By Ajay Singh
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi concluded his series of pre-election rallies in Bihar at Bhagalpur on Tuesday, he seemed determined to push the election agenda on two issues — development and good governance. Ironically, these two issues were once the calling card of incumbent chief minister Nitish Kumar.
Modi responded to the bitter attack of the Grand Secular Alliance, where Nitish Kumar shared the dais with Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sonia Gandhi for the first time, by changing his line of attack. Unlike his previous rallies where he launched scathing personal attacks on Nitish Kumar about his DNA etc., he toned down the rhetoric, but was unsparing in his criticism of the latter his his grand alliance. Modi’s calculated gamble was to snatch the development agenda, Nitish Kumar’s most potent card, from him and paint him as an ideological opportunist because of the company he keeps.
Knowing fully well that a section of socialist leaders within JD (U) has been greatly upset over Kumar’s alliance with Sonia Gandhi, Modi particularly referred to the September 30 Patna rally and called it an insult to socialist leaders Ram Manohar Lohia and Jay Prakash Narayan who defined and personified anti-Congressim as a political credo. Referring to Nitish Kumar’s repeated invocation of Jay Prakash’s name, Modi asked him: “Why were you sitting next to persons responsible for arresting JP.” That must have hurt Nitish Kumar badly.
The grand coalition, he said, had no vision except to attack Modi.
If one goes by the profile of the crowd, Modi’s rally was dominated by youth who were responsive to his calls throughout. The attendance at the rally was equally strong as the coalition’s Patna rally, if not better. The venue, Airport Maidan in Bhagalpur, is four times the size of Gandhi Maidan in Patna. The crowd was certainly different. In Bhagalpur, people who attended the rally belonged to an upward mobile social strata that included even OBCs. This was the precise reason why the crowd in Bhagalpur was very responsive.
It will be naive to arrive at any conclusions going by the turnout of rallies in Bihar, the most densely populated state after Kerala. Yet Modi’s rallies in Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Saharsa and Bhagalpur gave a clear indication that he retains his electoral charm in Bihar. What is particularly interesting is the fact that he has been focussing on his development and governance agenda without losing sight of the relevance of caste in Bihar. This was evident as only Ram Vilas Paswan was given the privilege of speaking before Modi. Paswans constitute a significant chunk of the electorate in and around Bhagalpur.