All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and his leader Asaduddin Owaisi became a hot topic in the Hindi belt of Indian political circles during the Bihar Assembly election – 2020. In the election, AIMIM has won five seats – Kochadhaman, Amour, Bahadurganj, Baisi, and Jokihat – in the Seemanachal region of Bihar. This region comprises Purnia, Katihar, Kishanganj, and Araria districts and accounting for 24 assembly seats. This Muslim dominated (average 47% and in Kishanganj 68%) region is also considered as the most backward in Bihar. The region is also prone to floods which destroy agriculture and livelihood of the people of the region. People of this region suffer from poor health facilities, education backwardness, and lack of economic opportunities that lead to migration.

The AIMIM has been constantly making its efforts in this region for the last three assembly elections. Although the party had won a by election of Kishanganj in 2019, but failed to open its acount in the previous Assembly or Parliamentary election. During the election, Owaisi mainly targeted the RJD-Congress combination in most of his election rallies. He had blamed the RJD-Congress combination of neglecting the region for a long time. Owaisi also raised issues such as NRC-CAA in his campaign rallies. The chief reason behind this focus is the majority of Muslims in this region. Unsurprisingly, AIMIM’s political rivals accused it of being BJP’s ‘B’ team and of being a “vote katwa (vote cutter)”. But the allegation of being a Vote Katwa was rejected many of times by Owaisi and his supporters. Owaisi responded it by saying that it is his constitutional right like others to contest election in any part of India and in many constituencies AMIM not contesting election but Secular forces failed to win. This article is not focusing on the blame game of Owaisi and secular forces/ Mahagathbandhan (MGB). The main concern of this article is to analyse the factors responsible for the changing pattern of the Muslim vote in Seemanchal.

Leadership Crisis in Seemanchal

Leaders and their leadership skills refer to the process of influencing the behaviour of people in a way that they strive willingly and enthusiastically towards the achievement of common objectives. In fact, leadership plays an important role in the development of any region and its people. He/she also resolves the complaints and problems of the common masses, thereby building confidence in them. In addition, leaders create more leaders. A leader trains his subordinates in such a manner that they can succeed him in the future easily, in his absence. In the past, Kishanganj and its adjacent area of Seemanchal had witnessed many stalwarts like Rafiq Alam (former Union Minister), Syed Shahabuddin (Retd. IFS), M.J. Akbar etc. Besides these leaders, in the recent past leaders like Taslimuddin and Maulana Asrarul Haque Qasmi also remained the major Muslim face of the region.

Veteran leader Taslimuddin, who was a prominent Muslim leader hailing from Seemanchal area in Bihar also popularly known as ‘Seemanchal Gandhi’, has been an eight-time MLA and being a five-time MP. He had also served as union minister of state for home. He died in 2017.  Moulana Asrarul Haque Qasmi is another name of strong Muslim leadership who passed out from Darul Uloom, Deoband. He was a member of the Indian National Congress (INC) and represented the Kishanganj seat two times. He was also a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), served state president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, president of All India Mili Council. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University Centre in Kishanganj. He died in December 2018. Moreover, Intekhab Alam, who served as Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) district president of Kishanganj, also considered as one of the emerging leaders in Seemanchal died in road accident in 2018. The unfortunate demise of these leaders leaves the region leaderless which could not be filled by new leaders trained under them. Although some of new leaders achieved success in winning assembly elections in different constituencies in Kishanganj and its surrounding areas, however, these new leaders do not have similar capability/Charisma to gain the faith of people like their predecessors. In addition to the failure of local leaders to pick up and train new leadership, the party high command of RJD and Congress and to a certain extent JD (U) also failed in the process of leadership transformation in Seemanchal.

