India Insight

Lalu Prasad’s roller: courting the Muslim vote in Bihar

April 17, 2009

Muslims are seen as a crucial vote bank in several possible swing states in India’s general election and many politicians are making the right noises to court the community.

In the state of Bihar, which I recently visited, its chief minister Nitish Kumar told me his campaign focused on caste-blind development but also communal harmony:

“Now everybody is happy. There is complete communal harmony,” he said as we sat at night on the veranda at his residence.

If what he says is true, then communal harmony could be a vote winner for Kumar, whose party still has far fewer seats in the national parliament than that of his main rival in the state, the federal Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Prasad was chief minister for years, backed mainly by the Yadav caste and the Muslim vote. Could that Muslim vote now be slipping away from him?

Hussain Ansari, a Muslim rickshaw driver whom I met, ironically, outside Prasad’s campaign office, told me he will vote for Kumar: “The situation is changing. Lots of development is taking place.”

It remains to be seen to what extent Biharis believe Kumar has changed Bihar under his tenure as they go the polls.

But Kumar may also face a problem: he is an ally of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), of whom many Muslims are still wary.

So it is no wonder the issue of Varun Gandhi, a scion of India’s powerful Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and a BJP election candidate, has reared its head in the state.

Gandhi has just been released from jail, accused of making an inflammatory “hate speech” against Muslims in March. Gandhi said video clips of his campaign rally were doctored in a political
conspiracy to tarnish his image.

The BJP has so far stuck by its candidate. Kumar, on the other hand, for a long time demanded legal action against Gandhi.

Enter Lalu Prasad, who told a rally he wanted to flatten Gandhi with a roller and said he would have done so if he were the country’s home minister.

In a twist, local police in Bihar filed reports against Prasad for his speech against Gandhi.

The BJP in its manifesto also revived an old promise to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram in the northern town of Ayodhya, on a site revered by Hindus but disputed by Muslims.

Mobs tore down a 16th century mosque on the site in 1992, which led to Hindu-Muslim riots that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Analysts say the BJP’s pledge will garner Hindu votes. But it won’t necessarily help Kumar’s attempts to woo Muslims, and he vocally opposed his ally’s pledge:

“The BJP as a political party is free to hold its views on the Ram Temple and several other issues, but when we form a coalition government, no communal or contentious issue is on our agenda,” he is quoted as saying.

Muslims in parts of India say they feel alienated from the rest of the country, often left behind by India’s economic boom and tarnished by the same brush as Islamist militants.

In Bihar, though, communalism has not played a large role in the past, said Shaibal Gupta of the Asian Development Research Institute, who is based in the state.

He argues Hindus in Bihar have been split along caste lines to the extent that they do not present a united front in which communalism thrives.

“In the absence of a Hindu consolidation, communalism is not a very powerful force in Bihar.”

But Varun Gandhi and the BJP have become a talking point in 2009. Prasad will try his hardest to keep Muslims on side, and what better way than to play up Kumar’s ties with the BJP and the prime ministerial candidate, L.K. Advani?

“It’s a contradiction that the chief minister has criticised Varun Gandhi but on the other hand supports the BJP and L.K. Advani,” Ram Bachan Roy, a member of Prasad’s party, told me. “L.K. Advani is an incarnation of communalism.”

(Reuters photos of federal railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and a Muslim voter)

Comments
4 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Some how true said that Bihar is not much effected with communal ism idea as it is effected by a deadly virus of caste.. Few days back on some news channel a correspondent find to state that one voter from bihar is happy and agree on the progress done by Kumar but he will caste his vote to lalu cause he belongs to his caste. So that mean its very long distance to cover to end mindset of caste based politics in Bihar who is the mother of 75 revolution. Unfortunate despite being a top state before independence its now a curse in name of development. Thanks to All CM ruled this state and ruined it.

