All but one of the five MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen in Bihar on Wednesday joined the Rashtriya Janata Dal, making it the largest party in the 243-strong assembly, a development hailed by the leader of the opposition Tejashwi Yadav as “strengthening of secular forces” in the National Democratic Alliance-ruled state.
Yadav, who is now the RJD's de facto leader, took the four MLAs to the assembly in a car he himself drove, in a gesture that was rich in optics as well as symbolism.
Speaker Vijay Kumar Sinha was handed over a communication announcing the MLAs' desire to be treated as a separate group and its merger with the RJD, thereby raising its effective strength in the House to 80, three more than that of the BJP.
A beaming Yadav emerged from the Speaker's chamber, along with the four MLAs and old confidants, and left the assembly premises responding to congratulatory messages.
The MLAs who have jumped ship are Syed Ruknuddin Ahmed (Baisi), Shahnawaz Alam (Jokihat), Mohd Izhar Asfi (Kochadhaman) and Mohd Anzar Naeemi (Bahadurganj).
The party, headed by Asaduddin Owaisi, which had made a splash by winning five seats in the assembly elections of 2020, is now left with only its state president Akhtarul Iman who represents Amour.
All the five seats that the AIMIM had won fall under the Kishanganj and Araria Lok Sabha constituencies, which have the highest concentration of Muslim population in Bihar.
Notably, Jokihat MLA Shahnawaz Alam happens to be the son of late Mohd Taslimuddin, an RJD veteran and a former Union minister. Alam had made a successful election debut in a by-poll in 2018 when he contested on an RJD ticket but denial of the same in the assembly elections two years later made him quit the party.
The RJD had fielded his elder brother Sarfaraz Alam, who has been in the political wilderness since losing Araria Lok Sabha seat to the BJP in 2019 and who lost to the younger sibling by a margin of less than 10,000 votes.
At a press conference organised to officially announce the development, Tejashwi Yadav underscored that all the four MLAs “come from the most impoverished, flood-ravaged region of the state” reeling under the “apathy of a government that does not care for health, education and other types of public welfare”.
Replying to a query, he however denied that the development hinted towards a “planned operation” by the RJD to raise its stock in Bihar which it has ruled for long and where it shows signs of resurgence after a lean patch.
In the last assembly polls, the RJD had won 75 seats, emerging as the single largest party. It won another seat earlier this year when it snatched Bochahan from the NDA in a by-election.
"We want all secular forces to come together and become stronger. And RJD's role in the fight against communalism cannot be overstated. It is because of us that in Bihar the BJP has never mustered the courage to contest an election on its own", said Yadav.
"The NDA may have been able to achieve power in Bihar by unscrupulous means but look at the BJP here. It is bearing with a Chief Minister whose party is a distant third in terms of numbers", said the RJD leader, referring to the JD-U which has less than 50 MLAs.
Meanwhile, the BJP, which had been enjoying the status of the single largest party when it weaned away all three MLAs of ousted minister Mukesh Sahni's Vikassheel Insaan Party a few months ago, raising its strength to 77, testily reacted to the development.
State BJP spokesman Nikhil Anand alleged, “Owaisi may have sold his MLAs by taking money from the RJD”.