The BJP is bracing for a stiff challenge when Bihar’s Seemanchal region, where it lost all four Lok Sabha seats even amid the Modi wave of 2014, will vote on Thursday to elect 24 legislators.
The region, spread over four districts, covers the northeast of the state. There will be plenty of mutli-cornered contests, with the AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi contesting in six constituencies.
Though the BJP-led four-party alliance and the Grand Alliance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar are in direct contest in every seat, there are other players too.
These include Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (JAP), Hyderabad MP Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen as well as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), whose best known leader in Bihar is Tariq Anwar.
Their presence has caused a jitter in both the main camps contending for power.
The region, with 24 constituencies in Araria, Purnia, Katihar and Kishanganj districts, has a heavy Muslim presence. Kishanganj boasts of 67 percent Muslim population, Katihar 43 percent, Araria 40 percent and Purnia 37 percent.
A journey across the mostly backward region gives a sense that Muslims are divided between the Grand Alliance, JAP, AIMIM and NCP.
The smaller parties may get a slice of Muslim votes while a major chunk could go to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress.
In the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Bharatiya Janata Party is contesting on 18 seats, leaving six for the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM).
In the Grand Alliance, the Congress has candidates in 10 places, the JD-U in nine and the RJD in five constituencies.
Owaisi’s AIMIM is contesting on six seats: Amour and Baysi in Purnia district, Kishanganj and Kochadhaman in Kishanganj district, Raniganj in Araria district and Balrampur in Katihar district.
Akhtarul Iman, the AIMIM’s state president and an outgoing legislator, is in close contest in Kochadhaman, pitted against Mujahid Alam of JD-U, Abdur Rehman of BJP and Gulrez Roshan Rehman of JAP.
Iman won in 2010 on RJD ticket but later joined the JD-U. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, he was a JD-U candidate but got expelled after he urged voters to go with the Congress.
In Kishanganj, the AIMIM’s presence has made the contest triangular. Here the contest is among Congress’ outgoing legislator Muhammad Jawed, BJP’s Sweety Singh and AIMIM’s Tasiruddin.
“Owaisi is attracting young voters and his presence has consolidated Hindus. He may not win more than one seat but is affecting Muslim votes in the area,” Alok Singh, 32, of Kishanganj told IANS.
Mehboob Alam, 28, who works in a shop at Ruidasa Ground area, told IANS: “There are lots of Congress supporters here but this time I will support Owaisi.” He could not specify why.
Many Muslims don’t have much knowledge about the AIMIM but appeared to know Owaisi.
Feroz Alam of Pothia village in Kishanganj said: “Owaisi is sure to spoil Congress’ chances.”
The NCP and JAP have put up candidates in almost all the constituencies. The NCP is known to have a strong presence in Katihar, which its leader Tariq Anwar represents in the Lok Sabha.
JAP leader Pappu Yadav’s area of influence is Purnia, from where he began his political journey.
In 2010, the BJP won 12 of the 24 seats in alliance with the JD-U. The RJD won three seats, the Congress and LJP two each and the JD-U four. Balrampur in Katihar district elected an independent candidate.