Fodder scam emergency problem caste ranbir sena bla bla bla….. Is this really not a time to think why Muslims are still feel alienated from rest of country and left behind in progress, why tell me why. despite Masiha of minority congress lalu mulyam and many others ruled mostly populated states like UP and Bihar. and Congress they rule 50 years at center despite of that no real development.

I tell u why if they develop them than who will vote for them its always better to tell a story of lion will come lion will come.. but infect their is no lion . this is what has been done from past so many years to protect their vote bank and practically do nothing.

Lalu is very smart he utilize the sentiment of uneducated and poor people and break all the barriers of underdevelopment.

Muslims will remain happy and peacefully only is some real development provide to them instead of making noise of fear from BJP and right wing view.

See As just India is a Hindu Majority each minority enjoy maximum benefit and security otherwise we should check middle east why their is no huge and cry for them. Go and see Malaysia US and now Europe too how they treat. Some time redicouls to not talk about real development issue for minority rather than their security and fear from other party..

Bet me This time not much roller coaster will run for so called secular party..

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive
 

Unlike its western neighbour Uttar Pradesh, Bihar has largely been free of communal violence, punctuated rather by caste (and class) violence. Even during the Ram Mandir agitation and Advani’s rath yatra, there was remarkably little violence against Muslims in Bihar.

In a sense, the lack of one is caused by the other: communal pogroms and wide support for such violence happens only when there is the sense of a Hindu community that is under threat from Muslims — a point you make by quoting ADRI’s Dasgupta.

When that community itself is riven by faultlines across which unspeakable violence occurs, the conditions for large scale communalism do not emerge.

In contrast, Gujarat: where there is little (lower) caste and class upsurge, and the upper castes (and classes) can drag subaltern groups as the footsoldiers of their attacks on Muslims as in 2002.

So for Nitish Kumar to take credit for communal harmony is silly. His predecessor can stake that claim with a wee bit more credibility.

But the question is: would Muslims vote for Kumar despite his BJP ties, or would they chose Prasad, that great crusader of secularism?

Voting for assembly elections and the parliament often follow different patterns and reflect different thinking processes. In state election in Bihar, voting for a BJP-partnered alliance may not be unthinkable for Muslims, given the fact such a government would not represent the communal face of the BJP.

In parliamentary elections, however, it may be that a vote for the Janata Dal is a vote for a BJP government in the centre, which would certainly be not very friendly to Muslims, if not outrightly hostile.

The tragedy however lies elsewhere: the social and economic conditions of Muslims in Bihar are particularly bad, even in comparison with other groups in the state. All the years of Prasad did little to remedy that. His line was: look at UP where Muslims live in fear, you aren’t like that because of me, so vote for me and make as little noise as possible.

Kumar has been hardly better in terms of improving the lot of Muslims in Bihar. Come election date, and the Muslim voter’s choices are precisely: zero.

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive
 

Muslims in Gujarat are living richer life than any other state from kashmir to kerala. BJP is not discriminatory as is evident by appointing a muslim as the chief police man running the law and order in the state.

 

@Cheri
Being a Bihari I can assure you that Nitish Kumar’s government hasn’t discriminated against any particulr community and nor has it benefited and particular community. Development in the sate has happened for all. Muslims use the same roads as Hindus do, they drink the same water and draw electricity from the same place.

As far as doing something for Muslims is concerned. Then there are are many classes in the country who have been left behind in India’s progress. But the point is sir, it takes time for the development effects to reach to the lowest strata just like water percolates into the soil and reaches the bottom in the end. Also, wouldn’t it be discriminatory if you have special schemes for one class and none for the other? Wouldn’t it be better if we can say we will vote for development and not allow politicians to divide us? Wouldn’t it be better if we can understand that poverty doesn’t discriminate then why should poverty eradication programs should? Affirmative action in the name of religion or caste or region is wrong and should happen on the basis of economic condition.

Posted by Aman | Report as abusive
 

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