The recent meeting of all the five MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has sparked off a speculation that something is cooking up in Bihar.
Though the president of the Bihar unit of AIMIM, Akhtar-ul-Iman ruled out any ulterior motive and said that they met the chief minister to discuss the problem of flooding and soil erosion in Seemanchal belt, which renders thousands of people homeless almost every year, yet independent analysts attach political significance to it.
Akhtar also said that the issues related to the off-campus branch of the Aligarh Muslim University in Kishanganj, unemployment, poverty, migration, backwardness of the region, lack of infrastructure etc. came up during the discussion.
As the meeting followed the joining of Janata Dal-United by the lone MLA of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which was an alliance partner of the AIMIM and coming closer to Nitish by the leader of Rashtriya Lok Samata Party Upendra Kushwaha, Akhtar’s move is likely to raise eyebrows in the political circles. Kushwaha’s RLSP too was an alliance partner of AIMIM in the last Assembly election.
Since Nitish is the chief minister of Bihar for 15 years he does not need to meet a delegation of a smaller party to know about the backwardness of any region in his own state. In fact, when the then UPA-I government—at the instance of RJD which was then in power at the Centre–proposed to open the AMU off-campus branch in Katihar in Bihar, it was Nitish who said that his government would give land in Kishanganj and not in Katihar, which too is one of the four districts of Seemanchal. So if the AMU branch has not made any progress in the last six years, Nitish does not need to be told by anyone.
The meeting of the five MLAs would have been appropriate had Nitish become chief minister of the state for the first time on November 16, 2020.
Instead of asking the government as to what work had been done on the development front in Seemanchal, or any part of the state in the last 15 years, Akhtar led the MLAs to patch up his own relationship with the chief minister.
Needless to remind Nitish badly needs support from Muslim leaders as none of the 43 MLAs his party had won in the last November election is a Muslim. All the 11 Muslims who contested on Janata Dal-United tickets had lost.
The party had several MLCs but Nitish badly needed an elected Muslim face. Therefore, he won over the lone MLA of the BSP, Zaman Khan. As the BJP has recently made Syed Shahnawaz Husain as the MLC and may even recommend his name as a minister to counter-balance Nitish, the latter may induct the first time MLA Zaman Khan in his cabinet.
No, AIMIM is not going to join the National Democratic Alliance as it would seal the fate of all the five legislators, yet a good relationship with Nitish would be a much better investment for future politics.
To understand the dynamics of Akhtar-Nitish relationship one should go back to April 2014 Lok Sabha election when he abruptly withdrew as the Janata Dal-United candidate from Kishanganj. Akhtar had, only a few weeks before the Lok Sabha election, joined the Janata Dal-United after deserting the Rashtriya Janata Dal. He had been RJD MLA since November 2005.
However, just a couple of days before the polling day Akhtar in April 2014 called a Press conference to announce that he is withdrawing his candidature in favour of Congress nominee and sitting MP, now late Maulana Asrar-ul-Haque Qasmi. He said that he is doing so because he does not want to divide ‘secular’ votes—as if he was not knowing this fact at the time of filing of nomination papers. Nitish was furious as he had no time to replace his candidate.
A year later in August 2015 Akhtar joined the AIMIM and unsuccessfully contested on its ticket. This was notwithstanding the fact that the RJD chief, Lalu Prasad, tried his level best to bring him back to the party. In 2015 the RJD, JD-U and Congress alliance won a thumping victory in the Assembly election.
There is no denying the fact that AIMIM’s presence in many seats all across Bihar paved the way for the victory of National Democratic Alliance, especially the BJP, in the recently held election in Bihar. The speeches delivered by the AIMIM chief, Asaduddin Owaisi, caused a counter-polarisation in many constituencies and compelled the fence-sitters to vote for the BJP-led NDA.
As the five MLAs of AIMIM see no political prospect in aligning with the RJD-led alliance, Akhtar deemed it fit to keep Nitish in good humour. In this move he got green signal from the party boss Owaisi, who too has on a number of occasions, directly or indirectly, helped the BJP at the national level. He is trying to do so in West Bengal too. The whole development is a link in the same chain and can not be seen in isolation.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna.