Shifting loyalties

Published : Nov 04, 2005 00:00 IST

The erosion of its Muslim support base is worrying the Rashtriya Janata Dal, but on the eve of the first phase of polling no other party or alliance appears strong enough to emerge a powerful winner.


THE mood for change appeared to be the most widely prevalent feeling among people as one travelled across the countryside in Bihar a few days before the first phase of voting on October 18. And the fact that the mood cut across caste and community lines could spell trouble for the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance. For example, in Phulwarisharief near Patna, which returned the RJD candidate in the past three Assembly elections, the party's position appeared to be threatened. The sitting legislator is Shyam Rajak, who was Minister for Power in the Rabri Devi government. While the mood for change might lead to a consolidation of votes in favour of the strongest anti-RJD candidate, it could also lead to a division of Muslim votes, making Rajak's position difficult. Phulwarisharief is a Muslim-dominated area.

Mohammad Juman Ustad, until recently an RJD supporter and currently the BJP's minority cell chief in Phulwarisharief, asked what Muslims had got in return for their unstinted support to the RJD-Congress combination. He said: "Look at me, I don't have a job. My children have no education because the teachers in our village school either do not come or do not teach when they come. Our women are not safe. We have no good hospital and our young boys easily take to crime because there is no work for them. Now we want to change this and would certainly give others a chance."

It is not clear who would benefit from the consolidation of anti-RJD votes. Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which won 29 seats in the February election and failed to form a government led by parties other than the RJD or the Bharatiya Janata Party, is not strong enough to challenge the RJD or the BJP on its own. "Paswanji would not be able to form the government, so we will vote for such a candidate who would be able to form the government," said Nandkishore Singh, a trader in Phulwarisharief, who belongs to a caste Hindu community.

The alternative is the Janata Dal (United)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which included the BJP. But would the Muslims in Phulwarisharief vote for the NDA candidate, Arun Manjhi of the Janata Dal (United)? Jamaluddin Ansari, a resident of the constituency, said: "Why not? We should give Nitish Kumar a chance. Laluji has failed to deliver, Paswanji failed to get a government formed. This is Nitish Kumar's chance. Let us try him as well."

Office-bearers and workers of the Imarat-Sharia, a prominent Muslim organisation that supported the RJD-Congress combination in the past and has declared support for it this time too, has started questioning the leadership's decision. Some young members of the Imarat-Sharia told this correspondent that Muslims were not wary of giving Nitish Kumar a chance despite his ties with the BJP. Neither were they afraid of riots in case an NDA government was formed. "Is there a Lalu Prasad government or a Congress government in all States? How come no riots are taking place elsewhere? The spectre of riots is raised by Lalu Prasad," said a member of the Imarat-Sharia.

Hazrat Maulana Syed Nizamuddin, the chief of the Imarat Sharia and the general secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, admits that mistakes committed by Lalu Prasad have led to this state of affairs. "He made so many promises but fulfilled none. He has not done anything for the welfare of the Muslim masses. Our issuing a fatwa [edict] will have no meaning, though we have declared support for him this time too. But people have started questioning our support to the RJD-Congress alliance and I have to admit that Muslim votes would get split again," he told Frontline. He said the Imarat-Sharia was giving "only one last chance" to the UPA.

An anti-RJD feeling among Muslims could work against the alliance led by the party in places such as Danapur, Naubatpur, Vikram, Pali and Bihta, where the community constitutes 15 to 16 per cent of the population. The RJD used to win in such places because of the combined support of Muslims and Yadavs, who constitute 11 to 12 per cent. But if the Muslim vote splits, the RJD support base would be weakened. Caste-based voting might make a difference, but it would not be enough to make a winning combination.

Adding to the alliance's troubles was the arrest of RJD leader and Member of Parliament from Siwan, Syed Shahabuddin. Wanted by the Bihar police, he was arrested from his constituency and his name has been struck off the voters' list for evading arrest. The absence of its most prominent Muslim leader affected the RJD's campaign in Muslim-dominated regions.

It is not as if the RJD-Congress alliance is not getting any Muslim support. The Jamait Ulema-e-Hind has declared support for the combine. But as Ali Anwar, president of the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaaz, says, only forward Muslims ("upper caste" Muslims) are supporting the alliance whereas backward and Dalit Muslims have shifted their loyalty to the LJP, the Left parties and even the NDA. Pasmanda Mahaaz and seven other organisations of backward Muslims have together formed the Bihar Momin Coordination Committee and declared support for "those parties which support reservation for Dalit Muslims". The two organisations together represent over 80 per cent of the Muslims in Bihar.

Incidentally, the Janata Dal (United) is the only party that has advocated the idea of reservation for Dalit Muslims: it has included this in its manifesto. All others, including the RJD and the LJP, have talked about reservation for all Muslims. Members of the Pasmanda Mahaaz and the Momin Coordination believe that if there is reservation for Muslims, its benefits will go largely to "upper caste" Muslims.

Aware of the erosion in the support base of the RJD-Congress, Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, who is the NDA's chief ministerial candidate, is a confident man. The only thing that worries him is Lalu Prasad's "booth management at the micro level". He was referring to the RJD's alleged use of "money and muscle power" to win over voters, without any visible violation of the model code of conduct. "If it was not for this, I would have told you the exact number of seats the NDA would win. In 20 to 25 seats at least, I can see this micro-management succeeding," he said. Interestingly, many erstwhile LJP MLAs with a criminal background such as Munna Shukla and Rajan Tiwari, sought re-election on the Janata Dal (United) ticket. This contributed a negative image to the Janata Dal (United). Nitish Kumar dismissed this saying all parties have such candidates. Although this might take away somewhat from his promise to provide a bhaymukt (fear-free) society, Nitish Kumar does not think it will harm him much in electoral terms.

Ram Vilas Paswan predicted "surprising results" on November 22, the day of counting. "I will win enough seats to decide who forms the government. Just wait and watch," he said. The alliance with the Communist Party of India, which won three seats and over 1.5 per cent of the votes polled in February, has boosted his morale. He expected many Muslim and upper-caste voters to support him because of the alliance.

Leaders of the RJD admitted that they had nothing to boast "by way of traditional development such as roads, power, schools and hospitals". "But we have worked for the empowerment of Dalits and backwards," said Bhola Prasad Singh, the chief of the party's election campaign committee. He said the RJD's campaign reminded people "how tyrannical, feudal forces" ruled Bihar until the party took power. "We are telling the people that there is a conspiracy to remove Lalu Prasad because he is a Backward Class man and he empowered the backwards and Dalits. Now there is a conspiracy once again to bring the same tyrannical, feudal forces back to power," he said. As for the lack of development, he said it was because "we were face to face with a hostile Central government all these 15 years, including the one during the United Front days which conspired to remove Lalu Prasad from power". RJD leaders, including Lalu Prasad and his wife and former Chief Minister Rabri Devi, are telling the people "give us more chance and we will not repeat the mistakes of the past 15 years".

The return of Member of Parliament Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav to the RJD went a long way in strengthening the party's support base among the Yadavs. Although he, being in Tihar Jail, could not campaign, his wife and MP Ranjita Ranjan was campaigning for the RJD. Pappu Yadav, who was with the LJP, wields considerable influence in about 12 seats in the Purnea region.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment