The stereotype of Muslim voters voting tactically and en bloc in favour of a party or a candidate chosen by the community is very much a reality in Kishanganj, the district with the largest (65 per cent) Muslim population in Bihar. In this borough of Rashtriya Janata Dal support, the chances of a Nitish Kumar wave are as slim as getting a smooth stretch of road in Bihar.
While it is still early for the night-long meeting which is usually held just before the polling day to decide the voting pattern, Maulana Alhaj Imam, a Shia cleric who is politically sought after by candidates, says that the choice of candidates is always anti-Bharatiya Janata Party, with the RJD or the Congress candidate finding favour.
"Except in the 1999 General Elections when we wanted to teach Taslimuddin a lesson and voted for Shahnawaz Hussain," he said.
While this may cheer Lalu Prasad, the rumbling beneath the surface especially among the younger lot is sending out an ambiguous message.
"Muslims in Kishanganj are divided not just in terms of desi (native to Kishanganj) and Pachhima (or those who moved in from west Bihar) but also those who remember a bloodier past and those who don't," said the Maulana.
"I still remember the year 1990 when as a young man I was travelling to Patna to hear V P Singh speak at a rally in Gandhi Maidan and the bus I was travelling in was looted near Mokama.
Soon riots broke out and it was Lalu Prasad who saved our lives. However, the younger lot feels that economically, only the Yadavs have benefited from the Muslim-Yadav combination of Lalu," he says.
Shaukat Ali, a teacher at the Insaan School in Kishanganj echoes the Maulana's sentiments. "The situation when riots used to break out very often is not the same anymore, people have also realised that every administration can control riots within a day. It is political will that matters.
And Lalu Yadav has proved this. Still, the Muslim youngsters feel cheated that they are not able to land contracts and tenders with the same ease as the Yadavs. "For us the sop is security, for the Yadavs everything else," he says.
No wonder, in Kishanganj town assembly seat the competition is between the RJD and the Lok Janshakti Party candidate," he says.
Surprisingly, most Kishanganj Muslims are not impressed by Paswan's promise of a Muslim chief minister. "Paswan's demand for a Muslim chief minister or Nitish Kumar's demand for reservations for Dalit Muslims is clearly politically motivated. They were all with Lalu Prasad during the JP (Jaiprakash Narayan) movement but have discovered that distancing themselves from their roots has only harmed them," they say.
The political awareness even in the countryside where low literacy is the norm is stunning. "Town votes don't matter. In three or four days we will be travelling to the interiors, only then will a proper picture emerge," said the Maulana.
"It is true we vote tactically. This is all we have to bargain with," he adds.