Politics

Ahead of Bihar Assembly Elections, Owaisi and Bhim Army Forge Dalit-Muslim Unity

After some success with Prakash Ambedkar’s VBA in Maharashtra, the AIMIM is trying to create a similar alliance in Bihar,

Kishanganj (Bihar): The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen or AIMIM’s national expansion plan can be summarised in the party’s four-word slogan – ‘Jai Bhim, Jai Meem’ – in which Bhim stands for Dr B.R. Ambedkar and Meem is the Urdu alphabet ‘M’, for Muslim. The idea of Dalit-Muslim unity has been  around for a long time, the only difference now is the issue of leadership. Traditionally, Muslims have followed Dalit leaders, but AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi is trying hard to reverse the equation.

After a stint and some success with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) in Maharashtra, Owaisi is trying to pull off a similar alliance in Bihar – the third state where the party has tasted victory – ahead of the upcoming assembly elections.

He addressed a gathering of more than 50,000 people in Bihar’s Kishanganj on December 29. At the rally titled ‘Sanwidhan Bachao, Desh Bachao (Save the Constitution, Save the Nation)’, Owaisi spoke at length against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, National Register of Citizens and National Population Register. It was his first visit to Bihar since his party, the AIMIM, opened its account in the state in the October assembly by-elections, wresting the prestigious Kishanganj seat from the Congress.

Supporters wearing headgear sit in a tricolour formation. Photo: Tanzil Asif

His growing influence in Seemanchal at the cost of the Congress was very much on display at the iconic Ruidhasa Ground. Just a day before, Congress leader and Urdu poet Imran Pratapgarhi addressed a gathering along with Congress MP Mohammad Jawaid Azad and MLA Tausif Alam at the same ground on the same topic – but the crowd was nowhere comparable.

Asaduddin Owaisi’s Kishanganj visit had garnered national headlines since the day former Bihar chief minister and veteran Dalit leader Jitan Ram Manjhi had announced his decision to attend the rally, signalling the formation of a Dalit-Muslim alliance ahead of the 2020 assembly elections.

Not to forget, Manjhi had congratulated the AIMIM for emerging victorious in Kishanganj and had condemned those making adverse comments. A report in News18 quoted Manjhi as saying, “The results of the by-election will pave the way for nation-wide Dalit-Muslim unity.”

Also read: After Bihar Debut, Asaduddin Owaisi and AIMIM Eye Further Expansion

That Owaisi and Manjhi were sharing the stage was sure to grab eyeballs. But the plan couldn’t see the light of day. Manjhi announced his inability to attend the rally on December 28 and said, “Hemant Soren will not be sworn in again and again, only once, on the 29th. I would have definitely gone to Kishanganj until I got an invitation from Ranchi; Hemant Soren himself spoke to me on the phone, now it seems that I should definitely go to Ranchi.”

Even though Manjhi gave Kishanganj a miss, his pictures were visible on every poster at the event. AIMIM Bihar chief Akhtarul Iman said, “Manjhi ji informed us only at 3 pm on December 28 that he was invited to Ranchi, there may have been some pressure to attend the oath ceremony. He apologised and conveyed his support to us in the fight.”

Bhim Army’s Bihar chief Manoj Kumar Bharati speaking at Owaisi’s rally in Kishanganj. Photo: Tanzil Asif

More than Manjhi’s pictures, what took the audience by surprise was the presence of Chandra Shekhar Aazad’s Bhim Army – the new face of the Dalit movement in the Hindi heartland. Bhim Army’s Bihar chief Manoj Kumar Bharati addressed the crowd in a fierce tone. Amidst applause he said:

“Bhim Army warns Ranga-Billa (referring to Modi-Shah) to be aware. I warn Manuwaadi forces. Never challenge our mind; Baba Saheb and Kalam live in our mind. Never challenge our blood; Emperor Ashoka and Tipu Sultan live in our blood. Bhim Army and Owaisi are together. Kings don’t take birth from queen’s womb; there will be many kings till there is Baba Saheb’s constitution.

“Hence, I warn the country’s ruler and administration, today it is BJP’s government, tomorrow it will be ours. And when there will be our government, there will be a reaction with double strength. Or else administration should mend their ways and don’t follow the wrong orders of Ranga \-Billa, follow the constitution.”

When asked about the presence of Bhim Army in the rally, Akhtarul Iman said, “I keep attending the meetings of Bhim Army, Dalit Sena. I have attended meetings of BAMCEF in Gaya under its leader Waman Meshram. I have old relations with Dalit movement, hence I invited them and they accepted.”

Bhim Army supporters in the crowd. Photo: Tanzil Asif

“Our leader [Owaisi] had words with him [Chandra Shekhar Aazad], we had invited him to Kishanganj, and if he was free he would have attended the rally. Our leader is in contact with them, we will do whatever we can [to get him out of jail]. Chandra Shekhar ji’s role in the current political scenario is appreciable,” added Iman, applauding Bhim Army chief Chandra Shekhar Aazad’s huge protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Delhi’s Jama Masjid.

Also Read: Kishanganj Bypoll: How the Congress Lost Its Deposit in a Former Bihar Bastion

Bihar’s Muslim-majority Seemanchal region with four districts has 24 assembly constituencies. Araria and Purnia have around 14% and 12% Dalit population respectively while Katihar and Kishanganj have 9% and 7% respectively. A Dalit partner can propel AIMIM’s chances in many of these 24 seats in the 2020 Bihar elections.

“We are not a political party, we are with them ideologically. They have our support in the fight against CAA and NRC; their people too lend support in our fights. And about 2020 elections, we will see who can defeat BJP, if Owaisi ji is the one, we will stand with them,” Bhim Army’s Bharati told The Wire over the phone.

When asked about what chances there were for Owaisi and Aazad to share a dais, Bharati confirmed, “Doors are open, we can take any decision in future.”

Tanzil Asif is a Bihar-based journalist-cum-entrepreneur and the founder of a hyper-local news organisation, Main Media. He tweets at @tnzl_.