Vote-katwa or vote-cutter is a very well-known term in Bihar politics and outside Bihar too. It basically refers to candidates who eats into the assumed vote bank or support base of another candidate, thus weakening him or her.
Both Asaduddin Owaisi and Chirag Paswan are being termed such by supporters of MGB (Mahagathbandhan of RJD, Congress, and Left parties) and NDA (BJP, JD(U) and allies) respectively. Owaisi is being especially targeted, because those pointing fingers at him include ‘independent’ journalists.
First of all, one has to understand who is a real vote-katwa. The ideal or genuine vote-katwa is never in the fray for winning at all. He knows it right from the beginning that he is just there to weaken someone else and he has no chance of scoring a victory, though obviously he doesn’t say so openly. On many occasions, they are propped and paid to be a vote-katwa, while on other occasions, they could be acting out of their own volition.
They could be propped up in advance as ‘true’ representative of a support base, or could be a last minute angry or dissident leader deciding to fight elections, and in some cases, they could be candidates with strikingly similar names to confuse a few voters – yes, the last types do exist. Just go through ECI websites and check candidate lists of some constituencies randomly, and there are high chances you can spot such candidates.
Now let’s see if Owaisi and Paswan, rather their respective parties AIMIM and LJP, really qualify to be slotted into such categories. The last one obviously is ruled out as they clearly were not putting up candidates with similar names. The main criterion to declare them as vote-katwa or not is to understand if they had gone into the battle fully knowing that they will not win.
One thing common between Owaisi and Paswan is that both of them didn’t put up candidates in all constituencies, and so they clearly knew that they are not going to win the assembly elections of their own. However, that doesn’t in itself make one a vote-katwa, because by that standard, every small party or independent candidates are vote-katwas.
One will have to see that in the regions and constituencies selected by them, did they get into the battle fully knowing that they had no chance of winning, or they gave their best fight to try to win in those areas. Also, the reasons and motivations behind selecting the constituencies – whether because they were strong in those pockets or because they wanted to weaken someone there – also become relevant.
On this criterion, Paswan appears a vote-katwa of sort because he deliberately chose constituencies where JD(U) was fighting while leaving most of the seats contested by BJP unchallenged. This hints at a mindset that the primary motive was not to win, but to weaken the JD(U). However, the fact that he also pitted some candidates against the BJP can be argued that winnability was a factor too.
LJP ended up winning one seat of its own while it garnered votes that were more than the margin of loss of JD(U) candidates in around 25 seats. From JD(U)’s point of view, this is vote-katwa written all over it. Since it ended up making BJP the ‘bigger brother’ in the NDA, one can accuse Chirag as being the b-team of the BJP. So can Chirag Paswan and LJP be termed vote-katwa?
Not really. What LJP can argue in its favour, and they won’t be wrong, is that they never tried to hide this anti-JD(U) targeting at any point of time. Remember that a vote-katwa never publicly admits being so.
Chirag Paswan from the beginning said that his displeasure was with JD(U) and Nitish Kumar and not with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. He used to claim that he would form the government along with BJP after the results. A vote-katwa doesn’t publicly announce that his primary intention is to hurt a particular party only.
Further, Chirag inherits his politics from his father Ram Vilas Paswan who founded LJP. Senior Paswan unfortunately passed away before the elections, but he had founded LJP with an aim of being king-maker and not vote-katwa. In February 2005 Bihar assembly elections, Ram Vilas Paswan and LJP indeed ended up being the king-makers. However senior Paswan then refused to support either side, which led to another assembly elections for Bihar in October same year. Perhaps Chirag Pawan thought he could repeat the feat of February 2005, and thus he indeed was motivated to win on seats his party was contesting.
Therefore, LJP can’t really be accused of being a vote-katwa, though some allegations could stick.
Now let’s come to AIMIM i.e. Asaduddin Owaisi’s Hyderabad based party, which was supposed to be just a one-man party on a national stage for all practical purposes. But over the years the party has registered its presence way beyond Hyderabad. In Bihar assembly election 2020, his party won 5 seats and he could as well have become the king-maker if 4-5 seats of NDA were lost to MGB.
Owaisi has since announced that his party could fight the upcoming West Bengal assembly election too, and that has further led to him being a vote-katwa, apparently working in tandem with BJP to hurt ‘secular’ parties by eating away their Muslim votes. Congress and some ‘independent’ journalists never shy away from terming him the b-team of BJP. But is he?
With talk of khilafat 2.0, and “diminishing political representation of muslims”, India is almost re-living what happened exactly hundred years back. We have seen dubious individuals at Jamia Millia Islamia University, who are associated with an organisation that is considered the ‘Blood Brother’ of a banned Radical Islamic outfit, giving calls for Jihad following which violence erupted at the national capital. During the anti-CAA protests, even the Aligarh Muslim University, the founder of which gave the two-nation theory that led to the partition of the country, witnessed great violence.
In past few years we have witness an elaborate network of Islamic fundamentalist organizations whose people spread across the media and Universities attempted to foment discord within the country. The violence that shook Delhi earlier this year cannot be disassociated from this network by any means. Pro-Jinnah slogans were raised and ruling ‘secular’ dispensation watched as mute spectators because they did not wish to hurt their Muslim vote-bank.
Owaisi type of leader was bound to rise in India just as Jinnah rose during India’s independence. Owaisi is without a doubt fighting to win. He wants to establish Muslim authority and makes no effort fo shy away from it. And while he may end up hurting the electoral prospects of other parties, he is still fighting to win. That is why from for him, moving to West Bengal as next battleground is only natural progression.
To dismiss his political aspirations as ‘vote-katwa’ just because Congress, which even gave ticket to a pro-Jinnah leader to fight Bihar election, does not have monopoly over ‘Muslim votes’ for pretending to be a centrist party just reeks of entitlement.