A discussion in Ankhan, one of several Muslim-dominated villages in Pataliputra constituency, shows indecision among Muslim voters.
The village is well connected. Shafir Ahmed, a retired driver with the Bihar State Electricity Board, gets three newspapers every day, and people gather around him to discuss each party.
Should they reward Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) for work done, or with Lalu Prasad’s RJD, which they feel has better secular credentials? Many want BJP candidate Ram Kripal Yadav defeated.
“We like Ram Kripal Yadav, who shared our happiness and grief, but he has chosen a wrong party. Had he joined the JD(U), we would not have thought about the RJD,” says Ahmed. The JD(U)’s sitting MP, Ranjan Prasad Yadav, is “unpopular because he was inaccessible”. Besides, Nitish’s second term was marred by “corruption”.
Though the Muslim vote will be divided, some say the balance is tipped in favour of RJD candidate Misa Bharati. “Even if Nitish snapped ties with the BJP, Lalu Prasad has better secular credentials,” says Shamim Ahmed.
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“We get the final message (whom to vote for) from clerics of Sigori (near Paliganj) that has over 5,000 Muslims,” adds elderly Shafir. When young voters are asked for an opinion, Shafir says, “They are not in a position to decide.”
The constituency has four lakh Yadavs and 1.25 lakh Muslims. Imtiaz Ansari, who applauded Lalu at a rally for attacking Narendra Modi, says, “Laluji is the real leader for Muslims. Some young Muslims may vote for Nitish but the choice of Ranjan Prasad Yadav is wrong.”
Ara constituency presents a triangular contest among the BJP’s R K Singh, the RJD’s Bhagwan Singh Kushwaha and the JD(U)’s MP Mina Singh. Among Muslims here too, the RJD appears to have an edge over the JD(U). People of Nabinagar and Milky villages in Piro, where a schoolteacher was recently killed, said the last-minute decision will depend on who has the potential to defeat the BJP candidate.
“Nitishji has done a lot. But most 50-plus voters are tilted towards Lalu because they think anti-incumbency would work against Mina Singh,” says Shaukat Khan. He added the murder of teacher Akbar Khan seemed an attempt to polarize Muslim votes but it did not work. There are 1.5 lakh Muslim voters.
In Gaya reserved constituency with over 1.25 Muslims, BJP MP Hari Manjhi will face the RJD’s Ramji Manjhi and the JD(U)’s Jitan Ram Manjhi but it is not clear who will offer a stronger challenge.
Shamshul Haque, a social worker in Gaya, says Muslim voters are also divided along caste lines. “Since Nitish has done a lot of work and law and order has improved, he is a favourite with young and educated Muslims,” says Haque.
Riyazul Akhtar, a Karimganj resident, says, “The candidate who can defeat the BJP will get maximum support. The RJD looks a bit ahead.”
Khalid Anis Ansari, assistant professor at Global University, Saharanpur, says,” Nitish got backward Muslim votes despite being a partner of the BJP. The voting pattern is largely controlled by elite Muslims. Though there is a caste divide, the discussion mostly veers round secularism versus communalism.”
Ansari says Nitish has had OBC leaders Ghulam Gous and Kehkashan Parbeen, besides Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar, wooing Muslim voters but “elite Muslims seem tilted towards RJD”.
Nitish gets a pat from Sachar
Justice Rajinder Sachar, who headed the panel that submitted a report on the condition of Muslims, praised the Nitish Kumar government Monday for “good implementation” of a 15-point programme and schemes for Muslim students. “It is a basic fundamental right of Muslims to get equal attention from the government… The Bihar government seems to have done well with implementation of 15-point programme by taking it to block level,” Justice Sachar said at a seminar on the uplift of the community in Bihar, organised by Kishanganj Tauheed Educational Trust. He said the government had done well to start a scheme to provide hostels for Muslim girls in villages.
About the Muzaffarnagar riots, he said: “We have tried to check if enough Muslim officers were posted in the Muslim-dominated belt. We favour placing of Muslim inspectors to protect the interests of the community even if the government failed to do so.” Santosh Singh