Patna: The last phase of the ongoing five-phase Bihar assembly election will be held on November 5. In this phase, 57 seats are going to the poll. Among all the phases, this one involves the largest number of seats, 57, spread across the districts of Araria,
Darbhanga, Katihar, Kishanganj, Madhepura, Madhubani, Purnia, Saharsa and Supaul. So all parties have a big stake in this phase. 24 of these seats fall in the ‘Seemanchal’ region, bordering West Bengal.
The fifth phase has some special characteristics absent from the four earlier phases. The first four phases witnessed essentially a bi-polar contest between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Mahagathbandhan of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD and the Congress.
In the final phase, the contests are not exclusively bi-polar. In this region, Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik) (JAP)(L) are also in the fray and each have definite pockets of influence or potential support.
If in the first four phases, the two alliances only had to contend with each other (barring the rare independent factor here and there), they now need to contest against these parties too. These small players are important in their fiefdoms and are expected to cut into the anti-NDA vote. Though the NCP is primarily is a Maharashtra party, its senior leader from Bihar, Tariq Anwar, is one of the founding members of the party. He is currently the leader of the six-member strong NCP contingent in the Lok Sabha. He won the Katihar Lok Sabha seat after losing three successive times – in 1999, 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Katihar has 7 assembly seats and Anwar will be looking to convert his influence into a strong showing by the NCP.
In fact, Tariq Anwar has twin tasks in this assembly poll. Firstly, to perform better within the seats under the Katihar district to show his mass base. This would also allow him to continue winning his own parliamentary seat in the future. It is remarkable that in spite of 15 years of defeats, Anwar never relinquished Katihar or chose to fight from any other seat in Bihar or even in Maharashtra. Of course, he represented Maharashtra in the Rajya Sabha for many years. Secondly, Anwar is eager to teach a lesson to the Mahagathbandhan leaders who allotted only three seats to his party when the NCP sought to be part of their alliance. Designating only three seats was a big slap to Anwar by Nitish and Lalu, who later distributed one seat each to the alliance’s three constituents after the NCP leadership spurned their proposal. In the Katihar Lok Sabha poll in 2014, Tariq Anwar led in five assembly segments and was second in one.
The second important player in the final round of of the Bihar assembly election is Pappu Yadav, MP from Madhepura. Pappu Yadav is a force to reckon with in Koshi region. He has won a Lok Sabha seat five times. Even his wife, Ranjita Ranjan is two-term. He and his wife won on different tickets from the Koshi region. Pappu Yadav has his own mass base not only among the Yadavs but also among the other castes too.
The Koshi region is dominated by Yadav and Muslim voters but the Yadavs of Koshi region have never accepted Lalu as their leader. One of the main reasons for this is that they feel he promoted Yadavs from the Tirhut, Mithila and Magadh regions. Koshi was not his priority during the days he was in power. The projection of his brothers-in-law and later the anointment of his wife, Rabri Devi, as the chief minister had further alienated the Yadavs of Koshi. They voted for Lalu and the RJD only in the absence of any credible alternative. The Yadavs of the region are also sympathetic towards Pappu Yadav as Lalu clipped his wings in order to promote his own sons. For many Yadavs in Koshi, Pappu Yadav is the face of their caste. His criminal antecedents is, of course, a minus point. Unfortunately for the Mahagathbandhan, Pappu Yadav may also win some Muslim votes. In the first four phases, the Muslims had no option against the NDA other than the RJD-JDU-Congress combine but this may not be the case in the Koshi region. A section of Muslims who felt cheated by Nitish Kumar due to his alliance with the BJP during the Gujarat riots of 2002 may vote for the other parties like NCP, the JAP(L) and AIMIM.
The All India Majlees-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is a player in Seemanchal region. It’s leader, Owaisi is testing the election waters in Bihar for the first time. Sensing an opportunity to attract Muslims feeling embattled during Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial tenure, his party is heading well outside the precincts of Hyderabad or Telengana. The AIMIM contested 24 seats in the Maharashtra assembly polls earlier this year, where it won 2 seats, was runner-up in 3 and in third position in 8 constituencies. After its performance in Maharashtra, the party is expanding its base in other states to make itself more viable in national politics. The next target of the party may be West Bengal and Kerala in 2016 and Uttar Pradesh in 2017. The AIMIM is contesting a limited number of seats in Seemanchal but it may likely give a keen fight to the Mahagathbandhan at two or three places. Before the advent of the AIMIM, the Mahagathbandhan was confident of its prospects in the Seemanchal region. Though the AIMIM initially announced it would contest 25 seats in Bihar, Owaisi later scaled the number down to six, perhaps mindful of rumours that he was being encouraged to come to the state by Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.