As AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi senses an opening in Bihar, its state unit chief Akhtar-ul Iman has emerged as the face of the party in the state. A good orator who is fluent in Urdu like mentor Owaisi, the 55-year-old has built the AIMIM virtually from the scratch in Seemanchal, a backward region where Muslims are in substantial numbers and where it sees its most chances.
Iman had sprung a surprise when he had joined the AIMIM ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, withdrawing his candidature as a JD(U) candidate from Kishanganj at the last moment. The matter was of particular embarrassment for the JD(U) as it had taken in Iman just months earlier, after he had switched over from the RJD. At the time, Iman had told The Indian Express, “Their (JD-U’s) people had a tacit understanding with the BJP. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that.” Following Iman’s withdrawal from the race, Congress candidate Maulana Asrarul Haque had won the seat.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Iman had come in third, but his 2,94,859 votes was impressive given the AIMIM’s newbie status against rivals Congress and JD(U). Months later, the AIMIM had won a bypoll to the Kishanganj Assembly seat, making a debut into the Bihar House.
After his 2019 poll performance, Iman had declared, “It is now time to explore and expand our base… We are not just a party of Muslims. We represent the Dalits and the poor.” While he has been raising issues concerning the Muslim community, his appeal for the youth lies in calls to change the system and to assert their rights, and his demand to improve the education and health status, and overall backwardness of Seemanchal.
Iman had been part of the campaign that led to the setting up of a study centre of Aligarh Muslim University in Kishanganj. However, seven years later, it continues to function out of a temporary building, with the land allotted by the Bihar government for a permanent structure situated in the flood-prone Mahananda region.
Seemanchal goes to polls in the last phase, and the AIMIM, which has declared its intention to contest 55 seats, is yet to declare its candidates. Iman is expected to get the ticket from Amour seat, making it a triangular contest including sitting Congress MLA Jaleel Mastan, and the JD(U)’s Saba Zafar.
Iman denies the charge thrown at the AIMIM, including by the Mahagathbandhan, of helping the BJP by splitting the Opposition vote. In an interview with The Indian Express, Owaisi said, “Am I a hostage to other parties? I will contest because I believe in parliamentary democracy… Why have these parties arrogated this power to decide who should contest or who shouldn’t?
The AIMIM is contesting this time in alliance the Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic), Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and BSP — a signal by Owaisi that his is not a party exclusively for Muslims.
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