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Current Affairs ( 14 Oct 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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All Parties woo Muslims in Bihar Poll

By Santosh Singh

Oct 15 2010

With Muslims constituting 16.5 per cent of the voters in the state (of Bihar), all the parties are going all out to woo them. Besides announcing special concessions for the community, many are banking on popular Muslim leaders to get the votes. So, if the BJP has Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, its ally, the JD(U), has roped in former RJD leader Mohammed Taslimuddin. This has made the BJP uneasy as the two Simanchal Muslim leaders don’t quite see eye to eye.

With BJP holding most of the seats in Kisanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar, Shahnawaz will be its key campaigner. In the past, Shahnawaz, who is the Bhagalpur MP at present, fought against Taslimuddin and won just once from the Kisanganj parliamentary seat. He is the saffron party’s only minority face in Bihar.

Taslimuddin has already declared that he will not share the dais with any BJP leader. However, he has admitted that he may only do so at the behest of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. While many call him a “spent force”, the former Union minister still holds considerable sway. The JD(U) has given tickets to Taslimuddin’s son Sarfaraz Alam (Jokihat - Araria) and two other candidates of his choice. With Taslimuddin joining the JD(U), the two arch rivals will now be campaigning for the same side — the NDA.

The RJD, on the other hand, has its state president, A B Siddiqui, and former Union minister M A A Fatmi — both are expected to put up a tough fight in at least half-a-dozen seats in Darbhanga and Madhubani. While Siddiqui is contesting from Alinagar, Fatmi’s son is in the fray in Darbhanga. Besides, there is Gurua (Aurangabad) MLA Dr Shakil Ahmed Khan as well. Clearly, RJD president Lalu Prasad is banking on his M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) formula, fielding over 30 per cent Muslim candidates. Saying that his party has given representation to all sections of society, Lalu says: “As for minorities, RJD has always taken special care”.

Even the RJD-LJP poll manifesto, the first to be released in the run-up to the Assembly elections, listed several concessions for the community. The other parties are expected to follow suit.

Nitish has deftly wooed the Muslims with several populist schemes like scholarship programmes and incentives and fencing of cemeteries. “Unlike the RJD, we have definite schemes for minority welfare. We do not believe in slogans, but building a cohesive society. The fact that there have been no communal riots in the last five years and that the Bhagalpur riots case has been re-opened shows our serious intent,” says Nitish.

Besides Taslimuddin, Nitish has also roped in several popular Muslim leaders from both the RJD and its ally, the LJP, with the Muslim cells of both the parties merging with the JD(U). This includes former Bihar LJP chief Gulam Rasul Baliyawai, Izhar Ahmed and Ali Anwar.

Till last year, Baliyawi was the LJP’s Muslim face. He switched over to the JD(U) after reportedly being disenchanted with Ram Vilas Paswan’s family politics — just after Paswan’s brother, Pashupati Kumar Paras, was made state LJP chief. A powerful orator, Baliyawi, with his impassioned speeches laced with Urdu couplets and poems, is a valuable asset during campaigning.

Ali Anwar, a Muslim OBC, is a member of the Rajya Sabha. His importance in the party grew after another Muslim leader and former Rajya Sabha member, Dr Ezaj Ali, turned rebel. Anwar’s forte is Pasmanda (OBC) politics.

“The All India Pasmanda Muslim Mehaz has been taking up the cause of OBC Muslims for a long time. We want reservation for Dalit Muslims,” says Anwar, chairman of the AIPMM who has been going out of his way to vouch for the JD(U)’s secular credentials in public functions.

Izhar Ahmed, who is the JD(U) candidate from Guara Boram, was earlier the head of the LJP’s minority cell. With his rivals playing the Muslim card, Nitish’s poll strategy seems to be to rope in as many leaders from the community as possible. And while its Begusarai MP Monajir Hasan has opted to field his wife as an RJD nominee from Munger, the JD(U) gave a ticket to Cabinet Secretary Afzal Amanullah’s wife, Parveen, to contest from Sahebpur Kamal.

Meanwhile, the Congress is targeting the Muslim, Dalit and upper caste electorate in the hope of a resurgence. It made its intent clear when it picked Choudhary Mehboob Ali Qaisar as the new state party chief, replacing Anil Kumar Sharma.

“Qaisar is well-educated, suave and articulate and has all the qualities to woo voters convincingly,” says Congress spokesman Premchanda Mishra. Though Qaisar owes his political entry to his father, Choudhary Salaluddin, he ensured a name for himself with his “upmarket” presentation. But he will have to look beyond his stronghold of Simri Bakhitiyarpur in Saharsa.

The Congress also has former Union minister Shakil Ahmed, who holds considerable sway in Mithilanchal area of Darbhanga and Madhubani. Ahmed has been a prominent Muslim leader for the party. One reason he lost out to Qaiser in the race to the state party chief’s post was his “closeness” to RJD chief Lalu Prasad. But Ahmed still had his say in ticket selection, and will be one of key campaigners for the party.

Like the RJD, the Congress has also given over 30 per cent tickets to members of the minority community.

Perhaps the only mainstream party which does not have a prominent Muslim face is the LJP, after Baliyawai left the party. Still, LJP president Ram Vilas Paswan has picked 25 per cent Muslim candidates.

Meanwhile, “Siwan Sultan” Mohammed Shahabuddin is yet to play his card. Facing life sentence in murder cases, he had fielded his wife, Hina Shahab, as the RJD candidate from Siwan in the Lok Sabha elections. Hina lost to Independent Omprakash Yadav. Recently, Lalu visited Shahabuddin in jail, but the former MP is yet to declare his support for any party.

Source: Indian Express, New Delhi