Bitter war of words
The campaign for the upcoming elections in Bihar has reached fever pitch, albeit not for the right reasons. In his rally on Sunday Prime Minister Narendra Modi, campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party, repeatedly invoked the ghost of “jungle raj”, an epithet used to describe the alleged misgovernance during the reign of Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi. Expanding this epithet further, Modi attacked the newly formed Janata Dal (United)-Rashtriya Janata Dal coalition calling it “politically opportunistic”. Prior to Modi’s anointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the JD (U) and BJP were in a coalition government, before they acrimoniously parted ways.
“If Jungle Raj part two comes, everything will be ruined,” Modi declared and went on to point out that Lalu Prasad, who was convicted in the fodder scam, had spent time in jail. “Does anyone learn good things in jail? In Jungle Raj part one; there was no experience of jail. In Jungle Raj part two, there is an experience of jail.” Moreover, Modi went on to rake up the issue of BIMARU (laggard) tag of Bihar and promised to remove it within five years of a BJP-led NDA government assuming the reins. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, however, shot back, and asked Modi to get his “facts right”, while singing paeans about Bihar’s “impressive” 10 percent growth rate during his tenure, besides the JD (U) government’s performance on social indices like education and health. Instead of debating the “development” claims on both sides of the table, the focus has increasingly shifted to the realm of personal attacks. In response to Modi’s barbs over “jungle raj”, Nitish said, “You said people come out from jail learning bad things. Please tell us about bad things your party president Amit Shah learned in jail.”
This unfortunate confrontation between the two leaders, however, follows yet another one. At his first Bihar poll rally at Muzaffarpur, Modi faulted Nitish Kumar’s DNA for the poor state of governance in the state. Such a personal attack was followed by further inanity, with Nitish shooting a letter directly to Prime Minister Modi, saying that these statements, “beyond questioning my own descent, have disrespected the lineage of our people and have denigrated the great legacy of the state”. On both occasions, political commentators have faulted Modi for giving his rivals an opportunity to first create a narrative of “Bihar DNA-versus-Gujarat DNA” and then subsequently raising BJP president Amit Shah’s incarceration for his alleged role in a fake encounter case of alleged terror operative Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausarbi in 2005.
Besides coining derogatory acronyms for each other, the issues raised during the campaign have been bereft of anything constructive. Large sections of the media, no doubt, have been complicit in creating such an inane narrative. Let’s take the example of Modi’s disparaging comments on Nitish’s DNA. It met with a predictable response on the Bihar Chief Minister’s part. The comment, Nitish argued was “an affront to the entire state and its people”, evoking his “Bihar Pride”. In fact, if one looks back into recent history, all Nitish has done is to borrow <g data-gr-id="36">strategy</g> from Modi’s own playbook. During the BJP’s assembly poll campaign for Gujarat after the horrific 2002 riots, Modi appealed to the “pride” of five crores Gujaratis. In public gatherings, Modi, would often refer to the attacks on his government as attacks on “Gujarati pride”. Parochial pride, personal attacks, caste equations (as discussed in previous editorials) and a lack of constructive discussion over “development” claims made by both sides have marked this campaign. After the devastating defeat in Delhi, one feels that the BJP has more to lose than just “pride” in the upcoming polls.