Special Reports

Bihar Elections: The Magician, RJD Flag and Muslims

Samastipur, October 12, 2015: At a crossroad of Dharampur, a Muslim-concentrated area of Samastipur, a small crowd surrounded a magician, who called a little boy standing in the crowd to search if there was anything in his cylinder-shaped cap. The boy found nothing but when the magician thrust his right hand inside it, he brought out a green RJD flag.

"Do not forget to press the button on lantern, said the magician, waving RJD flag to the crowd.

Having spent sometimes there, it emerged that the magician was campaigning for the RJD candidate and sitting MLA Akhtarul Islam Shaheen from Samastipur constituency who is pitted against the BJP candidate Renu Kumari.

Samastipur is one of 49 assembly seats, which are going to polls in the first phase of Bihar Assembly Elections on October 12 in which 583 candidates are contesting.

Realising a tough fight from the BJP candidate, Shaheen was also not leaving any stone unturned to consolidate his supporters, mostly Muslims, Backwards and Dalits. The street performance by the magician appeared to be a powerful mode to communicate political message.

As the dusk fell, the show was over. Some of onlookers turned to a nearby tea stall. I, too, ordered a cup of tea there. More than sipping tea, I was interested in finding someone with whom I could initiate conversation about Bihar polls.

Eventually, I gathered courage to pose a question about the political situation in the Samastipur constituency to the  sixty-year old Noor Mohammad, who works in leather business.

"Our votes would go to Shaheen Sahab as he has done good work," he responded.

During my conversation, I noted that Muslims appeared to be overwhelmingly supporting RJD-JDU-Congress-led grand alliance (maha gathbandhan).

Speculation was made earlier that the entry of “Muslim” parties such as Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, and the SDPI, may split Muslim votes in Bihar. But now it is clear that their first choice is the grand alliance.

"At this movement, Owaisi should not have jumped into Bihar polls. By doing this, he has made a blunder because such a move might cause damage," contended Haji Mohmmad Azim Ansari, a retired teacher who taught at a local high school.

The choice of Noor Mohammad too is the Nitish-led grand alliance as "development has been done during the Nitish government."

Interestingly, while most people praised Nitish rule for development, law and order and security, they at the same time said much more was still needed to be done. "In our locality, there should be a Muslim Girls’ school," said 60-year-old Mohammad Motiur Rahman who works in the health department.

Besides, the issue of poverty in the locality was also raised. Shabbir Alam, a teacher in a Middle School in Khanpur, said that Muslims in the locality do not have much opportunity of employment.

Amid this, a young boy, sporting beard and wearing a skull cap, chipped in with his remarks. "Sugar factory, paper mills closed long ago must be re-opened."

Many others pointed to the lack of good health facilities as the main problem.

The drop-out of children from schools, despite the fact that right to education has been made a fundamental right, is seen as a major problem.

Migration too figured as one of the key problems faced by the people here. "Muslims from these areas are migrating to Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta in search of jobs, rued Mohammad Motiur Rahman.

Dharampur, along with Jitwarpur, Baghauni, Tajpur, Koiari and Rampur, has a large Muslim population in the Samastipur assembly constituency where Muslims make up around 19 per cent of the total population.

As far as social and economic conditions of Muslims in Dharampur are concerned, they are mostly landless labourers, rickshaw pullers, toilers, employees while some of them run small businesses.

Besides, issues of sanitation, drinking water and filth were raised by the 42-year-old Mohammad Anwarul Haq, who is an agriculture coordinator at the Shakra block of Muzaffarpur. "The whole city is full of filth (gandagi)," he said.

In spite of this ground reality, when the BJP President Amit Shah addressed a rally on Saturday, he chose to rake up the issue of beef so as to polarise voters on religious lines, causing anger among Muslims further.

When asked to comment on the beef controversy, the general response of Muslims was that who ate what should not be anyone’s concern.

"The BJP wants to derive unfair (najayez) benefits from this," said Shabbir Ahmad.

Besides, they also charged the BJP leaders with pursuing a “double-standard” policy in beef issue.

"Ninety per cent of the people in beef business are Hindus. The BJP wants to fool people. Earlier too, the same party did the same thing in the name of temple, added Ahmad.

When asked what Muslims felt after the recent incident of lynching at Dadri, Haji Mohmmad Azim Ansari said that no untoward incident could take place in Samastipur as Muslims maintained patience (sabr) in the wake of any provocation, while administration of Bihar “kept the situation under control.”

However, they expressed concern that politics over beef by the BJP had led to creating suspicion in Hindus.

“One of the fallouts of the politicisation of beef is that a section of Hindus is turning suspicious when food items are offered to them by Muslims,” rued Haji Master.

Yet another issue that came up during this discussion was the Sachar Committee report and reservation for Muslims.

On the Sachar report, they said that its repot had been put on the backburner and it, thus, would be unlikely to be implemented. For this, they held the government responsible, alleging that even money sent to government offices was returned unused.

Another issue, which has recently drawn a lot of public attention, is reservation for Muslims. On this, most of them said reservation for Muslims was a must. Suddenly one of them asked this reporter to “stress” the issue of reservation in his report, while another  said that Mansoori Muslims, who have been traditionally artisans, are more backward and the government needed to address their grievances.

Abhay Kumar is pursuing PhD at Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He may be contacted at debatingissues(a)gmail(.)com

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