On the other hand, the leadership vacuum created by RJD-Congress is successfully captured by AIMIM in the region. Asaduddin Owaisi has constantly highlighted the backwardness of the region for which he holds responsible the negligence of regional parties and their leaders in Seemanchal. He has also emerged as a vocal voice of Muslims. Being a barrister and good orator skill, he brilliantly attracts Muslim by raising the issues concerning the marginalization of Indian Muslim. Similarly, during the election rallies in Bihar, he was constantly appealing the Muslims for realizing the exclusion of Muslims and raising demand for equal participation in governance. He also encouraged the Muslims to change their status from second class citizens to equal citizens (Ba-izzat Sheri). The young supporters of AMIM criticised the supporters of Mahagadhbandhan by saying that “kab tak dari bichaoge”.

Local Anti- Incumbency, the CAA/NRC and Backwardness and Misery of the Region

Besides local leadership crisis in RJD-Congress, the loss in confidence of Muslims in MGB leaders who represented their constituencies for long period also paved the way for the rapid emergence of AIMIM in the region. For example, Akhtarul Iman (Bihar’s State President of AIMIM) won Amour by a margin of 52,515 votes and defeated Congress stalwart Abdul Jalil Mastan, a congress stalwart who remained six times MLA from INC. Similarly, Anzar Nayeemi won Bahadurganj by a margin of 45,215 votes defeated four-time Congress MLA Tausif Alam. Izhar Asfi won Kochadhaman by 36,143 votes replaced Master Mujahid Alam from JD (U) who served the constituency for six years, Syed Ruknuddin Ahmed won Baisi by 16,373 votes who defeated another senior RJD leader Abdus Subhan. Interestingly, this election also witnesses the fight between two sons of Late Taslimuddin, a senior leader of RJD. Shanawaz Alam, who joined AIMIM at the last moment, won Jokihat by 7,383 votes defeated his elder brother Sarfaraz Alam of RJD who had been elected to the Bihar Legislative Assembly (from Jokihat seat) thrice. He also won Parliamentary by poll for the seat of Araria (vacated due to the death of sitting MP Mohammed Taslimuddin).  The RJD lacks leadership in Kochadhaman. When Akhtarul Iman left in 2014, Intekhab Alam (Bablu) led the party as the district president. He met an unfortunate death in a road accident in 2018. After his death, RJD made his wife, Seema Intekhab, district president of Kishanganj. But the ticket was given to Shahid Alam who stood third with just 16.18% of the votes in the election.

The issue of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizenship (NRC) was another dominating factor which influenced the voting choices of Muslims in Seemachal. For example, Master Mujahid Alam, the then MLA of JD (U), who was well known for his developmental work in the Kochadhaman constituency of Kishanganj lost election to AIMIM candidate Izhar Asfi, because JD(U) voted in favour of Citizen Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Parliament.

The underdevelopment and backwardness of the region remained one of the important factors for the defeat of MGB and JD (U) candidates. MGB and JDU leaders who had been winning the seats of Assembly and LokSabha from Seemanchal were accused by AIMIM for doing nothing for the development of the region.  Akhtarul Iman (Bihar’s AIMIM chief president) said that “our only focus is to lift Seemanchal out of backwardness, poverty, illiteracy, and disease.” Owaisi promised for ‘Seemanchal Development Council’ for the priority based development of the region. Although the same promise was made by RJD President Tejasvi Yadav but it was not appreciated by the people of Seemanchal. It might be because of long fifteen years rule of the party in the past.

Conclusion

The emergence of AIMIM in Seemanchal with five winning seats has shocked those who believe in secular politics and reject identity/religious based politics. But the existing realities and the continuous ignorance of Seemanchal by MGB and JD (U) paved the way for the substantial rise of AIMIM. Due to the death of old leaders the region has been facing leadership crisis who could provide leadership and gain the confidence of the people. The next generation MGB and JD (U) local leaderships could not fill the gap created by those old leaders even with winning the elections. The MGB and JD (U) leaders who served their constituency for long time face local anti incumbency that led to defeat by AIMIM candidates. The people of Seemanchal rejected MGB and JDU leaders also because of the persistent underdevelopment of the region. In addition, the CAA/NRC created fear among Muslims who lost faith in MGB leaders who failed to ensure security.   

Md Rahat Hasan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). He can be contacted at rahatmhasan@gmail.com 


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