In the final leg of his pre-Bihar election rallies on Tuesday at Bhagalpur, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to snatch away the development and good governance agenda away from his rival and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Unlike previous rallies, one of the ways Modi responded to attacks on him and his party was with a reference to history. News reports over the past few days have suggested that many leaders in the Janata Dal (United) have been upset with Nitish’s decision to forge an alliance with the Congress. The Grand Secular Alliance includes the Janata Dal (United), Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Modi took that grouse on board and went further. The prime minister called the massive Grand Secular Alliance rally on September 30 as an insult to Nitish Kumar’s ideological heroes, namely JP Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. For the uninitiated, JP was an Indian independence activist, social reformer and political leader, remembered especially for leading the mid-1970s opposition against then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for her imposition of the Emergency. Meanwhile, Ram Manohar Lohia was an activist for the Indian independence movement and a nationalist political leader. What united the two leaders was their staunch opposition to the Congress party. Referring to Nitish Kumar’s repeated invocation of JP’s name, Modi asked him: “Why were you sitting next to persons responsible for arresting JP (during the Emergency)”. Unlike previous personal attacks, which were admittedly in rather poor taste, the reference to JP and Lohia was subtle yet powerful. The second aspect, which caught the eye, was the sheer number of people, who attended the rally. According to political commentators from the region, the number of people witnessed at the rally in Bhagalpur was unprecedented, although numbers have not been forthcoming.
There is little doubt Modi continues to possess the electoral charm that endeared him to the nation last year during the general elections. Whether it translates into votes in the upcoming Bihar assembly elections is another matter altogether. In Bhagalpur, however, Modi did manage to play to the <g data-gr-id="28">caste</g> profile of the crowd. At the Airport Maidan in Bhagalpur, many of those in attendance were people from the upwardly mobile caste, besides members from a myriad of Other Backward Classes (OBCs). Prime Minister Modi himself belongs to an OBC community. Although Modi made the usual reference to development and good governance, he has clearly not lost sight of the caste calculations in Bihar. Besides Modi, only Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan was given an opportunity to address the rally. The Paswan community constitutes a significant chunk of the voting population in and around the town. However, the rest was pretty much on the lines of previous rallies held by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Suffice to say, the BJP has once again put its eggs in one basket, similar to what they’ve done in assembly elections past. Interestingly, Modi made constant references to the 25-years of misrule by Lalu-Rabri-Nitish Kumar, which included the seven-year term of the BJP-JD (U) alliance rule. During this seven-year period, a senior party leader from Modi’s party, Sushil Modi, held the post of Deputy Chief Minister.