Why Muslims voted for Nitish Kumar

Why Muslims voted for Nitish Kumar
Patna:  Saba Zafar has become the first Muslim to be elected as a legislator from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar. The new Bihar Assembly will see an increase in Muslim representation - from 15 to 19, including two women.

Parween Amanullah and Razia Khatoon are the two Muslim women elected to the state Assembly. They belong to the ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U). It is for the first time that the Bihar Assembly will have two Muslim women members.

Way back in 1985, Bihar had a lone Muslim woman legislator.

Saba won from the Muslim-dominated Amaur Assembly constituency. He was the only Muslim candidate of the BJP to contest the Assembly polls and win. "Muslims preferred a BJP Muslim candidate to strengthen the hands of Nitish Kumar," Matin Ahmad, a businessman, said.

Saba is also a relative of controversial former central minister Mohammad Taslimuddin, who joined the JD-U a few months ago after resigning from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to work for Nitish Kumar's development agenda.

This time Muslim representation has increased from 15 to 19, despite the fact that most of the sitting Muslim legislators have failed to retain their seats. Of the 15 Muslim legislators who fought the elections, only five could win.

"Development plank seems to have helped the Muslim community to increase its representation as the Bihar Assembly will have more Muslim legislators than the outgoing one," Bhattoo Khan, a resident of Haroon Colony in Patna, said.

Interestingly, Parween Amanullah and Razia Khatoon defeated the Rashtriya Janata Dal candidates belonging to the Yadav caste. "This shows that the Muslim-Yadav (MY) equation of RJD chief Lalu Prasad has cracked," Balal Khan, a government official, said.

Parween defeated Narain Yadav in Sahebpur Kamal Assembly constituency and Razia defeated Manoj Kumar Yadav in Kalyanpur Assembly seat. "If Muslims had voted for Lalu Prasad's RJD, both Parween and Razia would have been defeated. Their victory is a clear indication that Muslims voted for Nitish's JD-U," said Imam Ali, a JD-U worker.

Parween, in her late 40s, is the daughter of diplomat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin - the man who championed the cause of Babri Masjid for Muslims.
Shahabuddin had countered the BJP-led campaign to build a Ram temple at the disputed Ayodhya site. Syed Shahabuddin is the president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM) and convenor of the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee (BMMCC).

Moreover, Parween's husband Afzal Amanullah is an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who had reportedly mapped senior BJP leader LK Advani's arrest in Bihar during his Rath Yatra to Ayodhya in 1990.

Of the 19 Muslim legislators this time, maximum 7 are from the JD-U, one from the BJP, 6 from the RJD and two from its ally Lok Jan Shakti Party, and 3 from the Congress. Interestingly, three of the four Congress legislators are Muslims. Similarly two of the three LJP legislators too are Muslims.

Political watchers say that Nitish Kumar was the first choice among Muslims for the slew of minority welfare schemes his government launched in the last five years, despite strong reservations of ally BJP.

"Nitish Kumar made inroads into the Muslim community by re-opening of the infamous Bhagalpur riots cases and conviction of the accused by speedy trials. Besides, Bihar remained free from communal trouble and Nitish always sent a strong message that he will not compromise on secularism despite sharing power with the BJP," Maulana Ghulam Rasool Balyavi, a JD-U leader, said.

According to official figures available, 35 Muslim candidates of different parties ended up in the second position behind the winners.

Sorror Ahmad, a political analyst, said that Muslim votes were divided among four main political parties - RJD, LJP, JD-U and Congress. In some constituencies, Muslims also voted for Left parties. "The case of Amoaur where Saba Zafar of the BJP won is rare because Muslims by and large still prefer not to vote for the BJP," he said.

In the six-phase Bihar Assembly polls, the Congress fielded 46 Muslim candidates followed by the RJD with 26 Muslims. The JD-U fielded 14 Muslim candidates, the LJP 10 and the BJP only one.

About 16.5 percent of Bihar's 83 million population is Muslim. The community has sizeable populations in dozens of Assembly constituencies in Kishanganj, Purnea, Araria, Katihar, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga, Siwan and Katihar.

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