A non-teaching staff of a private school in Patna told this correspondent a couple of days before the last year Lok Sabha election that he was leaving for his hometown, Kishanganj, to exercise his adult franchise. This evoked curiosity in the mind of this journalist, who asked: Whom do you voted the last time, that is in 2015 Assembly poll.
His reply was interesting. He said that when he left for Kishanganj two days before the polling day he had made up his mind that he would vote for Akhtar-ul-Iman because the latter is a better candidate, though he had reservations about his party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen.
The non-teaching staff narrated further that when he reached Kishanganj a morning before the polling day there was mood in favour of Akhtar. This continued till late in night. However, when he woke up early on polling day morning he learnt that a large number of people in his vicinity have changed their mind and are voting for the Grand Alliance candidate to prevent the possible victory of the BJP.
So this gentleman covered about 400-kms and ended up voting for someone else. Something similar appears to be developing this time as well. With the passage of each day the bubble of the AIMIM is gradually fizzling out. This is notwithstanding the fact that AIMIM is the first party to announce the number of seats it would be contesting.
A day after the June 7 Union home minister Amit Shah’s first virtual rally addressed to the people of Bihar the state president of the AIMIM, Akhtar-ul-Iman, told the media persons that his party would contest 32 seats in the state. The statement came as a big surprise as at the height of Corona Virus and subsequent migrant crisis, apart from the BJP, no other party was talking about election.
A few weeks later media started reporting that the AIMIM would be contesting at least 50 seats across Bihar. The social media was suddenly flooded with the messages glorifying Owaisi. Many Muslims started championing the cause of identity politics. This phenomenon continued till Owaisi joined hands with a little known former Union minister Devendra Prasad Yadav in September.
Then a fortnight later came the news of the formation of Grand Democratic Secular Front with at least two more parties Rashtriya Lok Samata Party and Bahujan Samaj Party joining the forces with Owaisi and Devendra. The irony is that Owaisi had agreed to use the word ‘Secular’ in his newly floated front when he had so many problems with the secular parties.
Like Devendra Yadav’s outfit, the RLSP and BSP have no base whatsoever in Bihar. This move of AIMIM backfired as RLSP and BSP have a very bad track record on communal issues in comparison to RJD. These two parties have in Bihar and UP joined hands with the BJP and have no clear stand on the issues involving Muslims.
Yet Owaisi agreed to put forward the name of RLSP chief Upendra Kushwaha as the chief ministerial face of the Front. Needless to remind Kushwaha had served for four and a half years as a Minister of State in the first Narendra Modi government.
As if that was not enough, Owaisi, in his Oct 15 interview with the Indian Express, while attacking Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress, claimed that his party would be contesting on 18-19 seats. This was something unbelievable for many of those Muslims who were trying for the AIMIM tickets. Soon allegations started flying that Owaisi is in the process of minting money by selling tickets and befooling the simple Muslims of the Seemanchal, especially Surjapuris.
There is some substance in these allegations as the state president of the party Akhtar-ul-Iman could not get the ticket from Kochadhaman, the seat which he had represented in the Bihar Assembly for nine long years as the RJD legislator–2005 to 2014. He is now fighting from neighbouring Amour seat from where the Congress has a very strong and seasoned candidate, Abdul Jaleel Mastan, a former minister. If Akhtar loses it may be the end of his political career. There is no dearth of analysts who see a design in this whole process.
In 2015 Assembly election too, AIMIM had initially announced that it would be contesting on 24 seats, but at the last moment it fielded just six candidates. The same thing had happened in the Jharkhand Assembly election last December. This time till the polling day nobody may be sure as to on how many seats the AIMIM is contesting.
Those who till a couple of weeks back were claiming that the Hyderabad based party would win 10-12 seats this time are now in a despondent mood. The fear is not unfounded as the wave of change in Bihar has somewhat made it difficult for AIMIM to retain one seat it won in the by-election last year.
This is not the first time that AIMIM has started with a bang and ended in whimper. This is simply because it is largely a media-creation and not the real representative of the Muslims of the country.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna)