Bihar Assembly elections | Owaisi banks on his anti-CAA stand

Testing the waters: Asaduddin Owaisi addressing an election rally in Bihar on Wednesday. Photo: Sobhana K. Nair  

The venue is Janta Haat, in Kochadhaman, in Kishanganj district of north Bihar, a crowded market, selling all kinds of wares, from luridly coloured sweetmeats, to masalas, to dried fish. Men, women, children, young men on motorcycles impatiently blowing the horn, some on cycles, some others pushing their carts, all trying to inch towards the ground where under a green canopy, AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi is speaking.

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Mr. Owaisi’s poll pitch is clear — AIMIM is the only party that hit the roads against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and he is the only one who had the ‘guts’ to tore the legislation in Parliament. The remaining others are betraying the electorate and stealing their votes, he said. He points fingers at JD(U) president Nitish Kumar for garnering votes with the promise of “sangh mukt” bharat and later as Mr. Owaisi says “sipping milk in PM Modi’s lap.” “Yeh aapki ladai hai, aapke bachchon ke mustakabil ki ladai hai [This is your fight, this is the fight for your children’s future],” Mr. Owaisi said.

He appeals to the crowd to gain “zehani” or mental and “siyasi” or political freedom from these parties. He promises schools, colleges, hospital, an airport at Purnia among a long list of promises.

Patient wait

The crowd listens to him patiently, claps and roars at his words. It waits patiently till Mr Owaisi wraps up his speech, boards his helicopter and it stands around till his helicopter is no longer visible.

In a close contest, as Bihar Assembly elections 2020 are turning out to be, one of the key questions is: Will the AIMIM play a bigger role than just being a spoiler? He first came to Bihar five years ago contesting in the 2015 Assembly elections. He has managed to gain more trust since then but there are also many who reject what they call his “fundamentalist” ideas.

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In this election, the AIMIM is contesting in 20 seats, out of which 12 are against the RJD or the Congress. The AIMIM’s expansion will come at Mahagathbandhan’s cost.

NRC issue

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) issue may have faded out of the national debate but is very real here. There are many wild tales about what is in the offing for Muslims if the NRC is brought and how the Muslims were treated in Assam.

“They want to weed out Muslims, where should we go? Why don’t they shoot us here itself, on our land. Better to die here rather than in an alien country,” Ramzan Ali Sheikh said. He is a farmer from Butah Shadipur in the Baisi Assembly constituency. Mr. Sheikh said he was well aware that the AIMIM did not have a shot at forming a government. “I don’t want my government, I only want a leader who will raise my issues,” he said. He has been voting for the Congress, but he says, this time it is going to be ‘patang chaap’ (kite is the AIMIM’s symbol). His anger against the Congress is more because of the incumbent legislator Abdus Subhan who has been around for two decades. In Baisi, there are others who talk about Mr. Owaisi’s rescue work during recent floods.

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Anger at Cong.

Miles away at a tea shop in Simalbari in the Kishanganj constituency, 23-year-old Khurshid Alam expresses dissatisfaction with the Congress’s ‘lukewarm’ response to legislation on the CAA and triple talaq. There are a few, who point out that the Congress being a national party, could not have taken a more belligerent stand. Zia-ur-Rehman, a farmer, concurs with Mr. Alam. “The lockdown was imposed to clamp down on CAA and NRC protests. Where did COVID go now. Is COVID only for the common man, not for netas who hold big rallies,” he questioned. He derisively added, “Woh bolte hai Seemanchal mini Pakistan hai, toh phir thik hai [they call Seemanchal mini Pakistan, it’s okay then],” only to be stopped by others mid sentence. All though, agree that the AIMIM is a far more powerful counter to the BJP than the Congress or the RJD. In the 2019 bypolls, the AIMIM won the Kishanganj Assembly constituency, giving it its first berth in the Bihar Assembly.

Young, old divide

The AIMIM is also courting the Dalit community with Jai Bheem and Jai Meem narrative. His supporters claim that Mr. Owaisi is the only one who talks on constitutional lines. There is a young and old divide too, with the younger lot seeing the AIMIM as the fresh alternative to the RJD and the Congress. The older voters are worried about the party’s strident line. “We do not need fundamentalist discourse here,” Naushad Alam, from the Palsa panchayat in the Amour Assembly constituency, said. Pointing to his neighbour, Mr. Alam added, “He is a Yadav, when he and I do not have a problem eating together or mingling together why should any one else have. This is my India and his. It is ours.”

There are others like Mr. Alam who are repulsed by the AIMIM. At Manchata, in Amour constituency, Mohammed Salim criticised Mr. Owaisi for holding a rally in the area on Navmi, which, he said, is sacred for both Hindu and Muslims. “He makes inflammatory speeches. What is the point of raising Akhlaq issue on Navmi here, where we sacrifice goats for Ma Durga,” Mr. Salim said.

The AIMIM’s Bihar president Akhtarul Iman is contesting here.

Regardless of the critics, the AIMIM’s presence has visibly grown. There are more AIMIM posters than that of the Congress or RJD and more campaign vehicles blaring out loud pleas to vote on “patang chap”. It is still not clear whether he has the critical mass of support to play more than a spoiler’s role in this election, regardless, the AIMIM has made it a close contest.

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2020 5:07:24 PM |

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