Patna: Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his much-awaited entry into the Bihar assembly election campaign with rallies at Sasaram, Gaya and Bhagalpur Friday, but they resulted in some uneasy moments for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who played second fiddle in the two meetings they addressed together.
In his speeches, Modi referred to the dilution of Article 370 and doing away with Triple Talaq — issues that Nitish’s JD(U) had opposed. Modi stressed that the Centre did not back out despite opposition from political opponents.
The prime minister also referred to the 20-month Grand Alliance government led by Nitish Kumar before he crossed over to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
“I do not have anything to say about those 20 months. Nitishji must have realised that it is not possible to develop Bihar with them (RJD and Congress),” he said.
In his three rallies Friday, PM Modi had five clear messages for the Bihar electorate.
Nitish is NDA CM candidate
The first message was that Nitish will be the NDA CM candidate.
“We have only been able to work together for three years. During these three years, the projects of the Centre have been implemented faster,” the PM stressed, before claiming that Nitish’s efforts for development had hit a roadblock when the Congress-led UPA government was in power at the centre.
“You are seeing a process taking shape for Bihar to make development faster,” Modi said. He also spoke of the ‘Jungle Raj’ in Bihar.
“There was a phase in Bihar when people arriving by train during night time used to wait for the morning to go home, when one did not buy new cars because it would expose their wealth to one particular party, and when life ended at sunset,” he said.
Chirag not denounced
The prime minister probably disappointed Nitish Kumar when he failed to mention Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Chirag Paswan who, despite being a part of the NDA, has fielded candidates against the JD(U) and the Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM).
Modi began his speech in Sasaram, the native place of the Paswans, by paying homage to his “friend”, the late union minister Ram Vilas Paswan. He refused to utter a word against the rebellion by Chirag.
The prime minister, however, did say that “Bihar voters are not confused by the hype created by a section over one leader” but left everybody guessing if he meant Chirag Paswan or Tejashwi Yadav.
JD(U) leaders privately accuse the BJP of propping up Chirag, who has been claiming that a BJP-LJP combine will form the government. PM Modi said nothing to dispel this perception.
PM Modi promised to implement the Swamitva scheme after the NDA returns to power. The Swamitva Yojana consists of mapping land and giving legal documents to owners. It has been started as a pilot project in six states.
With this, Modi has reopened a lid closed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. After coming to power in 2005, Nitish had constituted a land reforms commission under D. Bandhopadhyay, a former IAS officer who is credited with bringing land reforms in West Bengal.
The commission just fell short of ‘land to tillers’ but it did recommend legal rights to the land tenants. Across party lines, the opposition was so strong that Nitish had to put the report in cold storage — an overwhelming number of land tenants are either Dalits or extremely backward castes.
With his Swamitva promise, PM Modi has reopened the issue because it is largely perceived as a ‘pro-poor step’ for EBCs and Dalits.
Caste makes an appearance
PM Modi in all his three rallies underlined what he said was the importance his government was according to underprivileged castes.
“My government has renewed the reservation for backward, extremely backward castes, Dalits and adivasis for another 10 years,” he said.
He even took potshots at rivals such as the RJD who claim to represent these sections. “They did it at the cost of the downtrodden castes. The downtrodden classes did not get anything during their tenure,” he said.
In the 2015 assembly polls, when BJP was facing the combined force of Nitish and Lalu, PM Modi flaunted his backward caste origins.
‘Beware of Naxals’
PM Modi raised the issue of Naxals in Gaya, which was one of the worst Maoist-hit districts during the Lalu-Rabri era.
“If you vote for them, Naxalism will return. They are the parties who were not only silent on Naxal violence but also supported them,” he said.
The RJD has allied with the CPI (ML), which is contesting in 19 seats in these elections. The CPI(ML) was, until 2005, clubbed with Maoists groups by the intelligence wing of the Bihar Police. The organisation was held responsible for several killings and was charged with having its own armed squads.