Patna: The fight for Muslim votes is getting intense in Bihar. The BJP, never a great favourite among the members of the community, is planning to spring a surprise by projecting a Muslim candidate as its chief ministerial prospect in 2015, when the state goes for the assembly polls. The immediate target of the move, of course, is to win over the community before the general elections two months away. The party already has an impressive following among upper caste Hindus, however, without the Muslim support it might end up with a less than satisfactory seat tally in the battle ground state.
The strategy came out in the open last week when a BJP ex-minister Giriraj Singh, who is known to be a Narendra Modi loyalist, revealed that Muslim leader Shahnawaz Hussain could be a perfect "replacement" for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
"The idea is not without basis. He (Shahnawaz Hussain) has all the qualities to be the chief minister. He was the youngest minister to be picked up in the Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet and he has been the Muslim face of the BJP for a long time. Also, he is popular among all communities," said former minister Singh. Hussain, who is an MP from eastern Bihar’s Bhagalpur seat, has married a Hindu girl.
Although this is not the official stand of the party yet and Hussain himself has ruled himself out of the race, the revelation has kicked up a minor storm in the state’s political circles. Political experts say the idea could not have surfaced without the backing of the party’s top leadership.
"This is indeed a shrewd political move, which could not have come out without the solid backing of the national leadership," was how the veteran political expert NK Chaudhary described the possible projection of Hussain as the chief ministerial candidate. According to him, the party, perhaps, wants to project a secular image of itself to reach out to the minority voters on the one hand and hit other "invisible" targets on the other. So, what is the BJP’s game plan?
First, the party hopes to fetch a significant percent of Muslim votes by sending out the message that it is not the anti-minority party it is being made out to be by political opponents. Muslims accounts for 16 percent of the total votes in Bihar are generally unfavourable to the BJP. Their dislike for the party has intensified after the projection of Modi as the prime minsterial candidate. Hussain as the possible chief minister could be a game changer.
Second, the announcement of Shahnawaz Hussain's name would blunt the ‘secular plank’ of the rivals. None of the so-called secular parties in the state such as Lalu Prasad’s RJD, Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP and Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) has promoted a Muslim to the job or anywhere close to it. The closest was Lalu’s suggestion that someone from for a minority should be deputy chief minister but his idea never materialised. Paswan, during the run-up to the 2005 assembly polls, had sought a Muslim chief minister but that all.
Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, allowed some Muslims in his cabinet and also sent them to Rajya Sabha but continued treating them with disdain. This could be gauged from the fact that former excise minister Jamshed Ashraf was sacked after he revealed a big scam in the excise department. Another Muslim leader, social welfare minister Perveen Amanullah, quit the Nitish cabinet last fortnight peeved at complete lack of "work freedom" and "transparency in the system". Shabir Ali, who was promised a second Rajya Sabha term, is an unhappy man after Nitish reneged on his promise. In short, Muslim leaders are not happy with the secular parties. The BJP wants to cash in on the negative sentiment.
The BJP’s possible motive could also be to put senior party leader Sushil Kumar Modi in his place. Modi had supported the candidature of Nitish for the prime minister’s job by describing him as "PM material". During the run-up to the NDA split in Bihar, he was widely seen as a man close to Nitish. Many party leaders, including Giriraj Singh, were highly critical of him. The propping up Hussain’s name by Singh is also seen as the rising influence of Modi in the state BJP.
Officially, the party’s leadership would not commit itself on Hussain though. "It’s too early to discuss the issue but the BJP has not one or two but many chief ministerial candidates to replace Nitish," remarked BJP’s state chief spokesman Vinod Nayaran Jha. But the question now doing the rounds in Bihar why did the name of Husain crop up in the first place?
Updated Date: Feb 20, 2014 19:59:19 IST