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Friday, September 18, 2015

'Muslims Won’t Be Swayed By Owaisi’s Oratory In Bihar'

By M H AHSSAN | INNLIVE

All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asaduddin Owaisi’s recent decision to contest the Bihar assembly elections does not augur well for the Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress camp as his entry is bound to splinter the alliance’s Muslim vote bank. This announcement comes shortly after Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav walked out of the “secular” grand alliance and tied up with the Nationalist Congress Party.

Though none of these parties have a substantial support base in Bihar, they could queer the pitch for the grand alliance, which is banking on the unequivocal support of Bihar’s 16% Muslim population in the belief that they will vote for any political party which is in a position to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party. Owaisi is a powerful orator while the secular alliance does not have a strong Muslim face which can counter this new entrant.

Congress general secretary and former Union minister Shakeel Ahmad, the only recognisable Muslim face of the party in Bihar, talks to Scroll.in about the implications of Owaisi’s entry into the electoral fray, the chances of the secular alliance, and the challenges facing it in the coming polls. Excerpts from the interview:

On Owaisi’s decision to contest the Bihar assembly elections. Owaisi will not win even a single seat in Bihar but it is also true that his party will gain some votes in whichever constituency it fields its candidates. Even if it is 1,000 or 2,000 votes, it will eventually end up helping communal forces. There is no doubt that whatever votes Owaisi’s party is able to garner will be a loss for the secular alliance.

We hope better sense will prevail on him and people close to Owaisi will advise him that he should not project himself as somebody who is helping Narendra Modi. Although I don’t know if it is correct, there is talk and rumours that the Bharatiya Janata Party has persuaded Owaisi to contest the Bihar elections with the objective of queering the pitch for the Congress-Janata Dal (U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal alliance.

On meeting the challenge posed by Owaisi’s entry. I admit it does pose a challenge. We will try to convince the secular voters of Bihar that they should be careful about voting for these elements because giving them a vote is equal to helping the Bharatiya Janata Party directly or indirectly. There is no short cut in this. We have to repeatedly explain this to the people.

On the secular alliance taking Muslim support for granted.I don’t think it is true. Nobody can afford to take the support of any section or community for granted because politics can prove to be illogical which is beyond comprehension. There are instances when all logic fails in the face of people’s anger and an emotionally surcharged atmosphere. Take the case of the 1989 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress was in power in Bihar. The election was preceded by riots in Bhagalpur after which the Muslims got disillusioned with the Congress. They left us to support the Janata Dal which had an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party. It is ironical that their candidate Chunchun Yadav got votes both from those who were responsible for the riots and those who suffered in the violence.

On the perception that the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance is not united after the SP and NCP walked out. It is true that it would have been much better if all secular forces had contested together and that SP chief 

Mulayam Singh Yadav and NCP leader Tariq Anwar had not left our alliance. Tariq Anwar is a known face in Bihar and now he is being projected as a chief ministerial candidate. I repeat I do not visualise Owaisi or Tariq Anwar or Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party getting too many seats but the percentage of votes they poll will harm us. Just as the Shiv Sena will harm the National Democratic Alliance.

At the same time, you must understand that Muslims are extremely politically conscious. I don’t think they will be swayed only by Owaisi’s oratory.

Things are not so hunky dory in the NDA either. They have united only on the surface but the reality is very different from what is being projected. Both Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha have been forced to accept the seats offered to them by the BJP. It will be difficult for them to continue as ministers after the Bihar polls as the BJP does not need any allies at the Centre. They are relevant for the BJP only as far as Bihar elections are concerned.

On winning over Muslims. We will have to talk about their welfare. They constitute 16% of the population in Bihar. Of course emotional issues are there but we cannot and should not expect them to vote only on emotional issues. We have to assure them that if we are voted to power we will work for the uplift of all sections of society, including the Muslim community who are lagging behind on all parameters of development. Like others, Muslims also need employment, they also need good roads, education and other facilities. Apart from the issue of good governance, we have to underline their greater involvement in social life of Bihar. If society benefits from development, the standard of living of all communities will go up.

The biggest challenge faced by the secular alliance in the Bihar elections. The biggest challenge before the secular alliance is to counter the false propaganda of the Sangh Parivar and the BJP leadership about the achievements of the Modi government during the last one and a half year that it has been in power. The fact is that it has done nothing. It has not delivered on a single promise made during the last Lok Sabha campaign. Almost all the projects inaugurated by this government were actually planned and executed by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. But the BJP is trying to propagate it as its achievement. The BJP is a master of propagating falsehoods.

On Modi’s charisma and his connect with the youth. People, including the youth, are slowly getting disenchanted with Modi and the NDA government. BJP supporters in Bihar also admit that the prime minister had not been able to deliver. Realising this ground reality, the BJP is now telling people that Modi has been in government only for one-and-a-half year and that they should give him more time to show results. They are using this pretext to seek votes.
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