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They want Muslim votes but don’t want a Muslim face: Tariq Anwar

Nationalist Congress Party general secretary Tariq Anwar, the chief ministerial candidate of the Samajwadi Secular Front, which is pitching itself as an alternative to the other two alliances in the fray in the Bihar assembly elections. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/MintPremium
Nationalist Congress Party general secretary Tariq Anwar, the chief ministerial candidate of the Samajwadi Secular Front, which is pitching itself as an alternative to the other two alliances in the fray in the Bihar assembly elections. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

The Third Front's chief ministerial candidate in the Bihar polls and NCP general secretary, Anwar speaks about this new coalition's development plank

With less than a fortnight left for the first phase of the Bihar assembly elections, the Samajwadi Secular Front is pitching itself as an alternative to the two main alliances—the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the grand alliance between the ruling Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. The Third Front’s chief ministerial candidate and Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) general secretary, Tariq Anwar, spoke about this new coalition’s development plank. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What will be the major issues of the Samajwadi Secular Front in the Bihar elections?

Basic amenities such as roads, electricity, health and education services are missing. Whatever roads have been made fall under the Pradhan Mantri Sadak Yojna and some national highways have been repaired but no major change has happened. There was a time when Patna University was considered one of the best universities in India, but now students are moving out for higher education and Class X students were even caught cheating during exams.

Maximum migration happens in Bihar, and labourers move to places as far as Kochi. All this is happening because there aren’t enough jobs here and people are afraid of investing in Bihar as they fear for their life due to the bad law and order situation here. Our alliance will focus on development and job creation through industrialization.

You are presenting the Third Front as an alternative to the NDA-led alliance and the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance. How are you pitching this to the voters?

We want to give the people of Bihar a third option as a political alternative. There has been polarization in Bihar politics and both these alliances have been ruling Bihar for 25 years now. These people couldn’t do anything in 25 years, what will they do in the future? The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) cannot say that it didn’t get a chance to rule in Bihar as it was an equal partner in the Nitish Kumar government for the past eight years.

I agree that some cosmetic development has happened in the last 10 years, but this will not solve Bihar’s backwardness in various sectors. Just like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi, where people brought (party leader Arvind) Kejriwal to power, we want the people of Bihar to at least have an option of a third alternative. There are people who are unhappy with these two alliances. Where will they go? They will not vote at all and disassociate themselves from the elections.

Tariq Anwar, 64Anwar is a member of the Lok Sabha from Bihar’s Katihar constituency and the general secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). He was a member of the Congress party till 1999, after which he joined the NCP. This is his fifth term as Lok Sabha member and has been elected twice to the Rajya Sabha. Anwar is the chief ministerial candidate of the Samajwadi Secular Front in the Bihar assembly elections.

The list of candidates released by the other two alliances shows they are playing the caste card; then how effective is the development agenda?

I agree. Caste and family politics both play a major role in Bihar. One of the main reasons for Bihar’s backwardness is that when people vote, they first see the candidate’s caste, not their ability and capacity to deliver. I don’t think people will be able to rise above this in the near future and, as a result, our development agenda will suffer, like it is suffering now.

There is a big question mark on Nitish Kumar’s secular credentials. Over the last 17 years he was working with the BJP and out of the 10 years in which he was Bihar’s chief minister, eight years he was with the BJP. He has no ideological differences with the party; it was only a problem with Narendra Modi becoming the Prime Minister. Therefore, if tomorrow, due to any reason, Modi isn’t there, he may go back to the BJP.

Your party was the first to walk out of the grand alliance; since then you have been vocal in your criticism of its members; in hindsight, do you think joining it was a mistake?

We left the grand alliance for two reasons. First, our party was ill-treated and, second, the alliance claims Muslim voters are with them; but in the past 25 years, they haven’t given a leadership position to a single Muslim. Leave the post of chief minister, even the post of deputy chief minister has never been offered.

In my case also, they wanted Muslim votes but not a Muslim face. We joined the grand alliance to contain the communal forces and this still remains our agenda. We would rather stay out or sit in the opposition, but we won’t go with communal forces, particularly the BJP.

Opinion polls being conducted by various television channels show the other two alliances getting a major share of the votes. Does this bother you?

The Third Front didn’t exist till now. It is only when our candidates will start campaigning that the results will be fairer. However, even now, some polls say 17% votes will go to the other parties; so we want to enlarge that 17%. In any election, 30-40% vote is always floating—these voters are never committed till the end, and we will target these voters.

With zero seats in 2010 and three in 2005, the NCP’s performance in the previous elections has not been very impressive. Are you hopeful this time?

Last time, we fought separately. Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan were together, and the JD(U) and BJP were also allies. This has changed now. You can say in this election the North Pole and South Pole have met. Bihar is witnessing a politics of convenience; it is no longer a fight for ideology.

The BJP does not have a strong Muslim voter base and the RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance doesn’t have a popular Muslim leader. In this scenario, will your selection as the third front’s chief ministerial candidate help attract Muslim votes?

I have never indulged in communal politics but because I belong to a particular community people have some expectations. These people are also pained by the way we were ill-treated by the grand alliance and the way (Samajwadi Party leader) Mulayam Singh and I weren’t even called for seat sharing talks. Muslims also strongly feel that these alliances want their vote but not a Muslim face.

Your seat is from Katihar in the Seemanchal region, where Asadudin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is contesting 24 seats. Do you see that as a threat?

He has been misguided and I don’t think he’ll get any response from that region. A lot of people think that his entry into the elections at the last minute is sponsored to divide the secular votes. And once someone gets this image, it is difficult for them to get votes. Moreover, even though the area is Muslim dominated, in the past, only a secular party has won from there.

Allying with the AIMIM could have helped your alliance, then why miss the opportunity?

My personal stand has always been that communal forces, be it Hindu or Muslim, are dangerous. We maintain an equal distance from both.

Bihar has one of the highest population of youth in the country. How do you plan to target them?

The youth wants employment and we will provide them with that. As I said earlier, we will focus on job-creation through industrialization.

What is the third front’s stand on reviewing the reservation system?

The country still needs reservation and we are all in for it. Mohan Bhagwat’s statement reflects the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s thinking, which is the BJP’s thinking as well. They will get a political answer for this statement.

In the past you have stuck with the Congress in its bad times, then why oppose the party now?

The Congress has a big brother attitude. They take your support when they need it and abandon you when they don’t. They never consulted me and left us when they got their 40 seats. If they need to keep their allies with them, they have to take us into confidence. Congress needs to understand that it doesn’t have the same standing as before and it needs the support of like-minded parties.

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