Patna (Bihar): A large section of the Muslims, who are in sizable numbers in the assembly constituencies of Aurangabad and Sherghati, are seemingly perturbed over the selection of candidates for the upcoming elections by the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), which claims to be a champion of minorities, in the wake of their “dubious” past.
Even as the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) — comprising the Janata Dal-United or the JD(U), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) — is battling a strong anti-incumbency wave ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar, securing Aurangabad and Sherghati does not appear to be a cakewalk for the Grand Alliance of Opposition parties (the Rashtriya Janata Dal or RJD, the Congress and Left parties) as Muslim voters may split, looking for other possible options.
While the Congress has fielded its sitting MLA Anand Shankar Singh from Aurangabad against BJP’s Ramadhar Singh, the RJD has given a ticket to former BJP leader Manju Agrawal from Sherghati.
Anand Shankar is alleged to have played a role in fomenting communal violence that had broken out on March 25 and March 26, 2018, during the Ram Navami procession in the district. Several eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence are in support of the allegation.
Agrawal, the RJD candidate from Sherghati, was suspended for six years by the BJP after she contested the 2015 elections in the state as an independent candidate. She joined the RJD a few months ago and has been associated with the Durga Vahini, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) affiliate.
There is visible discontent among Muslim electorates in Aurangabad against Anand Shankar. The constituency has three sections of Muslim voters — vocal youth who support the BJP nominee’s candidature, the second is middle-aged people who say they will wait and watch for their elders to decide and the third comprises those who argue that they will vote in favour of the alliance to defeat the BJP, instead of voting for the candidate.
“Anand Shankar did not visit his constituency and make any attempt for confidence-building even after the riots. He abandoned his electorate who needed him the most during distress and when they needed a healing touch. Therefore, we are leaving no stone unturned to oppose him and make sure that he faces humiliating defeat so that the Congress stops taking Muslim voters for granted,” Md. Imran, a resident of Navadih who runs a Common Service Centre (CSC) under the Digital India programme, told NewsClick.
Once a Congress bastion, Aurangabad is dominated by the Rajput and Muslim communities. While Rajputs make up 12.5% of the electorate — who appear to be largely consolidated in favour of the BJP, Muslims account for 11.2% of the total voters here. The latter is being wooed by both the Congress, the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which is in an alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM).
As a result, the Muslim vote here may split between the Congress, the BJP and the BSP, which has also fielded a Muslim candidate. As a result, the BJP may edge the contest.
“Ramadhar Singh has a tried and tested candidature. He has already been elected as an MLA from here for three terms, and he never did or said anything to hurt any particular community or religion,” Imran added.
Interestingly, Ramadhar Singh did reach out to the Muslim community over the past two years at a time when the Congress candidate did not bother to. Therefore, the former has won the sympathy of Muslim youth in the constituency.
Md. Naseem, a young businessman, said he liked the Congress, but not its candidate from the constituency. “He (Anand Shankar) did not bother to meet the victims who lost their property even after months of the violence, perhaps thinking that Muslims won’t have any other option but to go with the Congress. He was mistaken. He forgot that Muslims are as politically conscious as any other community of the state. I will press the NOTA (none of the above) button on the EVM (electronic voting machine), but certainly not the Congress symbol,” he fumed.
“If you don’t like or hate Muslims, don’t work for us. But don’t try to crush us socially and financially by inciting communal tensions,” he added.
Perwez Alam, a railway employee from the Muslim-dominated Navadih, also claimed that the BJP would have a decent share of Muslim votes this time around, especially from the youth.
“Despite his long association with the BJP, Ramadhar Singh does not have a communal track record. He is an outspoken leader who enjoys the support of different communities and caste groups. He has never back-stabbed us like Anand Shankar did in 2018. We have not forgotten the horror of two days of riots; our houses and business establishments being turned into ashes, youth being dragged out, thrashed and booked under false charges by the police and family members of poor people running from pillar to post to get bail,” he recalled, adding that it was time to avenge the “injustice”.
“Anand Shankar has to face the consequences of his sins. We will ensure that he faces defeat,” he added.
A lawyer from the locality, who did not wish to be named, agreed that a section of Muslim votes will go to the BJP but claimed that the percentage would not be sizable.
“Yes, there is resentment among the community and there is a valid reason for it. I accept that a certain percentage of Muslim voters will vote for the saffron party, but I reject the possibility of the community voting for it in large numbers,” he added.
Even Congress workers and its alliance partners are unhappy with the party giving another chance to Anand Shankar. However, they say they are campaigning for the party as “true soldier(s)” of the Grand Alliance.
