Terror has been replaced by trust is the message that the foot soldiers of the ruling JD(U) in Bihar are being asked to spread by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, signalling that the upcoming state polls would be fought on the issue of Lalu Prasad’s 15-year “misrule” and the good governance under the NDA in the successive years.
“Bhay banaam bharosa (fear versus faith),” reads the caption of a Janata Dal (United) poster circulated widely among its workers at the grassroots level as they listen to pep talks by Kumar via video-conferencing from his official residence here, flanked by trusted aides.
The Assembly election is only months away in Bihar.
“Pati patni ki sarkaar” is another catchy slogan on some other JD(U) posters, the reference obviously being to Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, known in the local political parlance as the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) “first couple”, who held the chief minister’s post between them for 15 years.
The JD(U) exercise, which will conclude on Friday, commenced on Sunday, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah kicked-off the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign in the state with a virtual rally and expressed confidence that Kumar and his deputy Sushil Kumar Modi, a saffron party veteran, will steer the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to victory in the Bihar polls.
A smaller party with relatively limited resources, the JD(U) is reaching out to its workers in a manner less flamboyant but more intimate, embodied best by the chief minister’s manner of speaking, which is more conversational than oratorical.
The daily interactions last for six hours, split up in sessions focussed on a district or a “cluster” of districts, and Kumar, the JD(U) national president, minces no words when he tells the party workers that besides touting the achievements of his government, they must also thwart the attempts of the RJD, the principal opponent, to take advantage of the incumbency factor.
“Pay special attention to those who may have just turned 18 and would be voting for the first time. They were too young when we took over in 2005 and have no idea, how things were in Bihar back then — no electricity, no law and order,” Kumar tells them.
While interacting with the workers from Siwan, the chief minister was even more specific. “There is so much energy in your district and the adjoining ones. But how much people had to suffer earlier. They must be reminded of those days,” he said.
Although Kumar took no names, the allusion was clearly to Mohammad Shahabuddin, Siwan’s multiple-term former MP and one of the most dreaded gangster-politicians of the entire Hindi heartland, who has been defanged with convictions in criminal cases that have rendered him disqualified from contesting elections, but continues to enjoy a tremendous clout in the RJD nonetheless.
The murder of former JNU Students’ Union president Chandrashekhar, allegedly by Shahabuddin’s henchmen, continues to be an emotive issue among the youngsters, a reason why Kanhaiya Kumar drew flak when he greeted Prasad by touching his feet a few years ago.
In fact, for long, posters put up at prominent points of the state capital, understandably but not admittedly by the JD(U), have been showing Prasad alongside Shahabuddin and Raj Vallabh Yadav, a former MLA from Nawada, who has been convicted for the rape of a minor.
The intent is obviously to highlight the taint on the party supremo himself, who is serving sentences in fodder scam cases, besides the sordid backgrounds of a large number of people associated with the RJD.
The opposition party has hedged its bets on Prasad’s younger son Tejashwi Yadav, who had served as Kumar’s deputy for less than two years, when the JD(U) and the RJD shared power in what was one of the most dramatic, but electorally successful political realignments in the country’s history.
With Kumar back in the NDA and Prasad left sore over loss of power, the arch rivals are bound to cross swords once again.
Both the JD(U) and its ally BJP seem to understand well that the shadow cast by Prasad, once considered invincible, is the glue that will hold them together, a reason why Shah too spent a significant part of his speech highlighting the lawlessness and economic stagnation that have come to be associated with the period when the RJD supremo was at the helm.
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