By Syed Ubaidur Rahman

Firebrand Hyderabad MP, Asaduddin Owaisi’s party, AIMIM has surprised everyone with its stupendous performance in Bihar elections. While in the 2015 assembly elections it had drawn a dot, it went on to win as many as five seats in the 2020 assembly elections.

While he might have surprised almost everyone, including himself, with this superlative performance, the party seems to have damaged the chances of Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Congress alliance in Bihar by not just beating Mahagathbandhan candidates in several constituencies, but also denting alliance’s chances in many others. It is now quit clear that All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), a party that has its genesis in the princely State of Hyderabad, has indirectly helped the BJP in winning a state that most psephologists had predicted it to lose.

Shahid Siddiqui, former Rajya Sabha MP and the editor of Urdu weekly, Nai Duniya says while there were multiple reasons for the defeat of Tejashwi Yadav led Mahagathbandhan, but it cannot be denied that strong performance of AIMIM was one of the basic reasons for its loss. It caused the division of Muslim votes and directly caused the defeat of the secular alliance in at least eight to ten assembly constituencies in not just Seemanchal region, but also in Kosi region as well.

Owaisi campaigned nonstop in Bihar for weeks. His party’s enthusiasm touched the sky following their alliance with a multitude of political parties. Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Upendra Khushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) joined hands to form a grand looking alliance. The alliance, Grand Democratic Secular Front, that also included two other parties, the Jantantrik Party and Samajwadi Janata Dal Democratic, made repeated assertions that it will capture a lion’s share of the Muslim and Dalit votes.

Things seem to have gone rather very well for Owaisi and his supporters. However his coalition partners seem to have done very poorly. Except for the five seats for AMIM and a lone seat for the BSP, the other constituents of the alliance, including former union minister Upendra Singh Kushwaha’s party, RLSP, miserably failed in the election.

AIMIM proved almost all the exit polls wrong. All the exit polls predicted Tejashwi Yadav-led opposition alliance in Bihar to romp home and beat Nitish Kumar led National Democratic Alliance (NDA. Exit polls suggested that Tejashwi led alliance will easily cross the halfway mark. Some exit polls even suggested that led Mahagathbandhan to win two third majority in the state.

The exit poll by India Today-Axis My India poll gave Tejashwi led Grand Alliance 139 to 161 seats. The same exit poll gave Nitish Kumar-BJP alliance 69 to 91 seats. On the other hand, Times Now-C Voter exit poll made it look a rather close fight. It gave 116 seats to the NDA and around 120 seats to the opposition alliance. On the other hand, Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat gave 118 to 138 seats to the opposition alliance and 91-117 seats to the ruling NDA. Not many of the pollsters gave much of a hope to either Owais’s party or the alliance he was part of. He or his alliance partners were not expected to win more than a handful of seats, though, according to some estimates the other opposition parties that include Owaisi’s grand sounding alliance, may get ten percent of the votes polled.

The surprising outcome of the poll has proved the pollsters wrong once again. The sort of election campaign Owaisi managed in assembly elections in 2015 had given them much hope of doing well. However, during that election all their hopes were dashed as the RJD-Congress-JDU alliance romped home with a comfortable majority in the state assembly. All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was not just a no-show, it had drawn a blank from even Seemanchal area. The Hyderabad based party had, like its strategy in the 2020 assembly elections, concentrated on Seemanchal area, where Muslims make a huge chunk of the population.

Seeemanchal region of Bihar includes 24 seats and comprises of districts like Purnia, Katihar, Kishanganj and Araria. There is no denying the fact that these constituencies as expected played a major role in the victory or defeat of any alliance in the assembly elections. The region, among the most backward in the state has almost fifty percent Muslim population with many constituencies having more than fifty percent Muslim electorate. While Muslims make 70 percent of the population in Kishanganj district, their ratio in other district of Seemanchal is quite high. In Araria district bordering Nepal they make 42% of the population, in Katihar 43% and in Purnia district 38%.

The region overwhelmingly voted for the Grand Alliance in the year 2015, but this year Owaisi factor played spoil sport, handing them a humiliation that they hadn’t actually anticipated.

MIM performance has come as a surprise to many political analysts in Bihar. Merely a few days before the votes were cast in the state a local political analyst told me that “Muslims are politically savvy in Bihar, particularly in the Seemanchal region. While they love and enjoy fiery speeches of Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi (they had to miss Akbar this time as he was not dispatched to Bihar for campaigning), they are not much enamoured by Owaisi or his politics. They know that by winning merely a couple of seats Owaisi or his party may not play any meaningful role in the politics of the state. So they have whole heartedly backed the Grand Alliance that is expected to win the election and form the government in the state.

However, there were a few who thought that the party could actually win a few seats in Seemanchal region. Sami, a Patna based political analyst told me that Muslims seem to have supported Owaisi’s party in places where they were completely sure of their victory. So they might have voted for AIMIM’s Bihar chief Akhtarul Iman in large number”.

Owaisi seems to have benefited immensely from his round the clock anti-Congress and anti-RJD propaganda. His bashing of secular parties might have surprised many people in the state, but apparently it was a shrewd strategy that has paid well. MIM won many Congress seats in Seemanchal, that if won by Alliance might have helped it dislodge the BJP-JDU alliance in the state. Instead of targeting Nitish Kumar led ruling JDU or the BJP, Tejashwi Yadav led Grand Alliance was his main target throughout the campaigning. Instead of the ruling NDA, he targeted the RJD and the Congress of perennially neglecting the region, unmindful of the fact that the two parties are not part of the government.

However many Muslims are not happy with the success of AIMIM and the defeat of the RJD-Congress alliance in the state due to the division of secular votes there. A Mumbai based political analyst says, “If Muslims become communal in choosing representatives, it will only help BJP to make Hindus more communal. A few seats to Owaisi is celebrations in the Hindutva camp. MIM got only 5 seats but ensured that it harmed Mahagathbandhan on many other seats. So in total it deprived Mahagathbandhan of close to a dozen seats. Had these seats gone to Mahagathbandhan, Tejashwi would have become the CM”.

He says that the BJP’s strong showing will be visible on communal politics taking its roots in Bihar too. “Now wait for the repeat of what is happening in UP in Bihar too. Because of this misguided step of MIM, all main line parties will tell Muslim ticket seekers in future to go to Seemanchal. They will not give them tickets anywhere else. So further marginalization and peripherisation of Muslims in Bihar awaits the community only because of “wisdom” of one man whose tacit understanding with BJP is no longer a secret”.

There is no denying that this close loss of secular alliance in Bihar will have long term implications on the polity of the state. This is the first time that BJP has performed so well in the state. With Nitish Kumar’s position weakened considerably, BJP will have a rather free hand to implement its own agenda. Many people are fearful that Bihar may be headed to UP like aggressive Hindutva politics too in the days to come.