“We have registered our strong protest against it. There are genuine grievances within the community against Anand Shankar, and he must come clean. If he reaches out to the community and accepts his fault, it would strengthen his prospects. If he does not, he will face the consequences. We have made the Congress leadership aware about the mood of the people. Now, it entirely depends on him and his party,” said a worker from the alliance, requesting anonymity.
Kaif Khan, district president of the Congress’ minority cell, alleged that the party “blatantly ignored” the feedback of observers who had been sent to different constituencies to understand the support base of ticket seekers.
“A large population of the youth will vote for the BJP as they are extremely angry with the candidate. The observers who were sent to the area before the ticket distribution were clearly told about him. But the party seems to have ignored the feedback,” he told NewsClick, alleging that Anand Shankar is not even loyal to the party.
“The BJP had led from the booths near Anand’s residence. It means he is not even loyal for the party, forget the Muslim community,” he added.
Raising the issue of Muslim representation, he said the there are four Muslim-dominated seats – Rafiganj, Guruwa, Bela and Sherghati – in the Magadh region, which has 26 assembly segments. “The opposition alliance should have fielded Muslim candidates in at least these four seats. But except Rafiganj, where the RJD has fielded sitting MLA Md. Nihaluddin once again, the rest went to others,” he said, alleging that the community in the region has been “betrayed”.
“The Congress has betrayed us. We have a good presence in almost all constituencies. Despite supporting the Congress party we did not get our due representation in seat sharing. If political parties want to use us as a vote bank only, we refused to be used. Muslim office bearers of the party were not invited even in the nomination of Congress candidates. Why we should not abandon the party which is so arrogant and thankless?” he asked.
Md. Khalid, a resident of Navadih who runs a business in Kolkata, also said that Muslim voters were very angry with the Congress nominee for his alleged role in the riots. “We will go for NOTA, but certainly not the Congress,” he said, recalling the aftermath of the communal conflagration.
“A total of 48 Muslims were arrested after the riots. At least 16 of them were daily wagers and extremely poor. After their arrests, their families were starving. The community came together to help them with ration and other expenses. Since they did not have money to bear legal expenses, crowd funding was done to secure their bail. Their woulds and memories are still fresh,” he said, adding that the community was once again targeted during the anti-CAA and NRC protests.
“The police arrested 44 people from the locality following a stone pelting incident between the protesters and the police. Two groups had clashed in the Shahganj area. Instead of pacifying and taking legal action against members of both communities, the police aided rioters belonging to the other group. After the situation calmed down, a massive crackdown was launched and 44 people were arrested. Forty of them were extremely poor and had no role in the violence. Here again, we managed their release. Our leader, whom we had voted in 2015, did not show up again,” he complained.
Many others leveled the same allegation. “He fell prey to the BJP’s divisive politics. Of late, he has become a close associate of the BJP MP from Aurangabad, Sushil Kumar Singh,” they said, predicting a triangular fight between the BJP, the Congress and the BSP, with clear indication of a split of Muslim votes.
Similar sentiments were visible in Sherghati against Agrawal, who allegedly has a communal past too.
“The RJD neglected Muslim candidates like Ozair Khan (the nephew of late RJD leader and law minister Shakeel Ahmad Khan) from Sherghati, which has sizable Muslim population. He is the one who has dedicated his life for the RJD but was neglected. As a result, Shakeel Khan resigned from the party. Muslims of Sherghati are very angry and they will vote for the AIMIM candidate Masroor Alam and Jan Adhikkar Party’s nominee Omair Khan. The RJD will be solely responsible for the victory of JD(U) leader Vinod Yadav. Denying ticket to the most eligible candidate is yet another instance of back-stabbing Muslims like most other so-called secular parties did,” said an RJD worker.
Zishanuddin Khan, Gaya district’s general secretary of the Youth Congress, said he and other workers like him were confident that that the party will give tickets to Muslims as per due representation. “But it did not happen, disappointing the party workers. Therefore, the party will bear losses. Masood Manzar, a CPI leader, has secured second position from the seat in the assembly elections since the 90s. We had provided relevant data to the party’s screening committee. But nothing happened,” he alleged.
Workers of the Mahagathbandhan were seen scattered in this constituency, secretly working for rival parties, which may impact the prospects of the alliance in this seat.
NewsClick tried to get in touch with state Congress leaders for their comments on the allegations, but received no response to repeated telephone calls.
Of the 71 seats up for polls in the first phase (October 28) of the three-phase assembly elections to the 243-member house, the Congress has fielded its candidates in 21 seats. The grand old party has given the maximum number of tickets – 14 – to “upper” castes (Brahmins (two), Rajputs (five), Bhumihars (six) and Kayastha (one)). With an aim to revive its old equations, the party has given four tickets to candidates from the Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, two from backward classes and one from the Muslim community.