Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times
Seemanchal (Bihar): Electioneering was dull in the early part of the day with people not sounding upbeat in this poor and backward part of Bihar. But one thing was certainly visible -- the lack of any ‘Modi euphoria’ among common people.
The buzz is that Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally, Janata Dal–United Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is on shaky ground in Bihar’s five parliamentary constituencies where voting is underway on Thursday, and the Mahagathbandhan of Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress is likely to retain their stronghold once again.
Unlike the rest of Bihar, Seemanchal and Ang regions had voted against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in the 2014 polls despite the ‘Narendra Modi wave’ and RJD, Congress and even JD-U, which then was not part of the BJP alliance, won all the seats, including Kishanganj, Purnea, Katihar, Bhagalpur and Banka.
Taking this into consideration, BJP has played cautiously this time by giving all five seats in these two regions to its ally, JD-.U. Exactly five years ago, when Modi swept 31 of 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar, it were Seemanchal and Ang that had voted for the opposition RJD-Congress and JD-U.
But the political situation has changed now. JD-U is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and Nitish Kumar’s political credibility was damaged after he dumped RJD and Congress and joined hands with BJP in 2017 despite the fact that he got the mandate in 2015 Bihar Assembly polls against BJP.
On the other side, the Mahagathbandhan was joined by three more parties –Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Hindustan Awam Morcha, Viskassheel Insan Party, all of who were with the BJP in the last polls. The other advantage for the Mahagathbandhan is that its social support base is strong and accounts for more than the NDA, as per simple arithmetic.
Sensing trouble on the ground, Nitish Kumar had talked more about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his development initiatives than his own government’s development works and achievements. “During his campaign in Seemanchal and Ang, Nitish Kumar has praised Modi and reminded people in one after another election meetings that Modi has helped develop Bihar and he has taken care of state interest. This change surprised one and all,” a local journalist from a Hindi daily in Purnea said.
During his earlier campaigns, the Bihar Chief Minister used to give much hype to his development works, saying he was seeking mazdoori (wages) for it in the form of votes.
RJD and Congress leaders in Seemanchal said Nitish Kumar seems certain about his party’s defeat and is therefore toeing the BJP line, heavily banking on its supporters.”
What is worrying JD-U is that a sizeable Muslim population in Seemanchal, including the Muslim-dominated Kishanganj, is not friendly to the party due to its alliance with BJP.
Muslims form 16.5% of Bihar's 105 million population. In the Seemanchal region, they account for 67.70% in Kishanganj, 38% in Purnea, 43% in Katihar. Muslims have a sizeable population in Bhagalpur and Banka, too.
Similarly, Yadavs, the community that RJD chief Lalu Prasad belong to, have a sizeable population in Seemanchal and Ang.
"In Seemanchal and Kosi region, Muslims and Yadavs play a significant role in the poll outcome, which was proved in th last polls,” said Ranjeev, an activist.
Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is also contesting from Kishanganj in the name of change and development of Seemanchal. It may get more votes than the 2015 Assembly polls when it contested six seats and was defeated in all.
This is a sitting seat of Congress. In 2014, Congress won two seats, including Kishanganj in Bihar, despite the ‘Modi wave’. The party MP Maulana Ishrarul Haque died last year and this time the party has fielded its Kishanganj legislator, Jawed, from the seat, who is not as popular as Haque.
Kishanganj is widely seen as a Congress stronghold as the party won eight times Lok Sabha polls from here. The BJP has won once, when its candidate Shahnawaz Hussain was elected in 1999.
In the past, Muslim leaders have come from nowhere to win elections here – M.J. Akbar (Congress) in 1989 and Syed Shahabuddin (Janata Dal) in 1991 and Shahnawaz Hussain in 1999, for instance.
In Seemanchal, the dominant mood among Muslims is to support candidates who can defeat the BJP-led NDA for its “anti-Muslim policies and political stand”.
In the 2014 polls, Congress won Kishanganj, JD-U won Purnea, Nationalist Congress Party’s candidate Tarique Anwar won Katihar and RJD won Bhagalpur and Banka.In all these seats, BJP was defeated in direct contest.