Close to 10 per cent of the JD(U)'s
candidates for Bihar Assembly polls are Muslims, a clear message from the party headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar that it will continue to protect the interests of the minority community and they have nothing to fear despite its realignment with the new and aggressive BJP.
Under the seat-sharing arrangement of the NDA, the JD (U) has got 122 out of the total 243 constituencies in the state and it will be contesting 115, leaving aside seven for ex-chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) which has returned to the NDA.
The party has announced its nominees for all 115 seats, of whom 11 are Muslims. This figure of close to 10 per cent is less than commensurate with their population in the state where they comprise more than 15 per cent of the populace.
Nonetheless, with a steady decline in the community's electoral representation over the decades, the JD(U) may end up claiming that it scored better than most on this count.
In the 2015 Assembly polls, which the JD(U) had contested in alliance with the RJD and the Congress, five of the party's candidates had emerged victorious.
Four of them are again in the fray from their respective seats Khurshid alias Firoz Ahmed (Sikta), Sharfuddin (Sheohar), Naushad Alam (Thakurganj) and Mujahid Alam (Kochadhaman).
The fifth such candidate, Sarfaraz Alam from Jokihat, had quit the party in 2018 and joined the RJD which fielded him as its candidate from Araria Lok Sabha seat in a by-poll necessitated by the death of his father Mohd Taslimuddin, a powerful though controversial politician of the Kosi belt.
Alam won the seat but lost it to the BJP in the general elections the following year. Earlier, his brother Shahnawaz Alam had succeeded in wresting Jokihat from the JD(U).
In the upcoming polls, Jokihat has fallen into the BJP's kitty. The JD(U) will be trying its luck in the adjoining Araria where it has fielded Shagufta Azim. The seat was won, in 2015, by the Congress.
Besides Azim, two other women figure among the party's Muslim candidates. Asma Parveen, daughter of senior RJD leader Ilyas Hussain, has been fielded from Mahua which is the constituency of Lalu Prasad's elder son Tej Pratap Yadav.
Hussain had won from Dehri on an RJD ticket in 2015 but got disqualified a few years later following his conviction in the bitumen scam. His son Firoz made an unsuccessful bid to retain the seat for the RJD in a by-poll held last year and joined the JD(U) less than a month ago.
The JD(U) has sprung a surprise in Dumraon where it has dropped Dadan Pahalwan, a local muscleman who is its sitting MLA. The party nominee this time is Anjum Ara, who is known in the media circles by virtue of being a party spokesperson. It remains to be seen if she can hold her own in the rough and tumble of electoral politics.
Realizing the tough challenge it faces this time for securing Muslim votes, the JD(U) has also accommodated rebels from the RJD like Faraz Fatmi, the MLA from Keoti whom it is fielding from Darbhanga Rural.
Fatmi's father MAA Fatmi was an RJD veteran and former Union minister who had quit the party during Lok Sabha polls, upset over alleged peremptory behaviour of Tejashwi Yadav. MAA Fatmi had joined the JD(U) many months ago, signalling the son's likely trajectory.
The JD(U) has, despite its alliance with the BJP, succeeded in winning over a section of Muslims by virtue of measures like reservations to the Pasmanda group, scholarships to students from the minority community including those receiving their education at madrasas.
The community has been restive over the party's equivocal stance on the CAA which it ended up voting for in the Parliament. Nonetheless, the wily chief minister got the BJP to back a resolution passed unanimously by the assembly opposing the proposed NRC.
People also acknowledge Nitish Kumar's role in keeping communal flare-ups under check, the most recent example being in 2018 when several minor clashes broke out around Ram Navami in a number of districts but none of these was allowed to snowball into a major riot.
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