It was little less than a month ago that Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was effusive in his praise for his Industry Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, praising him for “moving around the country to bring investment to Bihar”.
It was a rare departure for Nitish, who is usually stingy with praise for his ministers, including his then deputies from the BJP, Tarkishore Prasad and Renu Devi.
However, Hussain’s star-crossed political fortunes were back to the fore again when first, on August 9, the JD(U) brought down its coalition government with the BJP; then the party removed him from its central election committee on August 16; and the next day, the Delhi High Court ordered registration of an FIR alleging rape against him. The only Muslim face of the BJP in Bihar, Hussain is now post-less and fighting a serious charge.
His lawyers have argued that the police inquiry into the case, which was concluded four years ago, ruled out the allegations against him based on the call detail records of Hussain and the complainant. However, the case is set to cast a pall over Hussain’s already clouded future.
A resident of Supaul district in Kosi region, Hussain had burst into national politics with a bang, as the BJP giantkiller who defeated the RJD’s Seemanchal strongman Mohammed Taslimuddin from the Lok Sabha constituency of Kishanganj in the 1999 polls. It was the first, and only, time that the BJP won the Muslim-dominated seat.
Hussain was suitably rewarded, with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inducting the 31-year-old as Minister of State for Food Processing. In 2001, he was promoted to MoS (Independent charge) of the Coal Ministry. Soon after, when just 33, he was made Union Civil Aviation Minister, the youngest Cabinet minister the country had seen.
However, that was the high point of Hussain’s career. In 2004, he lost from Kishanganj to Taslimuddin, while the BJP was ousted from power at the Centre.
After the BJP came to power in the state with the JD(U) in 2005, and Sushil Kumar Modi resigned as Bhagalpur MP to take over as Deputy CM, Hussain contested and won the 2006 bypoll to the seat. He retained the seat in 2009 as well.
However, in 2014, Hussain lost to the RJD’s EBC leader Gangota Shailesh Kumar a.k.a Bulo Mandal by a narrow margin from Bhagalpur, a defeat attributed to the infighting in the state unit. This was despite then NDA prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi campaigning in Bhagalpur for Hussain, and the Modi wave that landed the BJP 31 of 40 Bihar Lok Sabha seats.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP did not give him a ticket from Bhagalpur, with the seat falling in the kitty of then ally JD(U).
A much-diminished political revival was seen in January 2021 when Hussain re-entered electoral politics as an MLC from Bihar, and was made state Industry Minister.
In his new role, Hussain seemed to have a point to prove. With the backing of Nitish, he was commended for planning an industry overhaul and identifying hurdles blocking investment in Bihar. With the biggest problem being non-availability of land, he got the Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority to compile details of land owned by it which could be offered on lease to investors at rates much cheaper than government ones. He also made clearance of pending proposals for ethanol units a priority.
The biggest bottling plant of Eastern India worth Rs 500 crore came up this April in Begusarai. The first ethanol plant, also the first such greenfield plant in the country, started functioning in Purnia the same month. Sixteen more ethanol plants are coming up. New textile and leather policies have been announced with the objective of reviving the famed silk and cottage industry of Bihar.
Can Hussain bounce back again? Detractors now call his regular boast of being the youngest Cabinet minister a burden, while the new BJP itself sees little value in having a few Muslim faces around. Earlier, its other big leader from the community, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, saw his Rajya Sabha tenure end and other avenues close for him.
Still the Bihar MLC, Hussain has stayed away from Patna in the wake of the regime change, closeted with his family, including wife Renu who is a teacher, shunning the media.