase includes Valmikinagar, West Champaran, East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Madhubani, Jhanjharpur, Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Hajipur, Ujiyarpur and Samastipur. For the third phase, the notification will be issued on April 2; last date of filing nomination papers April 9; scrutiny of nomination papers will be done on April 11; last date of withdrawal of nominations April 13; and voting will take place on April 30. The constituencies going to polls for the third phase are Supaul, Araria, Kishanganj, Katihar, Purnia, Madhepura, Begusarai, Khagaria, Bhagalpur, Banka and Munger. The notification for the fourth and last phase in Bihar will be issued on April 11; last date of filing nomination papers on April 18; scrutiny of nomination papers April 20; last date of withdrawing nomination papers April 22; and voting will be held on May 7. The Lok Sabha constituencies of Nalanda, Patna Saheb and Pataliputra will go for voting in the fourth phase.

As the unfolding political developments currently indicate, the present Lok Sabha elections promise to be an interesting, unnerving hard-pitched battle never witnessed before in India’s electoral history. In fact, it will be sheerly not out of place if the 2009 Lok Sabha polls will be seen as reaching yet another milestone in the nation’s chequered parliamentary history. The State of Bihar with its 40 constituencies will play a decisive role to help put in place a viable government at the Centre. And undoubtedly, it is the nearly 17 percent Muslim votebank in the state that will make or mar the fortunes of political parties, which in turn will significantly play their own respective roles in forming the Central government.

Hard-pitched battle for Muslim votes
With the elections approaching nearer, Lalu Prasad Yadav-headed UPA (United Progressive Alliance) and Nitish Kumar-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) are all set to put up an extremely strong fight on the political turf of Bihar. The UPA in Bihar consists of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJSP (Lok Jan Shakti Party) and Indian National Congress (INC). While, the NDA consists of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal(United) and BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).

There is virtually a mad scramble between the two political conglomerations to grab a large chunk of crucial Muslim votebank in order to call the shots at the Centre. However, as it seems now, Nitish Kumar’s party JD(U) and his alliance NDA is far ahead in the game of political oneupmanship insofar as wooing Muslim votes is concerned. Recently, the RJD received a jolt when the chairman of party’s minority cell Mohammed Nematullah resigned and joined the ruling JD(U). Earlier, Nitish Kumar also succeeded in getting two backward Muslim leaders – Ali Anwar of All-India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaj and Dr. Ejaz Ali of All India United Muslim Morcha – nominated as MPs in the Rajya Sabha. This has largely gone down well with a section of Muslim population in the state. Besides, in the past three years of his rule Nitish Kumar has aggressively tried to woo Muslims through several populist welfare schemes. His biggest achievement has so far been to keep communal riots at bay. This has obviously enthused the community instilling confidence and hopes in his government towards an even more safe and secure future.

Nitish Kumar govt’s minorities’ welfare schemes

The Nitish Kumar government has implemented several schemes for the welfare of the minorities. According to Bihar’s minority welfare secretary Afzal Amanullah, every minority student scoring above 60 percent gets Rs. 10,000. The scholarships have already been disbursed among the 2008 group. The government also ensures that minority students get bank loans for education without hassle. “The Bihar State Minorities Finance Corporation has been asked to be more generous in providing loans for income-generating projects. While the corporation disbursed only Rs. 160 million during the past 21 years, the government has earmarked some Rs. 200 million for the financial year that ends on March 31. We have already distributed more than Rs. 50 million to Muslim, Christian and Sikh youth. The government plans to increase the amount next year,” says Amanullah. Among other minority welfare schemes, the Nitish Kumar government contributes Rs. 3,000 to a fund for each minority girls under age 15, which she however gets only upon getting married after attaining the age of 18. This amount is provided under the ‘marriage insurance’ program of the government. Besides, the government offers Rs. 10,000 to each divorced or deserted minority woman.

However there are some other welfare measures particularly for Muslims which the Nitish Kumar government should have implemented, feel community members. Regarding madrasas, Bihar government is severely lagging behind its counterparts in sanctioning a good amount for their uplift. It may be noted that the Bihar government sanctioned only a meager Rs. 22 crore in comparison to states like West Bengal, Rajasthan, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh. West Bengal government sanctioned Rs. 350 crore, Rajasthan sanctioned Rs. 300 crore, Delhi allocated Rs. 250 crore, and Andhra Pradesh government sanctioned Rs. 175 crore. Presently there are over 4,000 madrassas in Bihar, including the seminaries where the salary of the staff is paid by the state government. There are 2,459 unaided madrassas and hundreds of others operating in different places in the state. Though Nitish Kumar government didn’t sanction an appreciable amount for the development of madrasas, it however decided to provide free bicycles to girls studying at madrasas. Under the Chief Minister’s Cycle Project, about 4,000 girls who are students of Fauqania (equivalent to Class 10) would be provided bicycles, particularly in rural areas. At present, the Fauqania course is available in 150 of the total 1,119 government-run madrasas in the state. According to the first ever status paper brought out by the Bihar Madrasa Education Board, there are only 32 madrassas for girls under the government-aided category and 576 madrassas in the unaided category. The salary of Madrasa Education Board teachers is currently not at par with those of government school teachers. There is a feeling among the community that the salary of madrasa teachers be also brought at par with government school teachers, which will in fact go a long way in ameliorating their pitiable condition.

In Bihar, there are altogether 11,000 graveyards at present. The Nitish Kumar government has approved the fencing of only 8,000 graveyards and sanctioned Rs. 22 crore towards this. Besides, the community also rues the fact that in the whole of Bihar there is only one Muslim Vice Chancellor and that too in a minority institution like Maulana Mazharul Haq Arabic University.

However, given the above facts at least one thing can be said that in comparison to Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi’s 15-year rule, Nitish Kumar in his 3-year rule has performed well and tried to keep all sections of the people happy, including Muslims. During Lalu Yadav’s rule, Muslims particularly on the educational front suffered the most. Even, Lalu Yadav or his wife never cared to implement significant welfare measures for the minorities except to benefit their own Yadav caste. This is surely not the case with Nitish Kumar government thus raising his performance graph among a large section of the electorate, particularly minorities.

Who stands to gain in Bihar LS polls 2009?
There are currently three main players who are going to sweat it out on Bihar’s political turf and the winner would hence emerge as key player in helping to form a viable government at the Centre. The three main players are Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan and Nitish Kumar. Besides, there are two other players – Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, who cannot be ignored. In 2004 LS polls Lalu Yadav’s RJD had 24 MPs, Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJSP 4 MPs and Sonia Gandhi’s INC had 3 MPs. RJD had then contested in 26 seats, LJSP 8, and INC in 4 seats. These three parties who are currently part of ruling UPA will be contesting LS polls jointly in Bihar this time as well, but are still to reach an understanding regarding seat sharing. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and BJP who are part of NDA will be jointly contesting the polls and have already arrived at an understanding. JD(U) is going to contest in 25 seats while its ally BJP will be contesting in 15 seats. Nitish Kumar-led NDA obviously has an upper hand insofar seat sharing is concerned, while UPA constituents in Bihar are still to iron out seat sharing differences.

It seems that Nitish Kumar is having an unassailable lead over his political rival UPA so far. This is because Nitish Kumar has successfully kept his ally BJP in check and never allowed it to propagate its Hindutva brand of politics in the state and vitiate the communal atmosphere. The minorities in the state are obviously happy and consider this as the biggest achievement of the chief minister. Moreover, another factor that significantly favours Nitish Kumar is that the BJP has no independent base at all in Bihar. The party with only 5 MPs has neither been able to advocate its Hindutva agenda or expand its base in the state at all. In the current elections too BJP would be mostly dependent on Nitish Kumar to help achieve success. BJP, on its part, however, is trying to raise Ram Mandir issue again in the elections but is bound to squarely fail on this front as the BJP on the national level is itself facing severe problems because of its NDA partners and infighting in the party itself. Another significant decision that may eventually turn the tide in favour of Nitish Kumar, particularly Muslims, is that the JD(U) has decided that BJP’s poll punch line ‘Advani for PM’ will not be included in its poll campaign. The party thinks that the NDA prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani still doesn’t find favour with majority of the Muslim population in Bihar. However, as things stand now, Muslim population is not much opposed to Advani. Though mention of Narendra Modi’s name does attract extreme revulsion from Muslims. The current poll campaign in Bihar is therefore unlikely to see the presence of Narendra Modi in election meetings across the state. The JD(U) will try its best to highlight the achievements of the Nitish Kumar government – how effectively it has pursued various welfare schemes for the Muslims and the way in which it kept the saffron agenda of its partner BJP at bay during its three year rule. The JD(U) surely realizes the importance of Muslim votebank and the imperative need to effectively wean it away from its arch rivals RJD, LJSP and INC.

