MIM factor in Bihar polls

S Madhusudhana Rao

With Hyderabad-based MIM jumping into the Bihar poll fray, political equations in that state are likely to change. Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi’s announcement in Hyderabad on Saturday that his party would contest the Bihar Assembly elections had ended the speculation about the party’s participation. But the MIM decision has set in motion wild guesses about its impact on an already crowded political scene.

Bihar polls will be held in five phases between October 12 and November 5 for the 243-seat state Assembly. So far, the fight is between Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad Yadav alliance and BJP-led NDA. MIM’s foray into Bihar is likely to change the complexion of voting.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

Asaduddin’s decision is not totally unexpected. Ever since the fiery orator and a member of parliament from Hyderabad has decided to make MIM a pan-India outfit with the ostensible intention of representing minorities at states’ and central level, he has been eyeing local and Assembly elections outside Telangana.

The party’s breakthrough came when AIMIM captured two seats in the Shiv Sena-BJP citadel when Maharashtra State Assembly elections were held last year. While the party’s candidate had won the Aurangabad Central constituency, by defeating Shiv Sena contestant, BJP lost its stronghold Byculla in Mumbai to the MIM. While the twin victory is a booster shot to the party that is trying to expand its footprint from Hyderabad, MIM’s success, for the first time in Maharashtra Assembly polls, had caused consternation in the BJP and SS circles. Also of concern to them was three MIM candidates came second and nine secured third position in the 24 Assembly segments the party had contested.

In fact, the right-wing parties have to blame themselves for MIM finding a foothold in Maharashtra. Its expansion in mainly Muslim pockets of Vidarbha and Marathwada regions had been glossed over. As far as in 2012, the ‘outsider’ MIM had won 11 out of 81 seats in Nanded municipal elections. If that was the first challenge to the supremacy of Shiv Sena, BJP and Congress, MIM had repeated its feat with double vigour in Aurangabad civic polls in April this year.

It won 26 seats, emerging as the main opposition party in the civic body controlled by BJP-Shiv Sena combine. MIM’s inclusion of Dalits in its fight against the established parties had paid off. According to the pattern of voting and poll analysis, 15 Muslim-dominated areas and five Dalit-majority constituencies were responsible for MIM’s impressive debut performance in Aurangabad civic polls.

Thus Maharashtra has proved to be a springboard for MIM’s all-India ambitions. In recent times, Asaduddin has made no bones about taking his party to as far as West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh and neighbouring Karnataka. He has already confirmed that his party would contest the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections due in 2017 during his Iftaar parties in that state in July this year. In West Bengal, MIM has been strengthening its grassroots level support base with an eye on the next year’s Assembly elections. Karnataka too is on its radar.

Having tested and tasted poll success formula in Maharashtra at local and state level, Asaduddin is now venturing into Bihar where caste and community are expected to play a major role in the forthcoming elections. However, for the time being, he is focusing only on one region, Seemanchal, which is among the most backward regions in the country.

Seemanchal has four districts –Araria, Purnia, Katihar and Kishangunj – where more than 90 per cent of people live in villages. The population mix is both Muslim and Hindu but in some areas Muslims are in majority and they are predominantly farm workers.

Asaduddin plans to put up 25 candidates and his poll battle plan runs on the lines of development, backwardness and neglect of the poorest of the poor, means Muslims and Dalits. As a prelude to his action plan, Asaduddin said on Saturday: “Seemanchal is a victim of backwardness and injustice. The party intends to demand a regional development council.”

While he is trying to project himself as the face of Muslims at all India level, by appealing to his community and other minorities with a development agenda, will the Hyderabad MP pull it off in Bihar is a million dollar question. Main parties in the fray have dismissed the MIM factor. But they must be harbouring fears that the Muslim party can split the vote which will help BJP. Whatever the voters’ verdict may be, two factors play crucial role in deciding MIM’s fortunes in Bihar. One, the party’s penetration into Seemanchal; two, the non-Muslim vote, though the large minority communities can tip the scales. But it all depends on how much MIM leaders influence the voters in the most backward districts of Bihar.

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