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Sunday, May 29, 2022

With food and farmhouse, Nityanand Rai sets the table for a new course in Bihar BJP

Photographed milking a cow, harking back to similar images of Lalu, Union Minister Nityanand Rai positions himself as new state leader

Written by Santosh Singh | Patna |
Updated: May 4, 2022 9:12:06 am
Union Minister Nityanand Rai at his farmhouse in Hajipur in Bihar’s Vaishali district. (Express photo)

For three days starting Saturday, Union Minister Nityanand Rai hosted lunches and dinners for BJP parliamentarians and state legislators, the party’s ministers in the Nitish Kumar government and other functionaries, and senior journalists at his farmhouse by the Ganga in Hajipur in Bihar’s Vaishali district.

Though other senior leaders such as Rajya Sabha MP and former deputy CM Sushil Kumar Modi and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also host similar parties annually — Modi has been organising a chaat party every winter for some years now — Rai’s “food diplomacy”, according to insiders, is different as he is positioning himself as the party’s future leader in Bihar.

Party functionaries said the choice of his sprawling paternal farmhouse as the venue seemed deliberate, with a rustic setting created using cots and chairs. Rai guided guests around, showing them vegetables grown at the farmhouse. On the menu was a plethora of vegetarian dishes, including corn, and meat items. Donning a lungi, the Union minister from the Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) community was also seen milking a cow and getting photographed with the animal. The images harked back to similar photos of Lalu Prasad Yadav, who is a Yadav leader with appeal across Bihar.

Except Modi, Prasad, and Union minister Giriraj Singh, all senior Bihar BJP leaders attended the lunches and dinners. Among them were state BJP president Dr Sanjay Jaiwal, BJP secretary (organisation) Bhikhubhai Dalsania, and deputy CM Tarkishore Prasad. Jaiswal was heard speaking of the need to get BJP leaders to project the good work done by the Centre more frequently than before. Rai, who got photographed with his high-profile guests, said he would keep meeting the press more freely and frequently from now on but declined to discuss politics.

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The food diplomacy outreach came days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah mentioned Rai and some other senior BJP leaders in his speech at an event organised last month to honour freedom fighter Veer Kunwar Singh in Jagdishpur, Ara. Rai, who is the MoS in the home ministry, played a key role in organising the programme. In 2020, he successfully organised Shah’s rally in Vaishali to counter the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) protests.

BJP insiders said that though Rai organised the events at his farmhouse in his individual capacity, the outreach seemed to have the approval of the top brass as several second and third-rung leaders were deployed to invite people and make other arrangements. But many senior state BJP leaders are not convinced about Rai’s ability to lead the party in Bihar, with one even going on to claim, “The Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is only pan-Bihar Yadav leader.”

Another leader was sceptical about the Union minister’s efforts to project himself as a Yadav leader who can seamlessly take forward the BJP’s agenda by eroding the RJD’s base. “If the BJP thinks that it can cut away Yadav votes using Rai and still keep its core constituency of upper castes and a fair chunk of OBC, EBC (extremely backward class), and Dalit votes, it can go wrong. Upper-caste votes will disintegrate with Rai’s projection. The BJP fought against the Yadav leadership all these years. How can it can think of installing a Yadav leader as its Bihar face? It will be the failure of its social engineering,” the senior functionary added.

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