All parties are wooing the community and have given it ticket liberally

The tug of war is undeniably for Muslim votes in the Bihar Assembly elections, irrespective of the social complexion of parties and alliances.

All eyes are on this community as it is expected to decide the outcome of the first phase of the election to 47 constituencies, which may suggest the trend in the next five phases of polling, which will culminate on November 20.

The focus is on Muslims’ reaction to the Ayodhya title suits verdict, as this is the first electoral test after the judgment of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.

The RJD and its ally, the LJP, the Congress and the JD (U) and even its ally, the BJP, are wooing the Muslims and have liberally given them ticket. The BSP too is seeking to intensify the struggle.

The BJP has fielded a JD(U)-sponsored candidate and for the first time has appealed to the minorities to vote for it. The Muslims have a choice to make in this three-way battle.

The Muslim voters are generally reticent but point to the critical stance of the Urdu papers on the Ayodhya verdict, the statements of their leaders and the group meetings, where the Congress and the JD(U) come in for attack, and the arrest of BJP leader L.K. Advani by RJD chief Lalu Prasad during his rath yatra.

Political observers say Ayodhya is an issue and point out that shops remained closed and roads were deserted in the Muslim-dominated areas on the day of the verdict.

The minorities have various options before them, thanks to the growing desperation among the parties to reach out to them during their campaign.

The Congress leaders hope that the statements of party general secretary Rahul Gandhi — likening the RSS to the SIMI and accusing Chief Minister and senior JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar of courting the BJP’s ideology — would influence the Muslims. Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi followed suit with their criticism of the NDA alliance.

Mr. Kumar too finds himself discomfited and efforts to wean away the Muslims from Mr. Prasad have not paid off. His reaction to the verdict has been muted and his Muslim leaders, including the new entrant and former Union Minister, Md. Taslimuddin, who quit the RJD, have come under tremendous pressure to quit the party for its association with the BJP.

Md. Taslimuddin somehow resisted the pressure and had to be content with fielding his son Sarfaraz Alam in Jokihat in Araria district.

It is no surprise that Mr. Kumar stopped even Mr. Advani from canvassing during the first phase of polling. But that does not actually mean much as the Urdu papers copiously report his statements and those of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and their “upbeat mood.”

However, JD(U) Pasmanda leader Ali Anwar says that a greater number of minorities would vote for the party than in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, enamoured of the development in the State and the programmes put in place for them.

That Mr. Prasad continues to have a hold over them with his MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination was even acknowledged by his critics in the wake of the huge meeting he held in Muslim-dominated Kishanganj. He has been treading cautiously on the Ayodhya issue, wary of the criticism that Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh’s statement faced.

The RJD and the LJP have left no stone unturned in making promises and deftly stated that damaged religious places would be reconstructed.

The community is, however, worried about its diminishing presence in the Bihar Assembly and is posing questions to these parties.

Yadav-dominated constituencies too are going to the polls in the first phase from where candidates belonging to the Muslim community have been fielded. The ball is virtually in Mr. Prasad’s court.