Very much against the general perception created by some Delhi-based journalists, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen) has hardly any base in Bihar, even in the Seemanchal region, which has a substantial Muslim population. Instead, Owaisi is cunningly exploiting innocent Surjapuri Muslims struggle for their political empowerment.
To fulfill his political ambition he is using, rather befooling, two-time RJD MLA and the Bihar unit president of AIMIM, Akhtar-ul-Iman, who has emerged as a prominent face of the community after the death of Maulana Asrar-ul Haque Qasmi, the then Congress MP from Kishanganj, two years back.
Surjapuri Muslims have a sizeable population in Kishanganj and other adjoining districts of Bihar and West Bengal. Apart from Surjapuri, there are other Muslim social groups such as Kulhaiya, Shershahabadi, Sheikhra, Ansaris and settlers from different places. The late RJD leader and former Union minister of state for home, Taslimuddin, belonged to Kulhaiya community. Akhtar-ul-Iman, though a Surjapuri, was earlier close to Taslimuddin. Many old-timers recall that it was the latter who helped him get the RJD ticket for the first time in 2005 and then again in 2009.
As Kishanganj is the only Muslim dominated district in Bihar with a three-fourths population of the community leaders like diplomat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin, journalist M J Akbar and BJP’s rare Muslim face Syed Shahnawaz Hussain would contest election from this constituency.
They all came from different places as it was easier to win. Shahabuddin came from Gaya district while Akbar, then the editor of The Telegraph, originally comes from Greater Kolkata.
This phenomenon continued till the early part of the 21st century’s. Not only that, Kishanganj was represented in Parliament by Taslimuddin, who belonged to a relatively better off Kulhaiya community. This created a sort of political deprivation among the Surjapuri, though they have a big population.
Maulana Asrar-ul Haque Qasmi tried to break this phenomenon. So when in 2004 he contested as an Independent–though he lost the election–he got around two lakh votes. However, when the Congress gave him ticket for the first time in 2009 Lok Sabha election he won from Kishanganj.
Thus his victory fulfilled the long dream of Surjapuri Muslims. The victory was somewhat surprising as in 2009 the Congress did not contest in alliance with RJD and LJP, though technically these two parties were still in the United Progressive Alliance.
Maulana Asrar-ul Haque Qasmi once again won in 2014 though there was a big Narendra Modi wave elsewhere in the country. It was on the eve of this LS election that Akhtar-ul-Iman first exhibited his lack of political understanding.
Months before the 2014 Lok Sabha poll Akhtar deserted RJD and joined the Janata Dal United. The latter soon made him the candidate from Kishanganj against the Maulana. It was the first time that two strong Surjapuri Muslims were pitted against each other. Akhtar realized that he had committed a political blunder just three days before the election was to take place.
He abruptly withdrew from the race after holding a Press conference. He claimed that he was doing so because he does not want to split the secular votes. This left chief minister Nitish Kumar red-faced as by then he could not even announe any other candidate after Akhtar’s withdrawal.
Before the 2015 Assembly poll RJD chief Lalu Prasad did try to bring back Akhtar, but the latter went on to join the AIMIM. The party put up candidates in six seats but lost all of them. Akhtar was down in the dump as he lost his own Kochadhaman seat.
Many political pundits started writing his political obituary. They strongly criticised him for his betrayal of both Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar. Analysts are of the view that had he been in the mainstream party –RJD , JDU or Congress–he would have done much better as both the Maulana and Taslimuddin had grown quite old and other young leaders of the region lack the qualities of Akhtar. He has a relatively clean image and is a good speaker in comparison to others.
Not to speak of Surjapuri, he was even acceptable among Kulhaiya and other Muslim social groups. However, the death of the Maulana just a few months before the 2019 Lok Sabha poll rekindled some hope for him. He once again threw his hat in the ring as the Lok Sabha candidate of the AIMIM but ended up third.
Frustrated Akhtar virtually called it a day. But then a safe goal by the Congress provided him another chance to bounce back. All these years the AIMIM fully exploited his talent.
As the UPA won just one seat out of 40 in Bihar in the last year Lok Sabha poll the opposition parties were in a disarray. The lone Congress candidate to win was Mohammad Jawed from Kishanganj. As he was also the MLA of Kishanganj he had to quit this seat . The Congress then committed a blunder. Instead of giving party ticket to anyone else Jawed prevailed on the party to make his mother, an old lady in late 70s as the candidate from Kishanganj Assembly seat.
Akhtar, who now virtually gave up electoral politics, put up Qamar-ul-Hoda as the candidate who incidentally won in the by-poll held in October last year. The victory came as a morale booster and Owaisi was quick to exploit this situation for his own ends.
Poor Akhtar-ul-Iman could not get much credit though he was the mastermind behind this victory. Owaisi projected it as an achievement of the AIMIM, though he has absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of Seemanchal belt. The tragedy with Akhtar-ul-Iman is that he is unable to understand this fact.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)