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Ghost of 1989 riots returns to Bhagalpur
Sanjay Kumar Sinha in Bhagalpur | November 04, 2006 10:30 IST
Eager to preserve its Muslim-Yadav support base, the RJD is making a determined effort to invoke the memories of post-Godhra Gujarat riots while the state's ruling BJP and Janata Dal (United) are trying to defuse the 'Godhra bomb' by highlighting the clean image of Hussain and efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of Bhagalpur riots spared by the RJD regime by appointing a judicial commission to review the cases.
A soft spoken and affable Hussain is crossing swords with RJD's Shakuni Chaudhary and Congress-Lok Janshakti Party-Communist Party of India-backed CPI-M nominee Subodh Roy in a field of 13.
With the Centre's ruling United Progressive Alliance and their Left allies sharply divided, and a section of Muslims throwing their weight behind him, Hussain appears to have an edge over his rivals.
The battle for Bhagalpur has once again exposed the fragile unity among the UPA partners and their Left allies. Angry over Lalu fielding his candidate, LJP, state Congress and CPI have come out openly against the RJD candidate and in support of CPI-M's Subodh Roy who had finished second in the last parliamentary polls behind Sushil Kumar Modi whose resignation on becoming deputy chief minister necessitated the bypoll.
Subodh Roy accused the RJD boss of 'treachery' and said the election would isolate him within UPA. Hussain has made it a point to try and convince the minority voters that he was among the first to visit strife-torn Gujarat after the Godhra train inferno.
"I was among the first to reach Gujarat to wipe tears of the victims while Lalu and Shakuni were enjoying sound sleep in Patna after a sumptuous meal of fish curry," he says in his election meetings reacting to Lalu's charge that he had no moral right to seek Muslim votes as he had not resigned from the Vajpayee ministry to protest Gujarat communal riots.
"I do not see much of a challenge from rivals. I am seeking votes on the strength of the development work done by the NDA government," Hussain told PTI. RJD's Shakuni Chaudhary, who was a senior minister in both Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi's governments, claimed the 'NDA is living in a fool's paradise. The masses are still with Lalu Prasad.'
Though all the parties are unequivocal in their commitment to development in Bihar, where caste and religion are important determinants of the elector's choice, what is heartening for Hussain and the BJP is the inclination of a sizeable section of Muslim voters, who account for about 20 per cent of the little over 14 lakh electorate, towards them.
Another factor that should go in favour of BJP candidate is that five of the six assembly segments that constitute Bhagalpur parliamentary constituency are held by NDA legislators (four of JD-U and one BJP). Many a muslim, particularly the youth, are unwilling to accept post-Godhra riots as an electoral issue in Bhagalpur.
"Vikas (development) is our prime concern. I will vote for the party, which is committed too development," said Mohammad Mamul, a resident of Tatarpur, which bore the brunt of the 1989 communal riots.
"Despite his (Shahnawaz) party affiliation, I am impressed by his clean image and will vote for him," said Mohammad Asauddin of Kabirpur.
Maulana Munim Azam, the chief qazi of Bhagalpur, said: "The BJP cannot be trusted. All Muslims, irrespective of age, will ultimately cast their votes in favour of RJD."
Besides relying on its popularity among Yadavs and Muslims, the RJD is expecting to get a large portion of nearly one lakh Kushwaha vote, a caste to which its candidate Shakuni Chaudhary belongs and which has hitherto solidly backed NDA.
"Shakuni Chaudhary is not a new face for Kushwaha Samaj, which knows his track record of enriching his own family than doing any genuine welfare work for the fellow castemen," JD(U) principal general secretary Upendra Kushwaha said.
Subodh Roy, who had won the seat in 2000 and had stood second last time, is trying to capitalise on his being a local and brands both Shahnawaz and Shakuni as 'carpetbaggers.' Hussain is also facing some trouble from independent candidate Pradeep Joshi backed by Bhartiya Janshakti Party of Uma Bharti, VHP and Shiv Sena.
Joshi, who successfully contested Dehri assembly seat in Rohtas district despite being denied ticket by the BJP, alleged the saffron party has 'lost trust' of the Hindus and charged the Nitish Kumar government with appeasing the Muslims and neglecting Hindus.
Facing the first election after 11 months when the party came to power as part of a coalition government in Bihar, the BJP is leaving nothing to chance. While state BJP president Radha Mohan Singh is camping at Bhagalpur ever since Shahnawaz filed nomination, Sushil Kumar Modi, urban development minister and local legislator Ashwini Choubey and an array of party legislators and workers from all over the state have thronged here to ensure victory of their candidate.
That the stakes for both NDA and RJD are very high in Bhagalpur can be gauged from the fact that both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad set aside three days from their busy schedule to address election meetings.