Former Kishanganj MP and Bihar Minister Shahnawaz Hussain was among the BJP leaders who addressed Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s rally in Purnia on Friday. It was the first major BJP event in the state after the fall of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.
Hussain talks to The Indian Express on The Shah’s two-day visit to the Seemanchal region of the state, of which Purnia is a part, the opposition’s allegations that the BJP is trying to polarize the situation by making claims of “infiltration” along the border, the situation of the public order and his party’s strategy to counter the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) social combination of the Janata Dal (Uni), or JD (U), and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
What is the message of Amit Shah’s Seemanchal trip?
We use the term “Seemavarti (border)” districts for Purnia, Kishanganj, Araria and Katihar. They share the border with Nepal or Bangladesh. After the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) rejoined the JD(U) recently, there was a feeling of fear. Shah’s visit instilled a sense of faith and security as he prioritized people’s safety concerns due to illegal activities along the border. Shah’s visit to the ‘Seemant (border)’ region is also significant as it is still an overlooked region compared to other parts of Bihar. The development process that started during the tenure of Atal Behari Vajpayee as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2004 somehow lost momentum under the UPA (Congress) regime. The Narendra Modi government has once again brought the region back into focus with development projects. Amit Shah spoke at length about development projects during his rally in Purnia.
Can you elaborate on the fear factor?
I’m talking about the anti-national activities along the border. Central intelligence and investigation agencies have reported some terrorist modules in recent years. The Union Home Secretary reassured the population about border security. We gave importance to a less developed region.
How do you react to the Grand Alliance allegations that the BJP is playing polarizing politics through the Seemanchal message?
The four border districts are known to have a large Muslim population. As these districts share the border with Bangladesh and Nepal, they are under surveillance 24 hours a day. Whether it’s infiltrations, drug trafficking or issuing counterfeit money, it’s reported from the border areas… Amit Shah came here to talk about security. We cannot fall into the trap of opposition and talk about polarization. They even spread rumors that the Center was trying to turn the area into Union territory. Rather, it is the opposition that is trying to engage in a politics of polarization. They believe these areas are their strongest areas. So we decided to challenge them from this very region and expose their caste and religion politics.
Several of your colleagues have raised infiltration issues in Seemanchal. How big is the problem?
As it is an open border, infiltrations are often reported. Even the UPA government has acknowledged that infiltration from Bangladesh into Bihar is a matter of grave concern. But I wonder why the UPA government did nothing to verify this. It was only under the NDA governments that we introduced chain-link fences at borders and also introduced Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). We have built several roads in Bihar and UP along the borders.
The BJP also spoke of the higher growth rate of the Muslim population.
The strong growth of the Muslim population is due to the backwardness of the region and the lack of awareness among the population. It is certainly a matter of concern and that is why we have insisted on development. If some of our leaders have raised it, no one should object. We cite government data that indicates the region has recorded a growth rate of 10-15% compared to a national growth rate of 4.5% among Muslims.
What about the growing number of madrasas in the region?
We have nothing against madrasas if they are up to standard. Only foreign funding concerns us. There has been a glut of madrasas along the Indo-Nepal border. We must curb any future construction with the help of foreign funding.
Amit Shah talked about focusing on the pits. How will this help against the strong social combination of the Mahagathbandan?
Amit Shah has now proven the success of his electoral strategy in the UP, the North East and elsewhere. What he wants to get across with the message about the emphasis on voting booths is that we should give parity to our voters, regardless of their religion. People are still afraid of the presence of anti-social elements in the kiosks. We need to reassure the public. The stand-level work also helps us with micro-planning.
On the one hand, the BJP talks about development; on the other, you have leaders like Giriraj Singh. Isn’t that a two-track policy?
Rather, we follow a one-way policy. No matter what a Hussain or a Singh says, all of our leaders toe the party line in their own way. If we report concerns about terrorist threats, population growth rate and border security, it is very much in line with party policy and strategy… Regarding the development of the region, Amit Shah said talked about more than a dozen major highways, railroads, and bridge projects for the region. A large group of hotels are also going to open their hotel in Purnia soon.
Your party was with Nitish Kumar for a long time. What do you have to say about him?
Nitish Kumar must share equal credit for all the development work we have done together. He inspected the progress of an upcoming ethanol plant in Motipur, Muzaffarpur on Saturday. He should also give me credit since I was Minister of Industry and BJP as a whole… I am talking more about dil maange (heart wants more) than just comparing Bihar to the time of Lalu Prasad . There has also been a deterioration in the law and order situation since the Grand Alliance took over. There is something wrong with the RJD culture because whenever it is in government there are public order issues.
You represented Kishanganj in 1999. Why has your party not been able to win since then? Do you see a chance for the BJP in the four Seemanchal seats which have a dominant Muslim population and equally large Yadav/Kushwaha numbers?
I lost the seat to Mohammed Taslimuddin of RJD in 1998 but took the seat from him in 1999. The region saw several projects completed between 1998 and 2004. Kosi Maha Setu connected the rest of Bihar to the region of Seemant. Previously, even politicians hardly visited these areas. The East-West Corridor has given wider connectivity to the region…it is true that we have sort of lost the grip since 2004. But the RJD and JD(U) should not have the illusion that only the caste and religion policies work. The development policy is sustainable. When the SP and BSP came together for the 2017 UP polls, no one gave us a chance. But, we won the polls convincingly. Bihar has also abandoned caste politics. For the first time, a Union Home Minister is staying in the region for two days. This shows our commitment to development policy. Let the opposition make allegations. Victory or defeat will be decided by the people, not Nitish Kumar or Lalu Prasad.