To empower Muslims, he takes on Lalu, Rudy

April 3rd, 2009 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party By Imran Khan
Patna, April 3 (IANS) Apart from tackling each other, Railway Minister Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and former central minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have to worry about another formidable candidate in their Saran constituency of Bihar: a rich Dalit Muslim named Saleem Parwez.

Parwez, a new face of Dalit Muslim politics in Bihar, is contesting as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) candidate and aims to take advantage of voter groups other than those loyal to the two heavyweights.

“I have every chance of defeating Lalu and Rudy in the elections as the social base (in Saran) comprises Dalits, Muslims, other backward classes (OBC) and upper castes - unlike Lalu’s support base that is confined to Yadavs and Rudy’s to Rajputs,” Parwez told IANS over telephone as he toured the largely rural constituency.

Unlike the two national leaders, he has ample time to reach out to a large number of voters. “I have an advantage in personally reaching the door of as many people as possible,” said Parwez, president of the All India Pasmandsa Muslim Mahaz, an influential backward and Dalit Muslim body based in Bihar.

While Lalu Prasad is seen by many as a leader popular among Muslims, Parwez’s supporters say the former Bihar chief minister has treated the community only as a ‘vote bank’ and done little for inclusion of Dalit Muslims among categories that benefit from quotas for government jobs.

That would be an important factor in Bihar, where 16 percent of its 83 million people are Muslims.

Saran goes to the polls in the first phase on April 16. The constituency comprises Saran district, whose headquarters Chapra is about 240 km from here. Among its 1,206,729 voters are about 100,000 Dalits and a similar number of Muslims.

It is one of the most backward areas of Bihar, and about 54 percent of the voters are below the poverty line (BPL).

Dalit Muslims face numerous problems, chief among them low education levels. Many of them work as skilled or non-skilled labourers or run small businesses.

Chief among their demands is treatment on a par with Hindu Dalits, so that they can get benefits of the reservation policy, including quota in government educational institutes and in government jobs.

Parwez, who is in his late 40s, is a soft-spoken businessman turned politician.

According to the affidavit he has filed with his nomination papers, his personal assets are worth around Rs.40 million. He has eight houses worth Rs.25 million in Gurgaon, New Delhi, Jaipur, Patna and Saran, cash worth Rs.3 million and substantial investments in the stock market. He also owns five cars including two SUVs.

Going by his declared assets, Parwez is richer than Lalu Prasad or Rudy.

When Parwez returned from Saudi Arabia, where he had business interests, nearly two years ago, he was reluctant to join politics but the Mahaz invited him to join the movement for political and social empowerment of marginalised Muslims.

“I joined politics with a dream to empower marginalised Muslims,” said Perwez, who speaks Urdu, Hindi, English and Arabic with ease.

Though his followers say his down-to-earth approach is making him popular with people, it remains to be seen if he will be able to beat the two national leaders.

Lalu Prasad had emerged victorious from the constituency - known as Chapra prior to delimitation - in 1977, 1989 and 2004.

Rudy, who served as minister of state for commerce and industry in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, won from there in 1996. He lost in 1998 but romped home again in 1999.

The two slalwarts are yet to comment on their new rival.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

–Indo-Asian News service

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