Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar chose to play April Fool with the Hindus and Muslims of Bihar, but rather unexpectedly ended up as a loser in this tricky game. He was outplayed by a man, who is not a politician from Bihar but a social reformer from far away. He is none else but Swami Agnivesh, who was in Patna on the first day of this month to attend the state convention of Jamiat-ul-Ulema.
Incidentally, this was the day the Right to Education was declared a fundamental right in the country but Bihar welcomed it with a bandh (shut-down). Ironically, it was not to demand any new temple of learning, but against the opening of one such centre of excellence in the state. Those who took to the streets were not the opposition activists, but the goons of the ruling conglomeration of Bihar. They stopped trains and buses and at places bashed up those who were on way to Patna to take part in the Jamiat-ul-Ulema’s meet, which was planned many months earlier. The purpose was to instigate retaliatory violence.
Though Maulana Mahmood Madani of Jamiat, Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan of RJD and LJP respectively addressed the convention, it was Swami Agnivesh, who chose to take the bull by its horns; this notwithstanding the fact that he has no score to settle with Nitish.
He not only denounced Bihar chief minister’s policy to spread the menace of alcoholism in each and every village of the state to earn excise tax, but blasted him for pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other by making an issue of a non-issue – establishment of a branch of Aligarh Muslim University. Hitting Nitish directly, he asked as to what type of government he is running. “Nitish claims that he was giving land for the AMU while the party with which he is running the government is taking to the streets and beating up people to oppose the move.” At one point of time in his speech he even dubbed the Nitish Kumar government as nikammi (inefficient) and called for its overthrow.
What prompted the Swami to launch this broadside, in the presence of thousands of Muslims, against the chief minister with whom he had no quarrel? Of course the politicisation of the issue of AMU centre in Bihar.
Ever since the AMU floated the proposal to set up its five branches in different parts of the country late in 2008, Nitish Kumar has been playing a very nasty game. Just before the last year parliamentary election, he announced that he would not be giving land to Katihar district of Bihar, as decided by the Centre and AMU, but in neighbouring Kishanganj district. That was the high time of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) movement against the so-called Bangladeshi infiltrators in Kishanganj and neighbouring Malda, West Dinajpur and Cooch Behar districts of West Bengal. The ABVP is the students’ wing of the BJP, which is a partner in Bihar’s ruling NDA. Several top RSS leaders attended the anti-Bangladeshi campaign in November-December 2008 in that region of Bihar and West Bengal.
Though Nitish argued that his government would give land in Kishanganj as it is educationally more backward, the real motive was to give the Sangh Parivar an issue to intensify its stir. He also wanted to drive a wedge between Muslim leaders of Katihar and Kishanganj – former MP and NCP leader Tariq Anwar, now Congress MP of Kishanganj, Maulana Asrar-ul-Haque and former RJD MP and Union Minister, Taslimuddin.
Whether a central university is established in Katihar or in neighbouring Kishanganj does not matter much for the students, who go for higher education to places as far away as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc., but the Janata Dal United-BJP combine had some other sinister design.
Nitish, with the help of Press, especially the Urdu newspapers, wanted to show to the world that in fact he is opening the branch of the AMU in Bihar, when the truth is that he was nowhere in the picture, when the decision was taken. It was in fact a central government initiative and the then minister of state for human resources development, M A A Fatmi, who played a pivotal role. Four-time MP from Katihar, Tariq Anwar, also lobbied for this town and everyone agreed because it has huge Muslim population and had requisite infrastructure. It has a full-fledged medical college hospital and is the divisional headquarters of the railways. All the trains, including Rajdhani, stop in Katihar.
However, when Muslims of Katihar and all those who matter, after initial opposition, reconciled to the idea of AMU branch in Kishanganj, the ruling NDA played another card. As Nitish wants to emerge as the champion of Muslims, he at the same time hinted the BJP to consolidate its own vote bank as there was ample opportunity for it. The ABVP, which was silent over the issue of the AMU, struck at the right moment. On March 29 it decided to hold a rally outside Bihar assembly – which was in session – against the establishment of the AMU branch. Everything passed off peacefully. But the purpose was not that. The ABVP activists deliberately tried to break the iron barriers and enter the assembly. This prompted the police to use lathis.
It was an all stage-managed drama and the issue was immediately raised in the state assembly and legislative council. The BJP’s national spokesman, Tarun Vijay, went on to question the establishment of AMU branch in Kishanganj. The ABVP gave a call to intensify the stir and announced Bihar bandh on April 1 in protest against this so-called lathi-charge.
All this took place at the height of the preparation for Jamiat-ul-Ulema’s state convention. The chief minister was fully aware of this big show of Jamiat but he never asked the ABVP or the BJP to call off their stir. What is strange is the role of Urdu Press in Bihar. Like the mainstream newspapers, it chose to write that Nitish Kumar is opening AMU branch in Bihar, as if opening a central university is now the task of the state government. Through these paid-news items, the state government wanted to create an impression among Muslims that it is doing so much for them. At the same time the purpose was to deprive the RJD, NCP and Congress leaders of their credit for bringing AMU branch in Bihar.
Till April 1 things went on as per planned. While the BJP, through ABVP, was polarising Hindus, the chief minister himself was busy doing so for the Muslims. But then the arrival of Swami Agnivesh in the convention threw cold water in Janata Dal United-Bharatiya Janata Party plan. Though Lalu and Ram Vilas, along with some Muslims, had repeatedly been criticising Nitish for playing dirty politics, the media was blacking out the news. But when a non-politician like Swami Agnivesh chose to openly expose Nitish Kumar and that too in the presence of thousands of people, the media was bound to give some coverage.
Since Nitish came under attack from totally unexpected quarter – a social reformer who had no vested interest – there was no card left for him. He ended up befooling himself on April 1.