By Shahroz Tarique Raza
The Bihar election was a watershed event: the Bihari Muslim proved that empty secular rhetoric cannot sway them and that they are willing to accept the BJP provided a Vajpayee-like figure like Nitish Kumar leads it
The Bihar election result has sent mixed signals about the ‘mood’ of the Muslim electorate of India. The surprising wins of BJP candidates in even Muslim-dominated districts have led many to believe that the saffron party has found new acceptability. But that is not accurate. The Muslims of India have never supported communal forces, whether Hindu or Muslim, and parties professing or practicing secularism have always got their preference. An exception was made for the BJP in Bihar this time and this requires close analysis.
Firstly, all voters, indeed all humans, aspire for clean governance, development and safety. These were absent in the public space of Bihar for over a generation. Nitish Kumar had promised to make a difference in 2005 and has delivered. Today, Bihar is turning around and there is enough proof of that. Nitish is the symbol of a new, resurgent Bihar where development is truly inclusive, not a mere slogan. The BJP benefitted as the ally of Nitish, and was not viewed as a stand-alone entity. Without Nitish and the JD(U), the BJP was nothing. The Muslims have so much confidence in Nitish that they knew the BJP would never be able to show its true colours with him as chief minister. He ensured that Narendra Modi could not set foot on Bihar and that gave the voters a great deal of comfort.
In the run up to the election, Nitish Kumar understood the need to maintain the unity of the JD(U) and the BJP. It was a political alliance, not an ideological one like the Maharashtra coalition between the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The two parties are together in government but apart in the larger political space of Bihar. This policy was reflected in Nitish Kumar’s tendency to keep the communal forces away from the election campaign. The distancing from Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi was part of this strategy. It must be pointed out that the BJP led by Sushil Modi showed great maturity and patience. The campaign was kept on a tight leash. Not one BJP candidate had “slip of tongue” which could lead to create misgivings in the minds of the Muslim voters. In fact, this good behaviour earned the BJP a lot of friends in Patna’s secular society, the same which defended Lalu Prasad dogmatically earlier.
The biggest consideration, apart from development, was security of the common man. The state which witnessed over 22,000 murders in the 2000-2005 period, saw a substantial decline of about 8,000 murders between 2006 and August 2010. Between 2005 and 2010, there were 2,196 kidnappings, but after Nitish took over, the once lucrative business of abducting people for cash almost vanished; only 484 kidnappings took place under him. So, the Muslims, very much like their Hindu compatriots, felt that here was a government which was serious about protecting the lives of common folk. Poor people are not necessarily stupid. They had seen enough of Lalu’s secularism. It only meant rampant crime, molestation of women and the helplessness of the common man before a corrupt, partisan administration. Expecting a Muslim not to have the same worry as a Hindu for the safety of his daughter is an insult in the name of secularism. The Muslims of Bihar decided that Nitish deserved their support, even if it meant giving the BJP a bye into the government.
A close look at the results reveals that 19 Muslim candidates, including one from the BJP (Saba Zafar - Amour), got elected this time, four more than in 2005. More refreshing was the fact that 37 Muslims ended up in second position. Nine of them were defeated by less than 5,000 votes and three by less than 300. We have to acknowledge the “Nitish magic” when we see that of the 37 Muslim runners-up, 15 were defeated by BJP, 14 by JD(U), 4 by Independents, and only two each by Congress and RJD ticket-holders. Only four of the Muslim runners-up were defeated by Muslim candidates. This is another pointer to the “suspended untouchability” of the BJP in Bihar.
Many national political commentators are deducing that after the Bihar results have come, the NDA would do well to reconsider its profile. Why should it necessarily be that the leader party in a coalition should be the most omnipresent? The BJP, by dominating the NDA, has made the whole coalition unacceptable to the Muslims of India, whose verdict is crucial in more than 200 constituencies across the country. Besides, a large number of anti-Congress parties all over India have been put off by the overwhelming BJP presence in the NDA. The NDA resultantly has no partner in West Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, J&K and Kerala, what to talk of the North-eastern region.
The NDA must rediscover the Vajpayee era magic. For that it needs somebody like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose profile exceeded that of the BJP. In 1996, 1998 and 1999 it was Vajpayee who carried the BJP to power, not the other way round. Perhaps Nitish can recreate that.
-- The writer is Editor, Daur-e-Jadeed