Minority conference organised by the JD-U turned out to be a poor show with few from the Muslim community attending it, exposing the falling credibility of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as a secular leader, says M I Khan.
After the Janata Dal-United’s minority conference in Patna last week turned out to be a poor show, with most chairs remaining empty, Bihar's ruling party leaders are a worried lot.
The party had organised the conference as a part of the JD-U’s strategy to send a political message that the secular image of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is intact despite his return to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance fold last year.
But the JD-U failed as few Muslim party workers, supporters and sympathisers attended the conference held on November 22 at S K Memorial Hall in Patna.
It is probably for the first time in the last two decades or more that a minority conference witnessed such a poor response.
It was a big setback and embarrassment for the Muslim leaders of JD-U, who tried hard to project that Muslims are secure under Nitish Kumar’s rule and stressed that there is no threat to Muslims despite the party joining hands with the BJP.
It was none other than Nitish Kumar who had repeatedly claimed, without naming his ally BJP, in recent months that he will not compromise with communalism and will continue to play secular politics.
At the conference, even after top leaders of JD-U highlighting the achievements of the state government vis a vis minorities -- particularly schemes meant to benefit Muslims -- and projected Nitish as a champion of the Muslim cause, a large number of chairs remained empty in the hall.
The embarrassment on the faces of organisers unmistakable.
A few Muslim JD-U leaders termed the no-show as "unexpected".
Bihar Minority Welfare Minister Khurshid Firoz Ahmad -- against whom a fatwa was issued last year for saying 'Jai Shri Ram' -- admitted that the poor turnout surprised him personally.
But senior JD-U leader R C P Singh downplayed the poor show, saying he was satisfied with the attendance.
More than a dozen Muslim leaders of the party, including former legislators and others, were present in the conference but they failed to attract people from the community despite elaborate arrangements -- including specially cooked chicken and mutton biryani.
“Muslims are not happy with Nitish Kumar after he joined hands with the BJP. Since then, cases of communal tension have increased in Bihar in an unprecedented manner and over a dozen districts witnessed riots.
"We had voted for the Grand Alliance (of the JD-U, the Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress) to defeat the BJP in 2015. But Nitish betrayed us by forming a government with the BJP, which is more powerful under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, unlike in 2013 when Nitish broke alliance with the party,” Dr Roomi, a homeopathic doctor in Gaya district said.
Nayiar Fatmi, a Muslim activist in Patna, said communal tensions have become common in Bihar after Nitish joined hands with the BJP.
"Muslims in Bihar are a soft target for the Hindutva forces as Nitish Kumar is not in a position to rule as per his wish. Now, the BJP is playing a big brother and that bothers Muslims,” Fatmi said.
The poor show at the conference has exposed Nitish’s waning credibility as a secular leader. It is said that he is no more seen as a leader who can fight the BJP’s communalism against Muslims, who constitute over 16 per cent of the total population in Bihar.
Muslims in Bihar are openly voicing their opposition to Nitish.
In the last 15 months, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat visited Bihar four times to strengthen the outfit's base.
"The RSS chief regularly visits Bihar, thanks to Nitish Kumar's silent support to Hindutva forces,” Mahtab Ansari, a retired school teacher said.
According to psephologists here, the opposition RJD and Congress are set to gain the support of Muslims, even of the sections which are traditional JD-U voters.
It was evident early this year when the RJD wrested the Jokihat assembly seat from the JD-U in a bypoll. RJD candidate Shahnawaz Alam won the seat by over 41,000 votes.
The Jokikhat seat fell vacant following the resignation of JD-U MLA Sarfaraz Alam, who joined the RJD.
Jokihat is a Muslim-dominated area, considered a stronghold of former Union minister and Shahnawaz Alam's father Mohammad Taslimuddin, who died last year, leading to a bypoll for the Araria Lok Sabha seat.
This was the second time this year when the RJD contested polls in the absence of party chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is in jail after being convicted in the fodder scam.
The RJD, under the leadership of former deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav, proved again that it has an edge over the JD-U when it comes to minority votes.