After traversing through seven parliamentary constituencies in Bihar and travelling nearly 2,300 kilometres in the last fortnight, two things are clear.
First, despite good roads and improved power situation, majority of the people were dissatisfied with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (because of rampant corruption). Secondly, there was a huge wave in favour of Narendra Modi, who, many felt, had quick-fix solutions for every problem the country was facing.
But one thing which could still upset any pollster’s calculation was the stony silence maintained by the 16.5 per cent Muslim electorate. Under no circumstances, majority of them were willing to share their preference – whether they would back Lalu Prasad-led alliance, or would eventually support Nitish since he had severed ties with the BJP.
It’s an undisputed fact that the Muslims, along with nearly 12.5 per cent Yadavs, had backed Lalu to the hilt which helped the RJD strongman rule Bihar for 15 uninterrupted years despite misgovernance.
When they shifted their allegiance to Nitish in 2005, the Muslims ensured the end of Lalu-Rabri era.
In 2014, Muslims in Bihar are in a dilemma. Particularly, after Shahi Imam’s call to back the RJD-Congress alliance. In Phulwarisharif and Manersharif, many Muslims, on the condition of anonymity, told Deccan Herald that Nitish was not as bad as he was being projected, since he had genuinely cared for minorities in the last nine years.
“Apart from ensuring pension for victims of Bhagalpur riots (in 1989 when more than 1000 people died), Nitish has ensured 2400 madrasas got government affiliation. Besides, at least one Urdu teacher was appoint-ed in every primary school during his regime,” a cleric said.
“And don’t forget to mention that all the madrasa teachers have been sanctioned Sixth Pay Commission wage,” one of the followers of the religious leader reminded him.
At a time when many of the upper caste people here have vowed to teach Nitish a lesson for ditching the BJP, this support from minorities should be music to his ears. But then, the Muslims are themselves a divided lot. The Muslims will vote for RJD and Congress too, some of them maintained at Maner.
However, Anisur Rehman of Patna-based Imarat Shariah said the minorities’ vote won’t split.
“The Muslims will, this time, opt for tactical voting. They will back any candidate – the JD(U), the RJD or the Congress – whoever is in a stronger position to defeat the BJP (or its alliance) candidates in all the 40 seats here,” he said.