Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM or just MIM) is threatening to throw a spanner in the works of the Grand Alliance led by Nitish Kumar.Owaisi announced last week that his party would contest 25 assembly seats in the Seemanchal region, which has a significant Muslim population. The announcement has worried the Janata Dal United (JD(U)) and its allies – Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and the Congress – since they were counting on the consolidated Muslim vote.The extent of their apprehension is clear from a comment by JD(U) spokesperson KC Tyagi.Sharad Yadav has been in talks with NCP chief Sharad Pawar to save the alliance. As for Owaisi, I will not react until he officially announces his party’s candidates. But voters should be wary of BJP agents.– KC Tyagi to the Indian ExpressDoes Nitish’s alliance really need to worry about Owaisi? The figures from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections don’t present a simple picture.Seemanchal: In and Out of the BJP’s GraspA large part of Seemanchal falls within four Lok Sabha constituencies with the largest percentage of Muslims in Bihar. While Kishanganj has a 70% Muslim population, Arara, Purnia and Kathiar have about 40% Muslims each.In the 2010 Assembly polls, the BJP was the single largest party in the region. Of the 23 Vidhan Sabha seats that fall in the region, the BJP won in 13. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections told a very different story. The BJP had its greatest ever success in Bihar, winning 32 out of 40 seats. However, in the Seemanchal region, the BJP lost all four seats.What changed? There is of course the fact that projecting vote-shares and seats from a state election to a general election is not always a prudent move. But there are also political reasons, alignments and re-alignments that play a role. Polarisation, Consolidation and the Owaisi FactorIn the 2009 general election, the BJP had won three out of the four seats in Seemanchal. In 2014, they lost all four to different parties. The one silver lining for the BJP in the region was that it was the runner-up in all the constituencies.Why did the party fare so badly in Seemanchal in 2014, even as it was sweeping the rest of the state? Firstly, it was contesting an area with a heavy Muslim population, traditionally against the BJP. Secondly, it was no longer allied with the JD(U), which had augmented the BJP’s upper caste base with its supporters.The JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance in the upcoming Assembly elections does pose a formidable challenge to the BJP in the region. Now, with Owaisi in the mix, the BJP may have a chance. If Owaisi can divide the significant Muslim vote in the region, the BJP may scrape through in our ‘first past the post’ system.Politically, Owaisi is a polarising figure. If the election becomes about religion, rather than caste, the BJP is likely to gain from a consolidated ‘Hindu vote’.Let’s Not Overestimate Owaisi’s InfluenceAsaduddin Owaisi has been a prolific figure, especially since the BJP and Narendra Modi came to power. Traditionally, parties based exclusively on a religious identity have not had much success with Muslim voters in India. And while Owaisi has recently been active beyond his Hyderabad stronghold, winning two seats in the Maharashtra Assembly and having some success in state’s Municipal polls as well, it is premature to believe he can have a significant impact on the Bihar polls.There is also no reason to believe that voters who have been loyal to the RJD and Congress in the past, who have established local leaders, will move to a new comer like Owaisi.In fact parties like the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party (LJP), are more likely to hurt Nitish’s chances than Owaisi’s MIM.Of course, the BJP can still hope that Owaisi creates enough noise to consolidate the Hindu vote and fracture the minority vote.(Graphs by Aaqib Raza Khan) We'll get through this! Meanwhile, here's all you need to know about the Coronavirus outbreak to keep yourself safe, informed, and updated. The Quint is now available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, Click here to join.