The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen performed remarkably well on Tuesday, after the party won five crucial Muslim-dominated constituencies – Baisi, Amour, Kochadhaman, Bahadurganj and Jokihat – in the Bihar Assembly elections.

The part is expected to play a key role in the formation of the next government, having captured a sizeable number of seats in the state’s Seemanchal region, which was being seen as a stronghold of the Grand Alliance.

In Baisi, the party won by 16,373 votes, while in Amour it had secured 52,515 more votes than the next candidate. In Kochadhaman, the party candidate won by a margin of over 36,000 votes while in Bahardurganj, the party bagged the top position with 45,215 more votes. In Jokihat, the winning margin was only 7,383 votes.

Out of these, four seats were won by the Grand Alliance in 2015 Assembly polls. RJD had won Baisi and Jokihat seats, while Congress had won Bahadurganj and Amour seats. Only Kochadhaman was won by JD(U) candidate the last time.

Former Rashtriya Janata Dal MLA and state president of the party Akhtarul Iman won the Amour Assembly seat, which comes under the district of Purnia. Iman has been instrumental in establishing the AIMIM in the region. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he finished third from the Kishanganj seat and enjoyed a considerable hold over several seats in the region. In the 2015 Assembly elections, when he first contested on a AMIM ticket, he was defeated by then Maha Gathbandhan candidate Mujahid Alam in Kochadhaman.

In Kochadhaman, Mohammad Izhar Asfi defeated sitting MLA Master Mujahid Alam of the Janata Dal (United). This was Iman’s seat in 2010 when he was in RJD. In Bahadurganj, AIMIM candidate Mohammad Izhar Nayeemi beat Lakhan Lal Pandit of the Vikassheel Insan Parishad.

“It’s a very good day for our political party,” Asaduddin Owaisi told reporters, according to NDTV. “People of Bihar have voted for us and given us their blessings. We will work for the people and focus on flood-affected areas.”

However, the AIMIM chief said he felt his party must be “lacking somewhere” to have not won more seats. “We will sit together and work on the issues and win the seats next time,” Owaisi said.

In the last Assembly elections in 2015, the party had failed to open its account, when it contested on six of the 243 seats. This time around, AIMIM is contested in 20 Assembly seats as part of the Grand Democratic Secular Front that has several other parties, including Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party led by former Union minister Upendra Kushwaha.

The Congress, which failed to make any meaningful inroads in the state, accused Owaisi of undermining its vote base in the crucial Seemanchal region to help the BJP. Most of the seats AIMIM contested were in the Seemanchal, comprising of four districts – Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar– which have traditionally been a Rashtriya Janata Dal stronghold. The party contested in 14 seats out of 24 seats in the region.

Senior Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury described Owaisi as a “vote-cutter” and asked secular parties to be alert of his intentions. The term is a reference for a party whose votes may not result in a win but may impact the electoral result in favour of one candidate against another.

“BJP’s tact of using [Asaduddin] Owaisi sahab’s party in the Bihar elections has succeeded to an extent,” he told ANI. “All secular parties should be alert about vote-cutter Owaisi sahab.”

The AIMIM chief, however, dismissed allegations against him, saying that it is his party’s right to contest and increase its footprint across the state. “I am entitled to contest the elections,” he told India Today on Tuesday evening. “The Congress couldn’t even win 30 seats in Bihar, why does it not focus on its own performance?”

When asked whether his party would support the Maha Gathbandhan if it has the strength and if its support is required, Owaisi said he would like to wait for the final results to play out but ruled out the possibility of supporting the BJP. The party has previously expressed its willingness to form an alliance with the RJD.

Although Owaisi’s election rallies during the campaign drew large crowds, analysts had predicted it was unlikely that the party will emerge as a major player in state politics. “Out of the 20 assembly seats that AIMIM is contesting, only on six seats are they facing a close contest,” Tanzil Asif, a journalist based in Kishanganj had told The Wire on November 7, adding that for the rest of the seats “it will be a saving grace for the party if its candidates do not lose their deposits”.

In the conventional thinking of Bihar politics, the logic applied was that Muslim voters might be reluctant to cast their ballot in favour of an AIMIM candidate to avoid splitting the so-called “secular” vote. The Muslim vote has traditionally gone to the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar.

During his rallies, Owaisi targeted the Grand Alliance more than the incumbent NDA, accusing the RJD, Congress and others of perennially neglecting the region. The mahagathbandhan in turn labelled warned he would fracture the votebase to the benefit of the BJP.

(Corrections and clarifications: The article has been updated to include journalist Tanzil Asif’s full quote.)