A white Scorpio with a lotus flag approached the tea stall at Pipla Chowk. From it stepped out Abdul Rehman, 38.
Rehman is one of the only two Muslim candidates fielded by the BJP, and the only one in Seemanchal. Here in Kishanganj, where Muslims form an overwhelming 70 per cent of the population, a large number of them consider his decision “to hold the saffron flag nothing less than blasphemy”, especially because the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi’s party has raised fears about a split in the Muslim vote helping the BJP.
“People made me cry a lot. Everywhere I went, they would hold me by the collar and ask questions,” Rehman said. “It was a big decision (joining the BJP), full of challenges. Even my father asked a lot of questions.”
A large group of men made a circle around the tea stall, listening intently. “People wouldn’t understand. But now, it seems they are responding to me. I have been explaining my reasons for going to the BJP ever since I joined last year,” Rehman said. “I am a pucca Musalman. Main BJP ya Narendra Modi se nahin darta. Main JD(U) ya RJD se nahin darta. Main bas Allah se darta hoon (I am not scared of the BJP or Narendra Modi, of the JD(U) or the RJD. I fear only Allah). I want to see development, especially in the Muslim belt of Kishanganj.”
Rehman is contesting from Kocha Dhaman, site of a fierce contest that includes Mujahid Alam of the maha gathbandhan and Akhtarul Iman, Bihar president of Owaisi’s AIMIM. Both belong to the majority Surjapuri caste of Muslims. Rehman belongs to the Shershahbadi caste that forms 20 per cent of the Muslims here.
There is a sharp division between the two castes, which explains why the BJP chose Rehman. It will be hoping that Iman will cut hugely into the maha gathbandhan vote; he is a fiery orator and locally popular, and is armed with Owaisi’s appeal among certain sections. The BJP is aiming at a combination of the Shershahbadi and Hindu minority vote. On the ground, however, that seems difficult because Imam, who had won on an RJD ticket in 2010, fancies his own chances.
“It is my rebellion against those who have been deceiving Muslims here for decades now,” Rehman said. “If not I, somebody like me will someday break the monopoly of these people who have been consistently elected but done nothing for the people.”
He explained the “biggest reason” for his joining the BJP. “Kishanganj have always voted against the BJP and people were given the false hope that it will ensure the well-being of Muslims,” he said. “But when the Sachar Committee report and Ranganath Mishra report became public, we found the condition of Muslims is worse than that of Dalits and Mahadalits. My question is, when the BJP has never won in Bihar, why is the condition of Muslims like this here?”
He said the JD(U)-BJP alliance government had done a good job. “BJP ministers worked well and there was development.”
Rehman is married with five children. Before joining politics, he was running a clothes shop. “Now I run Deni (religious) Public School,” he said. “I was a prakhand head of the Congress before joining the BJP. There was no chance of getting anything done while in the Congress.”
About the beef controversy, Rehman said, “My religion permits me to eat it, so I will keep eating it. Nobody can stop me.” He said the beef controversy will die down as soon the Bihar elections end. “It is all rajniti.”
Rehman said people ask him about the 2002 Gujarat riots and he has an answer. “In 2004, the Union government changed and the Congress came to power. People had voted with a demand to punish the rioters. The government couldn’t prove the BJP and Modi’s role. Either the Congress took a bribe and did Muslims an injustice, or Modi government had done no wrong.”
Rehman has been the target of harsh attacks. During a speech in Kocha Dhaman, Iman said, “Abdul Rehman is our brother who has been taken away (in order to) harm us. We need to save our brother.”