Many Muslims in Bihar are not impressed by Chief Minister Nitish
Kumar's latest move to target Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi
for his allegedly communal politics. It is mere "doublespeak",
they say, and has little to do with secularism.
"After all, Nitish Kumar has been with the BJP for 17 long years.
What happened to Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 is well documented,
but all this while Nitish Kumar failed to criticise Modi and never
demanded his sacking as chief minister. Suddenly, now, he
questions Modi's secular credentials," says Irshadul Haque, a
Dalit Muslim activist.
"If Modi is communal, how could Nitish Kumar treat senior BJP
leader L.K. Advani, the man behind the demolition of the Babri
mosque, as secular? For Muslims, Advani and Modi are two sides of
the same coin," social activist Naiyer Fatmi told IANS
Mohammad Abid, a small-time contractor, said that Nitish Kumar had
been trying to paint the BJP in white and Modi in black.
"If Nitish Kumar is so serious about the secular principle, he
should first part ways with the BJP. Attacking Modi means nothing,
as he was with Modi after the Gujarat riots of 2002," Abid said.
Sorror Ahmad, a community activist and mediaperson, said Muslims
understand that they have nothing to do with Nitish Kumar's
statement on 'topis' (skull caps).
Nitish Kumar had said that leaders should adopt the style of
former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was able to take
everyone along. He had said that leaders should sometimes wear a
topi, sometimes a tilak - a reference to the skull-cap and marks
on the forehead that offer visible evidence of belonging to the
Muslim or Hindu communities.
"One should know that 'topi' is part of culture, not religion.
Nitish Kumar is using catchwords to send a political message to
Muslims, but he has failed. He is widely seen as a close partner
of BJP's Advani and Modi. Nitish Kumar was railway minister under
Vajpayee, and when he raised the raj-dharam (duty of office)
question for Modi after the Gujarat riots, Nitish Kumar
deliberately maintained silence," Ahmad said.
Ahmad added that Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal-United was the first
secular political party in the country to offer legitimacy to the
BJP in 1996. "The JD-U was the first secular party to join the BJP;
its earlier allies, Shiv Sena and Akali Dal, were religion-based
parties," he said.
Muslims make up around 16 percent of the 105 million population of
They determine the poll outcome in 60 of 243 assembly
constituencies, mainly in the bordering districts of Kishanganj,
Araria and Bhagalpur, north Bihar districts of Supoul, Madhepura,
Saharsa and Darbangha, and central Bihar districts of Gopalganj,
Siwan, Biharsharif, Gaya and Nalanda, where they have a presence
of anything between 18 and 70 percent.
In about 50 other seats, Muslim voters make up 10-17 percent of
the electorate, enough to substantially influence poll outcomes.
Ahmad said that Muslim votes were divided among four main
political parties - JD-U, RJD, LJP and Congress. In some
constituencies, Muslims also voted for the Left parties.
Haque too questioned Nitish Kumar's respect for Advani: Only this
month, Advani claimed that BJP workers and leaders should not be
apologetic for the Babri mosque demolition. Advani had strongly
backed Modi after the 2002 riots in Gujarat, he said.
"Over 10 years after the Gujarat riots, and more than 20 years
after the Babri mosque demolition, Muslims have learnt hard
lessons to decide the fate of this country," Haque told IANS.
Saba Ansari, a 19-year-old college student, however, was more
positively inclined to the chief minister: "He has, at long last,
realised his mistake and is now open to taking on Modi," she said.
Nujhat Jahan, a 20-year-old student, said: "For me, Nitish Kumar
is doing a repeat of (former chief minister) Lalu Prasad, who
dared to stop Advani's Rath Yatra from entering the state,
becoming a champion of secular politics," she said.
(Imran Khan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)