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No Takers for Muslim Parties in Bihar

Despite their being a significant numerical community, though a minority, curiously Muslim parties have not been electorally viable either in Uttar Pradesh or in Bihar, where Assembly elections are ongoing, finds Sajjan Kumar from fieldwork supported by Peoples’Pulse, a Hyderabad-based Research Institute

Published: 13th October 2015 04:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th October 2015 04:41 AM   |  A+A-

The identitarian turn in the Hindi Heartland (Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) since the late 1980s has led to the electoral viability of caste and community-centred political parties at the expense of the catch-all and class-based parties like the Congress and the Left. Parties such as Bahujan Samajwadi Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh and Janata Dal/Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar cater primarily to the interests of their respective core constituencies, namely, numerically dominant castes among OBCs and Dalits like Yadavs and Jatav-Chamars. Similarly, this period also witnessed the BJP succeeding in carving out a support base composed of a diverse section of Hindus such as the upper castes, a section of non-Yadav OBCs and a small number of Dalit castes in the two states.

So, three distinct characteristics that marked the unfolding of a new party system in this identitarian phase were the existence of a nume­rically significant caste or community, their urge to redefine the socio-political power configuration and hence, the quest to have a party from their vantage point.  Surprisingly, Musli­ms despite having all these characteristics in UP and Bihar, remained an exception to this dominant trend and the two states didn’t witness the emergence of an electorally viable Muslim party.

Change Of Context

Things changed significantly in the aftermath of the publication of the Rangnath Mishra and Rajinder Sachchar Committee report which catapulted the notion of Muslim backwardness and the failure of secular parties in ameliorating the state of the community to the centrestage, leading to the floating of multiple Muslim-centric parties like the Peace Party in western UP and National Ulema Council in Eastern UP. These parties were started by Muslims who claimed to be disgusted by the aloofness of prominent Muslim leaders from mainstream parties towards the twin issues of backwardness and victimhood in the community. Despite losing all the seats, these newly formed political parties registered a significant percentage of Muslim votes in their respective constituencies and unsettled the pattern of old electoral outcomes. However, they could not sustain their limited electoral appeal beyond the 2012 State Assembly election in UP.

The state of a quest for Muslim-centric political parties in Bihar has been gloomier than in UP despite the fact that emotive and economic issues have dogged the community in the state. The community has actively rallied behind civil society organisations, who raised these issues time and again. Here, the trend that needs to be analysed is the response of the Muslim electorate to Muslim Parties testing the waters in the Bihar polls.

Muslim Parties In Bihar Election

In total there are five Muslim parties, namely, MIM led by Asaduddin Owaisi, Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) led by Barelvi leader Tauqir Raza, Muslim League, Ittemham Council and, in the context of Bihar, the NCP led in the state by Tariq Anwar. All the parties are contesting the election, specifically in the backward, Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region, and have made Muslim backwardness the key issue. It’s a different matter that except for MIM and NCP candidates, those of other parties are hardly recognisable. Secondly,  their mobilisational strategies, for namesake or real, have been to make an appeal to Dalits to make a common case with Muslims against negligence by political parties, and their victimhood and backwardness. MIM has been repeating this punchline not only in Bihar but also in Maharashtra and UP.

Social Profile Of Muslims In Seemanchal

Four districts of Eastern Bihar — Araria, Purnea, Katihar and Kishanganj — wherein Muslims constitute 42 per cent, 37 per cent, 43 per cent and 67 per cent of the population respectively, popularly referred as Seemanchal, have geographical proximity with Nepal and Bangladesh leading to the existence of a diverse socio-linguistic profile of Muslims in the region. While Kishangunj is dominated by the Surjapuri Muslims, Araria is dominated by Kulhaiya Muslims. Similarly, Purnea is dominated by Angika Muslims while Katihar has a significant presence of Shershahvadi Muslims. Not only do these Muslims speak completely different languages and have markedly distinct cultural practices despite inhabiting the same geographical space, they also have sectional political loyalties towards leaders hailing from their respective caste groups. Intermarriage is still a rare practice among various groups of Muslims and some groups like Shershahvadis are not even invited for inter-dining by others.

Besides,  another faultline that has emerged in the past two decades, happens to be theological; except for Shershahvadis, who are Ahl-e-Hadis, all other groups are divided into Deobandis or Barelvis. Unfortunately, this divide has its implication in terms of the faithfuls’ respon­se to the appeal of their respective theological leaders.

No Takers For Muslim Parties

In this backdrop, an analysis of responses by majority of Muslim electorates in Seemanchal shed light on their complex political articulations in general and extremely negative perceptions regarding Muslim parties contesting the Bihar election in particular.

Firstly, the much hyped MIM and Owaisi factor is not only considered a non-entity but also perceived as a ploy of the BJP to divide the Muslim vote. In fact, a majority of Muslim respondents were not even aware of the party’s existence and those who took cognisance labelled him an outsider.

Secondly,  the politically informed Muslim respondents opined that a party like MIM could never succeed in capturing the imagination of a majority of Muslims in Seemanchal for the simple reason that here one looks at the social profile of the top leadership before taking a party seriously. Since, the state president of MIM in Bihar, Akhtarul Iman, a two-time MLA from Kochadhaman in Surjapuri-dominated Kishanganj districts also happens to be a Surjapuri Muslim, it was opined that Kulhaiya and Shershahvadiand Angika Muslims would treat MIM in Bihar as catering to the interests of Surjapuris Muslims only.

Thirdly,  another stalwart Muslim leader from the region, Tariq Anwar, senior NCP leader and M.P from Katihar, who is a part of the ‘Third Alliance’ is also considered a vote spoiler in the ensuing election whose influence was opined to be limited to a couple of assembly seats in the Katihar district.

Further,  majority of Muslim respondents were not even aware of the presence of other Muslim parties and rejected them as non-existent political entities.

Conclusion

Thus, it can be inferred that barring a few exceptions in Kerala and Assam, most of the Muslim parties have no takers among the commun­ity members due to a combination of factors such as the existence of multiple social faultlines and logistical and organisational difficulties of Muslim-centric parties to reflect that diversity in their leadership profile; the domi­nant perception that a Muslim party would not get much support from voters of other communities leading to loss of winnability factor for the same and lastly, the anxiety among Muslims that their mobilisation in favor of a Muslim-centric party would lead to a counter mobilisation among the majority community.

The electoral battle in Bihar, as seen from Seemanchal wherein a party like MIM couldn’t contest even 10 assembly seats, categorically indicates the precarious state of Muslim parties in India.

No ban on Pm’s tv coverage, says EC

New Delhi: The Election Commission is learnt to have rejected the demand made by JDU-RJD-Congress combine for banning live coverage of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies as first phase of polling began on Monday. The election panel is learnt to have assured the BJP delegation that it would look into the demand for a CBI probe into money allegedly being taken by a Bihar minister as shown through a TV sting. Senior BJP leaders had gone to meet the Election Commission to complain against the attitude of the State government as there was delay in granting permission to Modi’s rally. Sources said permission for Modi’s rally in Jhabua on Monday came on Sunday afternoon. 

Sajjan Kumar is a Doctoral Candidate at Centre for Political Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.



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