Blinded by communal bile, BJP fails to read Bihar

Written by Mohammed Sajjad | Published on: November 26, 2015
in urban spaces; the CSDS-Lokniti and other surveys (pre- and post-poll) indicate such proclivities.

Among the Muslims, too, such trends are found. This aspect needs academic investigation. My own trips into many villages in north Bihar during the last two years or so have revealed that quite a lot of Muslim youth are in a denial mode. They deny the menacingly growing phenomenon of harbouring ‘Wahabi’ radicalism by a section of their co-religionists. The vulgar display of wealth by neo-rich Muslims earning in West Asian countries have not only brought about economic competition and rivalry, but also conspicuous assertion of identities by constructing mosques with tall minars, which have always been seen as eyesores in Hindu neighbourhoods[xviii].
 
This too may explain why Owaisi decided to land in Bihar. The Azizpur riots were revealing. In the political melee over it, a Muslim aide to Jitan Manjhi, Syed Sharim Ali (appointed by Manjhi as Waqf administrator) and Shahid Ali Khan (minister for minority affairs in the Nitish cabinet) joined Manjhi’s HAM-S. After news of Manjhi’s overtures to the BJP came, Sharim Ali flew to Hyderabad and had a long meeting with Owaisi. This is how the people sensed a possible BJP-Manjhi-Owaisi ‘nexus’.
 
As this ‘nexus’ got exposed and pressure mounted on the AIMIM, it eventually decided to dilute its ambition and contest only six seats with the highest Muslim concentrations in Seemanchal. Still, the AIMIM could secure only around 80,000 votes. In Bihar Muslims account for 17% of the population; in four districts, the Muslim population is above 35%: Kishanganj (68%), Araria (41%), Purnia (37%) and Katihar (43%).
     
The Mallah factor and the agrarian economy of chaur lands
In the previous elections, the Paroo Mallahs were said to have been opposed to Ashok Singh, who used to brand the Mallahs as Maoists. This time he was desperate to get Mallah votes. In October 2014, there was Mallah-Muslim tension in village Turkauliya. This was prevented from spiralling into violence through dialogue and administrative intervention. In January 2015, in Azizpur, a village of Pasmanda Muslims, violence, again essentially between Mallahs and Muslims, could not be prevented (the author’s report in the EPW edition of January 31, 2015, details all aspects). The Mallahs (Hindu fishermen, including allied or similar sub-castes like Gangotas and Kevats—boatmen) are now emerging as “dominant castes” in these parts of Bihar, more specifically in and around Muzaffarpur. The chaur (low-lying waterlogged lands across north and east Bihar) have almost been abandoned by peasants, with the male members of families migrating for livelihood. Soil of these lands is used by brick makers. Thus baolis (ponds and pondlets) emerge within the landmass of chaurs. Malalhs use these baolis for fishery without the landowners. The lands also attract aquatic and semiaquatic birds. Mallahs sell these birds and fish in the local village haats and markets. Such an economy has implications. The rate of migration for livelihood among Mallah males is lowest. The preponderant physical presence of Mallah males in the villages is increasingly making them emerge as local toughies. Their defiance of the absentee landowners (not landlords, as most are marginal and middle peasants) by exploiting the chaur lands have made them a cohesive group, which has started yielding an electoral advantage to them.

Peasants owning land in the chaurs look up to the state for investments for draining out the water so that the extremely fertile soil of the chaurs can be used for planting Rabi crops and pulses. In some chaurs, with the collective efforts of village communities, some success in making arrangements for draining out water has been achieved. This has brought a perceptible improvement in the economic status of the peasants. So far, the state has been callous. In the late 1980s, the then MLA of Paroo, Mrs Usha Singh (of Jaintpur Estate, who was later elected MP from Vaishali in 1989 and became a deputy minister in the VP Singh cabinet, 1989-90) had raised the issue in the Bihar assembly, to no avail. In 1989-90, Nitish Kumar was Union minister of state for agriculture. He talked about the matter, but nothing substantial emerged. The current minister, Radha Mohan Singh, who