Kishanganj (Bihar),India: Setting up of an Aligarh Muslim University centre has been a major issue in the national election in Muslim-majority Kishanganj Lok Sabha constituency, one of the most backward pockets of Bihar, with many political parties claiming credit for the institution.
After Congress president Sonia Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the AMU centre in January, party candidate and sitting member Ashrarul Haque is seeking votes in the centre's name, claiming it to be a big achievement.
Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Dilip Jaiswal is also trying to woo Muslim voters by criticising Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for wrongly projecting the BJP as opposing the AMU centre.
"Setting up of the AMU is a big issue in this poll, but the Congress has been taking full credit for it," Tufail Alam, a school teacher in his early 30s, told IANS.
Tahir Ali, a small-time trader in his mid-50s, said the AMU centre has given new hope to the people, particularly the poor, that it will help facilitate education of their children.
The issue has also forced the BJP to clarify that it was not against the centre.
"The BJP has never opposed the AMU centre. Even party president Rajnath Singh favoured it in the national council meeting. It has been falsely propagated to paint us in bad colour," Dilip Jaiswal told IANS.
Retired government official Afroz Alam said the Congress was playing the AMU card to counter the BJP's Modi factor.
"For the Congress, the AMU is a secular issue as it is connected to education and development of Kishanganj," he said.
The other issues here are poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and illiteracy. The poor socio-economic condition has forced large-scale migration from Kishanganj.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi spoke at an election meeting here how party MP Ashrarul worked hard for the AMU centre.
When Ashraul pitched for a medical college and hospital like the AIIMS in Kishanganj, Rahul Gandhi promised to fulfill this demand also.
Health care facilities in Kishanganj are poor, and patients are forced to go to nearby Silliguri or Malda in West Bengal for treatment.
Nitish Kumar has also taken credit for the AMU centre and never misses an opportunity to remind people that it was his government that provided 224 acres of land free of cost for the centre.
He said the UPA had proposed an AMU centre in Katihar, but "It was my government that pressurised the central government to shift it to Kishanganj".
Meanwhile, Janata Dal-United candidate Aktarul Iman, who has decided not to contest the polls, said he wanted to minimise the chances of a split in secular votes and to ensure the defeat of the BJP in Kishanganj that votes April 24.
"My presence would have divided Muslim votes and thus helped the BJP," said Akhtarul, who resigned as a Rashtriya Janata Dal legislator and joined the JD-U.
Ashrarul asked IANS what was wrong if the Congress took credit for the AMU centre.
"I have fulfilled my promise to the people and am seeking their support. I am not playing any dirty politics at all," he said.
RJD leader and former union minister Mohammad Taslimuddin is also taking credit for the AMU centre. Taslimuddin, who has represented Kishanganj in parliament in the past, is now contesting for the neighbouring Araria seat.
Muslims make up around 67 percent of the voters in Kishanganj, about 400 km from Patna. The constituency borders West Bengal in the east and Nepal in the north.
Kishanganj has some of the worst development statistics in Bihar. While the women illiteracy rate is as high as 84 percent, around 60 percent of the population is below poverty line.
By Imran Khan