Former Kishanganj MP and Bihar minister Shahnawaz Hussain was among the BJP leaders who spoke at Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in Purnia on Friday. It was the BJP’s first major event in the state following the fall of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Hussain speaks to The Indian Express about Shah’s two-day visit to the state’s Seemanchal region, of which Purnia is a part, the Opposition’s allegations that the BJP is trying to polarise the situation by making claims of “infiltration” along the border, the law-and-order situation, and his party’s strategy to counter the social combination of the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
What is the message of Amit Shah’s Seemanchal trip?
We use the term “Seemavarti (border)” districts for Purnia, Kishanganj, Araria, and Katihar. They either share the border with Nepal or Bangladesh. After the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) joined hands with the JD(U) again recently, there was a sense of fear. Shah’s visit instilled a sense of faith and security as he gave priority to security concerns of the people because of unlawful activities along the border. Shah’s visit to the “Seemant (border)” region is also important because it is still an ignored region in comparison to other parts of Bihar. The process of development that started during the tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee as PM between 1998 and 2004 somehow lost its speed during the UPA regime (of the Congress). The Narendra Modi government again brought the region back to focus with development projects. Amit Shah talked at length about the development projects during his Purnia rally.
Can you elaborate on the fear factor?
I am talking about anti-national activities along the border. Central intelligence and investigating agencies have flagged some terror modules over the past few years. The Union home minister reassured people regarding border security. We gave importance to a less-developed region.
How do you react to the Grand Alliance’s allegations of the BJP doing politics of polarisation through the Seemanchal message?
One knows that the four border districts have a substantial Muslim population. As these districts share the border with Bangladesh Nepal, it has been under 24-hour vigilance. Whether it is infiltration, drug-peddling or the issue of fake currency, it is reported from bordering areas … Amit Shah came here to talk about security. We cannot fall into the Opposition’s trap and talk about polarisation. They even spread rumours about the Centre trying to turn the area into a Union Territory. Rather, it is the Opposition that has been trying to engage in politics of polarisation. They believe that these areas are their strongest areas. So, we have decided to challenge them from this region itself and expose their politics of caste and religion.
Several of your colleagues have been raising issues of infiltration in Seemanchal. How big is the issue?
Since it is an open border, infiltration is often reported. Even the UPA government acknowledged infiltration from Bangladesh to Bihar to be a matter of serious concern. But I wonder why the UPA government did not do anything to check it. It was only during the NDA governments that we introduced wire fencing on borders and also introduced Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). We have constructed several roads in Bihar and UP along borders.
The BJP has also spoken about the higher rate of Muslim population growth.
The high Muslim population growth is because of the region’s backwardness and lack of awareness among people. It is surely a matter of concern and this is why we have been harping on development. If some of our leaders have been raising it, no one should have any objection. We are quoting government data that says the region recorded a 10 to 15 per cent growth rate as compared to a 4.5 per cent national growth rate among Muslims.
What about the growing number of madrasas in the region?
We have nothing against madrasas if they come up in compliance with norms. We are only concerned about foreign funding. There has been a surfeit of madrasas along the Indo-Nepal border. We need to curb any construction coming up with help of foreign funding.
Amit Shah talked about focussing on booths. How will it help against the strong social combination of the Mahagathbandan?
Amit Shah has now proved the success of his electoral strategy in UP, the northeast, and elsewhere. What he wants to convey with the message on focus on booths is that we should give parity to our voters irrespective of their religion. People are still afraid of the presence of anti-social elements at booths. We have to instil a sense of reassurance among the public. Booth-level work also helps us with micro planning.
On the one hand, the BJP talks about development; on the other, you have leaders such as Giriraj Singh. Is not it twin-track politics?
Rather, we follow one-track politics. It does not matter what a Hussain or a Singh says, our all leaders follow the party line in their distinct ways. If we flag concerns about terror threats, population growth rate, and border security, it is very much in line with the party’s policy and strategy … As for the development of the region, Amit Shah has spoken about more than a dozen major road, railways, and bridge projects for the region. A big group of hotels is also going to open its hotel in Purnia soon.
Your party had been with Nitish Kumar for a long time. What do you have to say about him?
Nitish Kumar has to share equal credit for all the development work we did together. He inspected the progress of an upcoming ethanol plant at Motipur, Muzaffarpur on Saturday. He should give some credit to me as well since I was the industries minister and to the BJP as a whole … I am talking about dil maange more (the heart wants more) rather than just comparing Bihar with the Lalu Prasad days. There has also been a deterioration in the law-and-order situation since the Grand Alliance took over. There is something wrong with RJD culture because whenever it is part of the government, there are law-and-order problems.
You represented Kishanganj in 1999. Why has your party not been able to win it since then? Do you see any chance for the BJP in the four Seemanchal seats that have a dominant Muslim population and equally sizeable Yadav/Kushwaha numbers?
I lost the seat to RJD’s Mohammed Taslimuddin in 1998 by a narrow margin but took away the seat from him in 1999. The area saw several projects being realised between 1998 and 2004. Kosi Maha Setu connected the rest of Bihar with the Seemant region. Earlier, even politicians hardly visited these areas. The east-west corridor gave wider connectivity to the region … it is true that we somehow lost the grip since 2004. But the RJD and the JD(U) should not be under the illusion that the politics of caste and religion alone work. Development politics is sustainable. When the SP and the BSP came together for the 2017 UP polls, no one gave us a chance. But, we won the polls convincingly. Bihar has also moved on from caste politics. For the first time, a Union Home Minister stayed in the region for two days. That shows our commitment to development politics. Let the Opposition make allegations. People will decide victory or loss, not Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad.