Awkward reality of the backward Muslim castes politics
While leaving the Rashtriya Janata Dal its leader in the Bihar Legislative Council, Ghulam Ghouse, sparked off yet another debate on the caste politics among Muslims of the state. He accused the party chief, Lalu Prasad Yadav, of totally neglecting the backward Muslims while distributing the tickets. The fact is that Taslimuddin comes from this social group and thus it can not be said that none of them got the ticket.
Though Ghouse’s resignation created an impression that Lalu has deliberately ignored the backward Muslims while Nitish Kumar has taken full care of them an analysis of the history says something quite different.
As backward castes are numerically much stronger than the upper castes there is much more scope to do politics in the name of the caste. This does not mean that the upper castes do not do caste-politics. They do; but since their number is too small their leaders are not wooed in the same way by different political parties.
Take the example of Mallicks, arguably among the better off upper castes of Muslims. There are a number of Mallick organizations in Bihar. Since they are concentrated in CM Nitish Kumar’s home turf the state government included them in the list of backward castes for purely political reason. But none of the community leader could be promoted for the electoral gain as they are a small caste. Only the chairman of the State Minority Commission, Naushad Ahmad, belongs to this caste.
So be it the Congress, RJD or Janata Dal (United) all have their quota of backward caste leaders when they were in power.
In early 1990s Ghulam Sarwar, Ilyas Husain and late MP, Mumtaz Ansari were the leading light of the then Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad Yadav. There were hardly any upper caste leaders of their stature. Abdul Bari Siddiqui, M A A Fatmi, (now late) Shakeel Ahmed Khan and even for that matter Jabir Husian acquired prominence much later––most of them after the 1995 Assembly election.
Siwan strongman Shahabuddin, like Taslimuddin, has little to do with the advent of Lalu Prasad as he became Independent MLA from Ziradie way back in 1990 itself.
Besides, there were host of leaders of Seemanchal belt like Taslimuddin, Munna Mushtaque and others who all were from one backward caste or the other. The problem of the Muslims of the north-east Bihar is that most of them do not belong to prominent backward castes––like Ansari and Rayeen––therefore, they are not looked like the backward caste leaders of the community. Apart from that since they are concentrated too far away from the centre of power, that is Patna, those who indulge in the backward caste politics tend to ignore them.
But when the same RJD started growing weak, its main rival the Janata Dal (United), started wooing the backward caste Muslims as it would be electorally more beneficial than the upper caste leaders.
For example, Ali Anwar, who was a Left-leaning Hindi journalist, was made the member of the Bihar State Backward Classes Commission in 2000 by none other than the same Rabri Devi government.
In the early days of life he did not do the caste politics. But when he set up Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz he started using his caste name––thus Ali Anwar became Ali Anwar Ansari.
He may not be casteist but he knows that he is a leader of the caste which is numerically strongest among the Muslims and thus has better scope in the political market. So Nitish elevated him and made him Rajya Sabha member soon after he joined his party.
When RJD grew weak the backward Muslim leaders moved more swiftly to the JD(U) because they knew that they would be given prominent place because of the numerical superiority of the caste to which they belonged.
Ghulam Ghouse’s case is somewhat different. His uncle, Ghulwam Sarwar (the former speaker), did not indulge in the Muslim caste politics. But Sarwar’s son-in-law, Dr Ejaz Ali, formed the Backward Muslim Morcha two decades ago.
Ghulam Ghouse never approved Dr Ali’s style of politics. It was at the initiative of uncle Ghulam Sarwar that Lalu Yadav made him a member of the Bihar Legislative Council. This was so in spite of the fact that he was not essentially a politician. Subsequently he rose to become the leader of RJD in the in the Council.
In contrast Nitish, who wanted to expand his base among the Muslims, sent Dr Ejaz Ali to Rajya Sabha, but later in October 2009 suspended him from the party when he started criticizing the chief minister and the BJP publicly. He then even invited Jaswant Singh to release his book on Jinnah in Patna. Singh was then expelled from the saffron party for writing this book. (He was later taken back into the party.)
Similarly, now Ghulam Ghouse has realized that as numerically strong backward caste leader he too can influence a section of Muslims. So he also started speaking the same language and soon got the reward. He is not alone. Two Muslim RJD MLAs, who crossed over to the JD(U) recently––Akhtar-ul-Iman and Jawaid Eqbal Ansari––too come from the backward castes. Akhtar-ul-Iman is likely to be fielded from Kishanganj against the sitting Congress MP, Asrar-ul-Haque, who too like him is Surjapuri.
As neither Fatmi, nor Siddiqui or for that matter any other can be a big caste leader among Muslims they were not lured by Nitish in the name of caste. In fact the other two RJD candidates Tanvir Hasan and Anwar-ul-Haque joined the RJD in the recent years. In fact Tanvir Hasan had a long association with the Janata Dal (United) before he crossed over to the RJD.
Ironically Ghouse is contesting against the leader of RJD in the Assembly and his good friend, Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who has never indulged in the caste politics.