The simple majority in Bihar assembly is 123 MLAs vis-à-vis the 243 member house. Whichever political party or formation can get those magical numbers will control the political power in that state.
If we see this proposition in the backdrop of AMIM leader Assaduddin Owsai’s half-hearted attempt to shore up Muslim identity politics in the Bihar assembly elections, then some hard fact emerges that provides food for thought.
There is a possibility that Bihar may get 50 Muslim MLAs in the ensuing assembly elections. This could be candidates having Muslim identity, irrespective of the political affiliations. How?
Bihar has 17 per cent Muslim population. There are 24 assembly segments where Muslims have upper hand in Bihar. These are in the Seemanchal region, bordering Bangladesh and Nepal.
Muslims have a decisive role to play in each of the six assembly segments of Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnia districts of Bihar.
Kishanganj has 78 per cent Muslim population, Katihar 43, Araria 41 and Purnia 37 percent. So, it is certain that 24 Muslim candidates may emerge victories from Seemanchal region.
Besides, there are three other districts where Muslims are in a sizable percentage in Bihar. In Darbhanga Muslims are 23 per cent, in Sitamarhi 21 percent and in West Champran 21 percent.
Muslim candidates can turn the table in their favor in most of these constituencies if they align with likeminded caste based parties.
So if we add these 18 assembly segments with 24 Seemanchal seats, Muslims can pocket 42 MLAS from these seven districts alone.
In eastern Champran Muslims are 19 per cent, Bhagalpur 19 percent, Madhubani 19 per cent and Siwan 18 per cent.
There is possibility of a Muslim candidate winning a few seats from these 24 assembly segments. This can happen increasing the net of the likeminded caste based parties.
So, even a conservative estimate can project, at least 8 Muslim candidates winning from these four districts of Bihar.
In such case, the predication that Bihar may have 50 Muslim MLAS in the upcoming assembly is a gettable figure.
Now imagine the clout of 50 + MLAs in 243 member assembly if they are in one group? This hard reality is dawning upon some Muslims in Bihar with Owasi beaming the searchlight of electoral reality in the state.
In an essay Professor Hilal Ahmed of Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, has given a very lucid analysis of emerging political identity formation of the Muslims in Bihar.
There are two features that politically distinguish the political activities of Muslims of this land locked state. First, Muslims participate in all kinds of political processes, retaining their socio-religious identities. Second, since the upsurge of Pasmanda politics in Bihar, a window of possibility has emerged from where, Muslims can hope to acquire political and economic clout in the state.
A CSDS-Lokniti survey of 2014 offers some interesting trends about Muslim political activity in Bihar. It shows in 2010 Assembly election over 60 per cent Muslims (including OBC Muslims) went with the Congress-RJD alliance, while 21 per cent went with the JD(U).
In that election, though Muslim OBCs went with the Congress, it did not affect the Muslim support of the RJD as both categories continued to support the two political formations.
However, a very different political picture emerged in 2014 Lok Sabha election. Though Muslim OBCs did go with the JD(U), the RJD was the first choice for most Muslims. This hypothesis leads to a general assumption that Muslims in Bihar do act collectively as an electoral group.
Notwithstanding the facts, there are two inferences drawn from the voting pattern of Muslims in 2014 Lok Sabha election. First, it appeared that Muslims did not follow any active agenda while voting and their vote was divided among the political formations that offered them various socially cohesive alternatives. Second, the electoral agenda of development, poverty eradication, education and protection of their identity, translated at the constituency level affected the Muslim voting pattern.
The fragmented Muslim vote share secured by various political parties in 2014 elections demonstrates this aspect of Muslim political activity in the state.
Muslims’ political responses in Bihar have shown that their political identity is like a pendulum that oscillates between two extreme ends. On one end, it rests on their sociological diversity that exists at the constituency level, on the other it swings to political homogeneity, when the fear of anti Muslim forces bent upon to un-robe their identity haunts them.
It would be interesting to observe how the trajectory of these political compulsions is addressed by the Muslims in the 2015 assembly election in Bihar.
Irrespective of the results, the fact remains that Bihar elections is going to redefine the nature of the competitive identity politics in the country.
With each day caste based political parties springing up and political leaders bearing caste tag hitting the headlines in the country, Muslims are forced to rethink their role being succour to the caste based parties and their leaders.
As competitive identity politics is heating up in the country, a realization is coming among Muslim youth to assess the losses and gains remaining in secular or caste based political formations.
With pessimism dominating them, Muslims too are thinking in the line of caste based political parties to fight for their own political space. This is more so after the decline of the left parties and Congress becoming weaker each day.
In such situation, the political options for Muslims are getting narrower. Muslims either have to shelter under caste based political parties or explore the possibilities of pursuing their own identity based politics.
[Writer is senior journalist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]