Bihar Cabinet Now Has Shahnawaz Hussain: BJP’s Change Of Strategy?

Is Shahnawaz Hussain being rewarded for his loyalty to BJP? And is there a chance of him becoming Bihar CM in 2025?

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image of Bihar map and Shahnawaz Hussain used for representational purposes.
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The Bihar Cabinet was expanded on Tuesday, 9 February, 84 days after the swearing-in of Nitish Kumar as chief minister for another term. With the induction of the 17 new ministers, the strength of the Cabinet is now 31.

16 ministers belong to the BJP, 13 to JD (U) and one each to Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM). Five slots are still vacant.

While BJP has more ministers than JD (U), it is not in proportion to the seats won by both the parties in the state elections — 74 and 43 respectively.

BJP should have 1.7x the ministers of JD (U) going by the sheer numbers; however, it has only 1.2x.

As per reports, JD (U) was demanding a 50:50 share, but this wasn’t accepted by the BJP.

Significance Of Shahnawaz Hussain’s Induction In Nitish Cabinet

Former Union Minister, Shahnawaz Hussain has been inducted into the Cabinet and allocated the important ‘industries’ portfolio.

His induction is important as he’s become the first Muslim minister in the Nitish Kumar Cabinet. For the Hindu majoritarian BJP, this is a big deal.

All the Muslim candidates from the JD (U) had lost the Bihar elections while the BJP did not field any Muslim candidate in 2020 polls.

Jama Khan, an MLA who won on a BSP ticket, has now joined the JDU and has been inducted into the Nitish Cabinet.

Across India, the BJP has only one elected Muslim MLA, Aminul Haque Laskar, who was elected from Sonai in Assam, and who was recently elected as Deputy Speaker of the Assembly.

The only Muslim minister in any BJP state government before Bihar was in Uttar Pradesh. Mohsin Raza is a Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) in UP just like Shahnawaz is in Bihar.

In the Lok Sabha too, the BJP has no Muslim representative. There is only one Muslim face in the Modi 2.O ministry — Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi. In Modi 1.O there were three representatives from the community.

The party rarely gives tickets to Muslims — be it in general elections or state polls.In the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, it had only 8 candidates from the minority community.

Eshwarappa, former Deputy Chief Minister of Karnataka, had once infamously quipped that BJP would not give a ticket to Muslims as ‘they do not believe in the party’.

BJP is widely perceived as the ‘party of Hindus’. Only 10 percent of the minority community voted for NDA in the 2019 general elections as per India Today-Axis exit polls.

51 percent had voted for the Congress-led UPA and another 39 percent to non-aligned regional parties.

‘Motive’ Behind Shahnawaz’s Appointment In Bihar

With Shahnawaz in Nitish’s Cabinet, the BJP is preparing for a journey without Nitish or as the ‘elder brother’ in the next elections.

Both NDA and the Mahagathbandhan were tied at 38 percent vote share each in the 2020 state elections. The party needs a buffer support.

This step can be seen as a major outreach to Muslims who comprise 18 percent of the state population.

Nitish enjoyed decent support among the Pasmanda Muslims (20-25 percent), but his decision to leave the MGB and joining the BJP midway during the mandate in 2017, resulted in a loss of support.

BJP strategists believe that, with Shahnawaz in the Bihar Cabinet, this support could be regained.

If the BJP contests alone in 2025, in a triangular contest, the party would need new voting segments to win — and then this could come in handy.

AIMIM making a dent in RJD’s core vote bank of Muslims has shown that this vote bank is vulnerable.

This is an effort to woo the Muslim community and shed its anti-minority community image in the state as well as nationally.

It provides an opportunity to the BJP to expand its vote share among educated, liberal Muslims, and can even help the party in the whole of North India, especially Uttar Pradesh, which is due for elections in 2022.

BJP’s ‘Inclusive’ Politics?

Three states where elections are due in 2021 have a high minority population — more than 25 percent.

This is a symbolic gesture / signal to the voters in West Bengal, Assam and Kerala, of BJP’s new ‘inclusive’ politics. However, it would be imprudent to assume any immediate gains.

Now, interestingly, Shahnawaz does not share a good rapport with Nitish Kumar. In the 2019 general elections, Shahnawaz was denied a party ticket as his Bhagalpur seat went to the JDU quota. Shahnawaz blamed Nitish for this.

With the party lacking leaders of the stature and charisma of Nitish after Sushil Modi’s elevation to the Rajya Sabha, the BJP needed somebody in the state with national appeal and political maturity, to manage a suave Nitish.

Shahnawaz fits the RSS-BJP bill as he claims to be a ‘true Hindustani Muslim’. He doesn’t belong to any camp, and this works well for the BJP.

Is Shahnawaz Being ‘Rewarded’ for Loyalty?

Shahnawaz has been sidelined by the party for very long under the Modi-Shah regime, and this is also a way of placating him and rewarding him for his loyalty to the party.

At the age of 32, he became a Union Cabinet Minister, and now at 53, he’s a State Cabinet Minister — which can also be seen as a ‘demotion’.

Can the BJP make him the chief ministerial candidate in Bihar in 2025? A masterstroke which could boost its image nationally and build a narrative that it is the true guardian of the minority community in the country. A long shot, but let us wait and see.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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