The major loser in the current LS polls in Bihar will be none else than Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD. There are several factors that appear to be going against him. First, Lalu Prasad Yadav as Railway Minister in the UPA government kept himself busy all along in self-projection – the person who brought about historic turnaround in the fortunes of the Indian Railways ever since India’s independence. He paid occasional visits to Bihar as Railways Minister but did little to keep into check his drifting votebank. His votebank MY (Muslim-Yadav) just proved to be a myth during 2005 Assembly polls with RJD’s poor showing resulting in the loss of power in the state. The 15-years of RJD rule could only guarantee security of life to Muslims by not letting communal riots happen. The main beneficiary was the Yadav caste which Lalu Prasad Yadav belongs to. Whenever need be, Lalu Prasad Yadav always tried to create a fear psychosis about the surge of the saffron brigade in order to garner Muslim votes. Much to the chagrin of Muslims in Bihar, the RJD government is also responsible for patronizing those charged of killing Muslims in the Bhagalpur communal riots. It was during the RJD regime that Kameshwar Yadav, an accused in the Bhagalpur riot case, was exonerated by the state police and instead given a certificate for maintaining communal harmony. The reason for his exoneration is apparent since Kameshwar Yadav belonged to the caste which Lalu Prasad himself belonged to. During the three years of his rule now Nitish Kumar has succeeded in making a dent in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s backward Hindu votebank by weaning away OBCs (Other Backward Classes) by providing them reservations. Besides, as is evident from 2005 Assembly elections, which brought Nitish Kumar into power, even a substantial section of Muslim votebank has also been weaned away from Lalu Prasad Yadav. In the given scenario, the current LS polls will therefore prove to be a major headache for Lalu Prasad Yadav in how to regain his lost clout and the traditional votebank which has already drifted too far.

The Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan is another key player who cannot be ruled out. He is trying his hard to emerge on the national scene in a big way. But his ambitions are difficult to be realized now with the presence of another great Dalit icon Mayawati, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. Ram Vilas Paswan’s votebank too comprises of BCs (Backward Class), OBCs, MBCs (Most Backward Class) and a section of Muslims. In the current elections, it is likely that Paswan will succeed in retaining LJSP’s 4 seats if not gaining more. With his focus on national politics, Paswan has done little to expand and consolidate his party’s base. But, if Paswan pays more attention to state politics then it is likely that Lalu’s loss may very well become his party’s gain. Insofar as Indian National Congress is concerned, ever since its debacle in the aftermath of Bhagalpur riots and later the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992 the INC has lost its traditional Muslim votebank. So far, Muslims have also failed to embrace the INC wholeheartedly. However, a section of Muslim votebank has begun to return to the Congress fold but more needs to be done if the INC wishes to reclaim its traditional votebank. As it is now, the INC stands a chance to keep its 3 seats intact but will be unable to increase its tally in the given circumstances. Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi herself is not too keen on engaging with her UPA ally Lalu Prasad Yadav. She also prefers to visit Bihar less, and her last visit being in 2003.

The 2009 LS polls will be historic indeed and will change the course of India’s politics insofar as coalition politics is concerned. This will be for the first time ever that a severe challenge is being posed to both the centrist mainstream parties – Indian National Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party. This time smaller regional parties are expected to put up good showing in their respective states and will be eventually calling the shots in forming a coalition government at the Centre. However, much depends on the crucial Muslim votebank particularly in the two key states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is these two states that after all play a key role in helping form a government at the Centre, and therefore the sizeable Muslim votes in these two states proves to be a decisive factor.

This is for the first time ever that the political parties are finding it tough to campaign devoid of any major poll issue at hand. As it is, the present elections are being held amidst ongoing global recession, which is likely to stay for a couple of years more. The parties therefore are finding it difficult now to raise the pet issue of inflation, as it will have few takers since everybody knows what the real problems are. For BJP, the issues of Ram Mandir, Article 370 in J&K, and Hindutva have already been placed on the backburner. These issues are not cutting any ice with the gullible electorate any more. Even, for Muslims the issue of communalism no longer remains a threat. What matters most now are the issues of development and security to life. In the past elections, it has been witnessed that Muslims have come out of the emotive phase and have begun shunning emotional rhetoric. They are now resorting to tactical voting which, admittedly, is politically beneficial for the community as such. Muslims have surely come of age now fully realizing their potential. They need to be more assertive and prove themselves to be hard bargainers if they want to ameliorate their educational and economic condition further.

The current elections will see development and terrorism threat emerging as the key issues. The goings will certainly be tough for the political parties as the future portends now.

Please see:

Posted by Unknown on 3/16/2009 03:29:00 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

0 comments for "Bihar politicians in Catch-22 situation over crucial Muslim votes in India Elections 2009"

Leave a reply