Leaders of 18 opposition parties came together on RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s stage in Patna on Sunday to decry the “betrayal” by their former ally Nitish Kumar, and to declare war on Narendra Modi’s BJP. The massive rally at Patna’s historic Gandhi Maidan also introduced Lalu’s son Tejashwi Yadav to national politics — the former deputy chief minister of Bihar announced himself with a call to the assembled crowd to “correct the mistakes of [the Lok Sabha election of] 2014”.
Holding Lalu in an embrace onstage was Sharad Yadav, the JD(U) rebel who declared, without naming Nitish, that the man who was once his “shadow” would now be punished for breaking the mahagathbandhan in Bihar by a new grand alliance at the Centre.
Present alongside were West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Ghulam Nabi Azad and C P Joshi of the Congress, D Raja of the CPI, Babulal Marandi of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik), Hemant Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, and Jayant Choudhary of the RLD.
An audio message from Congress president Sonia Gandhi was played at the rally, and a separate message from Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi was read out. “Those who oppose can never become irrelevant,” Sonia said. Rahul called for “parties of the same ideology [to] come together”. BSP chief Mayawati and NCP chief Sharad Pawar were not present.
Lalu, who was on stage with his wife Rabri, sons Tejashwi and Tej Pratap, and daughter Misa — all of whom are being investigated by various law-enforcement agencies — focussed his attack largely on the Bihar chief minister, and said he and his family would not be cowed down by “false cases”. “How can Nitish escape responsibility when the treasury was being emptied?” Lalu asked.
Tej Pratap blew a conch to announce the war on the BJP and Nitish Kumar, and introduced his brother Tejashwi as the main “astra” (weapon) in the battle. “Does Nitish Kumar have the lungpower to blow a conch?” he asked. “BJP wale bajayenge to unka heart fail ho jayega (If BJP leaders try this, they may suffer a heart attack)”. He would not rest until he had torn the BJP apart, Tej Pratap said.
Tejashwi, now Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, told the rally: “You need to correct the mistakes of 2014… Uncle Nitish had once talked about a Sangh-mukt (RSS-free) India, and he is now back to the business of creating a Sangh-yukt (with RSS) India.”
He was a “dharmaputra” who would protect the people of Bihar, Tejashwi said. He said he would embark on a yatra to expose the “looters” of the Srijan scam. “My yatra will be known as Srijan ke durjanon ka visarjan. We fear there has been an attempt to destroy evidence in the Srijan scam… BJP has been targeting political families. We are perhaps the first families whose three generations can remember CBI raids at our premises with our nieces and nephews also being able to understand what is happening.”
Despite some 20 districts in Bihar being inundated by floodwaters, Gandhi Maidan, which can hold an estimated 7 lakh people, was almost half full for the “BJP Bhagao, Desh Bachao” rally. RJD supporters walked 5-7 km to reach the venue after vehicles were stopped on the outskirts of the city.
Mamata said she always trusted Lalu, and had come to express solidarity with him. “The BJP thinks only it should exist. A time will come when all other parties except the BJP will exist,” she said. Mamata accused the Centre of not helping out states that were not ruled by the BJP. She gave the example of Haryana where, she said, the Army and adequate forces had been deployed to control the situation in the wake of the violence unleashed by Dera Sacha Sauda followers, “but when there is a law and order problem in West Bengal, we do not get such support”.
Akhilesh said the BJP’s “victim club” had been growing — “I am also on the list of those being victimised. Let the victim club get bigger. Let us unite.” He said the BJP government in UP had been imitating his schemes. “I had thought of distributing mobile phones if my government came to power. But I hear now a mobile company will do this on behalf of the government. But I am happy that one of the most major expressways of the world was constructed by a socialist government.”
Azad said Sonia could not attend because she was not well, and Rahul was on a prescheduled official visit to Norway. He alleged Prime Minister Modi had used 24 helicopters and six aircraft during the 2015 Assembly polls, while the Grand Alliance used only four helicopters. “Yet we won and halted the BJP’s victory rath in Bihar,” he said, while reiterating the need for opposition unity.