The famous Hyderabadi Biryani and Kashmir, still referred to as ‘Heaven on Earth’ in school textbooks, are repeated often during election speeches by Janata Dal (United) leaders in what is known as ‘Seemanchal’ region in Bihar.
The phrases are coined, and narratives built around them, cleverly to drive home the party’s message in a region, to the north-east of the state with West Bengal on the east and Nepal to its north, that comprises four constituencies with large Muslim population.
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According to local leaders, the biryani and Kashmir references are meant to remind the electorate that despite the region having a much higher Muslim concentration than the national average, people from the community will go their “own” way in these elections in national interest — not dictated by either the RJD or the Congress, parties seen as being pro-Muslim. Local JD(U) leaders said neither Hyderabad, the headquarters of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, which has fielded candidates in Bihar, nor the demand for a separate Prime Minister, like in Kashmir, an issue being raised by the BJP in a big way, should be that “our way” for minorities in this region.
The JD(U) faces a dilemma in the region in an election the party is fighting in alliance with the BJP — the people, especially those from the minority community, do not come out openly in favour of either the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They, however, contend that ‘Vikas Purush’ Nitish Kumar, the JD(U) chief and Bihar CM, can be trusted as a leader who rises above caste, religion and community.
Syed Md Ashraf, a local and the JD(U) candidate from Kishanganj — he and LJP’s Mehboob Ali (Khagaria) are the NDA’s two Muslim candidates in the entire state — said, “India does not allow outsiders dictating us, nor will we be divided on caste, religion and communal lines…. When Modi became the Prime Minister in 2014, he did not talk about Hindus, but spoke and thought of all 125 crore Indians.”
In the next breath, he directed his tirade against “Saudi Sheikhs”. ‘They don’t have courage to come here to marry, and then divorce, our daughters,” he said, adding that that is something the AIMIM has not been able to fight in Hyderabad. AIMIM is expected to get some votes from the Muslim community here.
Ashraf also pointed out that this is the first time that a local has been fielded from Kishanganj, the earlier minority representatives of the constituency in Lok Sabha being “outsiders” such as M J Akbar or Syed Sahabuddin.
Congress’s Mohammad Javed is expected to be his main opponent in Kishanganj.
Master Mujaheed, JD(U) MLA from Kochadhaman in Kishanganj, said, “We will not let this area be turned into another Kashmir.” He alleged that the AIMIM candidate is campaigning for a separate state to be carved out of the region, with special status such as in J&K.
The content of speeches of Muslim leaders of JD(U) is in sharp contrasts to that of the Laloo Prasad-led RJD.
Nitish Kumar, who addressed election meetings in the region on Friday, for now appears determined to justify himself and his political equation. He weighs his words carefully, claiming full credit for development works under his administration over the last 13 years and contrasting that with the “corrupt raj” of the “pati-patni duo over 15 years — the latter a reference to former CMs Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi.
As leader after leader praised Nitish on the dais, and on the campaign trail, he made it a point to thank the BJP for lending full cooperation, be it in allotting land for a proposed medical college in Purnea or enhancing salary of 1,128 madrasa teachers at par with government school teachers. Subtly, he tried to justify his alliance with the message that secularism is not an issue for compromise.
For Nitish, the victory of his party’s only Muslim candidate will have a larger meaning at a time the opposition is trying to send the message to the electorate about a former “socialist” having joined the “saffron bandwagon”.
In Araria, RJD’s Sarfaraj Alam, son of late MP from the constituency Mohammed Taslimuddin, is pitted against BJP’s Pradip Singh, a former MP.
In adjoining Purnea, the fight is clearly between Santosh Kushwaha of BJP and Uday Singh of the Congress, and in Katihar between Congress’s Tariq Anwar and JD(U)’s Dulal Goswamy, with the former, a five-term MP, appearing ahead.
Kishanganjk, Katihar and Purnea vote on April 18, and Araria in the third phase on April 23.