In his speech at the October 2013 “Hunkaar” rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan, the then Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had, in a veiled attack on Nitish Kumar who had just walked out of the NDA, said, “Agar aapke paas JP hai, hamaare paas BJP hai (if you have Jayaprakash Narayan, we have BJP)”. This rally had witnessed bomb blasts that killed six people.
A lot has changed in the BJP’s politics since, as the party has sought to try out a range of things as part of its social engineering exercise. The saffron party started holding events celebrating the socialist icons like Jayaprakash Narayan and Karpoori Thakur.
On the occasion of JP’s birth anniversary on October 11, Union home minister Amit Shah, the BJP’s principal strategist, is going to visit Sitab Diara, JP’s paternal village. This will be Shah’s second trip to Bihar in less than a month as he visited Purnia and Kishanganj districts in the Seemanchal region on 23-24 September to address a rally and attend party meetings among other events. These were the BJP’s first major events in Bihar following the NDA split in early August, which saw Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar again cutting his ties with the BJP and joining hands with the Mahagathbandhan to form a new government. The BJP had thus sought to challenge Nitish and his key Mahagathbandhan ally Lalu Prasad, the RJD chief, from their known Seemanchal stronghold, which has a substantial Muslim population.
Shah is now all set to throw another challenge to the two socialist leaders, Nitish and Lalu, who have been at the helm of the Bihar dispensation for 32 years. Both Nitish and Lalu entered politics through the Bihar movement, also known as the JP movement, in 1974, with the Emergency imposed in the country by the then PM Indira Gandhi in 1975. The Janata Party stormed to power in the 1977 general elections which were held after the lifting of the Emergency.
While Lalu got elected as the Lok Sabha MP in 1977, Nitish won his first Assembly poll in 1985. The duo started dominating Bihar politics since 1990, when the Congress lost power in the state.
Just as Mahatma Gandhi has remained the biggest icon for the Congress, Rammanohar Lohia, JP and Karpoori Thakur have been part of the pantheon of the socialists in the country. JP, in particular, has remained a role model for the socialists. Former Bihar CM Karpoori Thakur, who joined this pantehon after his death in 1988, became a colossus after providing reservation to OBCs and EBCs in 1978.
Although the Bihar BJP stalwarts like Kailashpati Mishra did not have much liking for Thakur, the party started commemorating his birth and death anniversaries since late 1990s.
With Nitish as its key NDA ally for many years, the BJP started co-opting a bit of the socialist ideology, balancing it with its core ideology of Hindutva and nationalism.
PM Modi recently called Nitish a “true socialist” for being averse to dynastic politics. It is a different matter that severing his ties with the BJP Nitish soon afterwards landed up in the company of a dynast Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, Lalu’s son.
As regards the power of JP’s political symbolism, much before Shah, BJP patriarch LK Advani had taken out his Chetna Yatra from the Sitab Diara village in 2011. As the village did not have electricity, Nitish, who was the CM then too, had to struggle to ensure electrification of JP’s village.
Although not much has changed in his ancestral village, JP has continued to be the biggest socialist icon. By taking the BJP’s battle to their political and ideological bases, Shah might be throwing down a gauntlet to Nitish and Lalu. He has already given clear hints that he would be visiting Bihar frequently in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. His pitch from Sitab Diara may set the tone for the BJP’s poll campaign.
When asked to comment on Shah’s upcoming visit to Sitab Diara, JD (U) national spokesperson K C Tyagi said: “Only playing up JP symbolism will not work. JP stands for social cohesion, tolerance and caste-less society. BJP has to answer if it is following JP’s ideas. Or else, visiting Sitab Diara will not go beyond a mere photo opportunity. Our leader Nitish Kumar will go to Nagaland on JP’s birth anniversary. JP was the man who worked for peace in Nagaland. Has BJP tried to achieve peace in Nagaland?”
In his reaction, RJD national spokesperson Subodh Kumar said, “The ideas of BJP and JP are poles apart. While JP stood for democratic decentralisation, BJP has been working against it. BJP has usurped power in several states. Had JP been alive today, he would have asked some tough questions of BJP leaders about democracy and constitutional norms.”
BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan, however, said: “JP symbolises the voice of dissent. During Emergency, he created a national movement against Congress. JP has left a rich legacy but it is unfortunate that his followers are sitting in the lap of Congress, the party that compromised democratic ethos and constitutional norms. Amit Shah’s visit to Sitab Diara is a welcome move and a step in the right direction. JP must be discussed and celebrated.”