Kishanganj is the only parliamentary seat in Bihar that was won by the Congress in the opposition Grand Alliance, saving it from drawing a blank. But what has gone unreported is how this happened when polarisation in the name of Hindutva politics swept 39 Lok Sabha seats but failed in Kishanganj.
Notably, at the peak of religious polarisation, the people of Muslim-dominated Kishanganj also rejected the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s brand of politics by defeating its candidate. The AIMIM candidate, Akhtarul Iman, was not only defeated but came third. Owaisi had campaigned vigorously for him.
Congress candidate Mohd Jawed won the seat by defeating the Janata Dal -United candidate Syed Mahmood Ashraf. Interestingly, this is one seat that also rejected Narendra Modi's ‘tsunami’, as a BJP leader termed it.
Kishanganj, widely seen as a stronghold of Congress, witnessed a triangular contest this time between Congress, JD-U,supported by BJP and AIMIM. The BJP has won the seat only once when its candidate Shahnawaz Hussain was elected in 1999.
While all the three Muslim candidates were confident of their support base among Muslim voters, the winner was the one who got the maximum number of Hindu votes in the constituency.
Kishanganj is a Muslim-dominated constituency but the party or candidate who receives most Hindus votes usually wins because Muslim votes split among several candidates in the fray.
Sensing that, AIMIM’s Iman had put his resources and personal stake this time. “Akhtarul Iman was getting support in this Muslim-dominated seat and this was reflected when Owaisi’s election meetings drew good crowds. People applauded time and again when he targeted Congress, RJD,JD-U,BJP in his speeches. But the result made it clear that AIMIM was rejected,” said Anas Rahmana, a social activist. Owaisi even played the development card and tried to woo voters.
According to poll watchers, AIMIM has spread its network in the constituency in last five years and its support base has increased but it still has a long way to go.
A local AIMIM leader, Mohd Nadeem, said that the party was expected to record its first win in Bihar, “but we failed despite increasing vote percentage because Muslims have still more faith in Congress here than others".
In the 2015 Bihar Assembly polls, Muslims had outrightly rejected AIMIM, which contested on six Muslim-dominated seats in the Seemanchal region and failed to win none. It was the AIMIM's first entry in Bihar's electoral politics but Muslims preferred the secular grand alliance.
For Muslims in Kishanganj, the dominant mood this time was to defeat the BJP-led NDA and felt that Congress was the only choice for them. The party has a strong network in this backward and poor area.
Flood-prone Kishanganj, a part of the Seemanchal region, has some of the worst development statistics not only in Bihar but in India. It has a per capita annual income of Rs 9,928 (as per figures of economic survey 2018-19) with a literacy rate of 57.04%, while the women’s illiteracy rate is as high as 84%. Nearly 60% of the population is below poverty line and the constituency has high infant mortality rate. The education scenario is also dismal, with the drop-out rate after high school as high as 98%.