Bihar poll campaigning concludes: From Nitish's 'last election' remark, Modi's open letter to Rahul's MVM jibe
Around 2.35 crore people will vote in the third and final phase of the Bihar Assembly election scheduled to be held on 7 November
The curtain came down on campaigning for the third and final phase of the Bihar Assembly election on Thursday, with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar saying this was his "last election" and Prime Minister Narendra Modi making a "vikas" pitch to the electorate.
JD(U) chief Nitish, LJP chief Chirag Paswan, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Union Minister Rajnath Singh, and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath were among the star campaigners to hit the campaign trail on Thursday.
Around 2.35 crore people will vote in the third phase of the election scheduled on 7 November. Over 1,200 candidates are in the fray, including Bihar Assembly Speaker Vijay Kumar Chaudhary and state cabinet ministers Suresh Sharma and Pramod Kumar.
Campaigning for the Bihar election has been dominated by topics such as: the NDA government's management of the COVID-19 pandemic, relief action in the floods situation, the issue of unemployment, the migrant exodus after the nationwide lockdown in March, and the BJP's poll promise of free COVID-19 vaccine if it comes to power in the state.
What Nitish Kumar has said
Towards the end of a rally in Purnia on Thursday, the chief minister said, "Today is the last day (of campaigning). Polling will take place on the day after tomorrow. This is my last election."
— ANI (@ANI) November 5, 2020
Urging voters to grant him a fourth straight term in office, he added, "All's well that ends well." The 69-year-old leader has ruled the state for nearly 15 years and served as a union minister quite a few times.
While his comment fueled speculation of his retirement, NDTV quoted sources as clarifying that Nitish meant "the last meeting of this election".
On Wednesday, dissonance was apparent in the statements of the NDA allies after Nitish rubbished Adityanath's statement on the Centre's contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In a poll rally in Katihar, Adityanath said, "Modiji has found a solution to the infiltration problem in the form of the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act)".
"He has ensured that all those who have fled Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh following religious persecution feel safe here. On the other hand, those infiltrators who try to undermine the sovereignty and integrity of the country will be thrown out," Yogi had said, evoking wild applause from the crowds.
However, Nitish, who enjoys the support of a section of the state's Muslim community, dismissed the statement in rallies at Araria and Kishanganj later in the day. Both districts have a heavy concentration of the minority population, PTI reported.
Expressing displeasure on the hard-line adopted by some in the NDA coalition over illegal immigration, Nitish said, "Who are these people indulging in faltu baat (rubbish)... that people will be thrown out of the country? Ever since you have given us a chance to serve, we have taken all people along. Who is going to throw you out? Everybody belongs to this country."
The chief minister also shared the relevant clip of his speech on his official Twitter handle with the caption, "It is our dharma to take everybody along. This is our culture. Bihar will progress only when all stay together."
The JD(U), which has flip-flopped on the issue of CAA, had supported the controversial legislation in both the Houses of the Parliament, months after opposing it. The party later sought to undo the political damage by getting a resolution passed in the Bihar Assembly, declaring that there was no need for a country-wide NRC, which has so far been limited to Assam.
A major agenda of Nitish's campaign has been to tackle the anti-incumbency after three terms. However, some sections of the electorate remain unconvinced on the issues of unemployment and alcohol prohibition.
On Tuesday, stones and onions were pelted at the chief minister during a rally in the Madhubani district. "As the chief minister began speaking on unemployment, an unidentified man in the crowd started throwing stones and onions towards the stage," India Today reported.
What Narendra Modi has said
Modi, who has addressed a number of rallies in the state, on Thursday addressed the electorate in an "open letter" while also praising Nitish multiple times.
बिहार के भाइयों और बहनों के नाम मेरा पत्र... pic.twitter.com/QZ2qOlF8XD
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 5, 2020
Asserting that reforms are impossible in an environment of mismanagement and anarchy, Modi said he needs the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar to ensure that there is no paucity in the state's development and the welfare schemes continue there uninterrupted.
Modi said people have full faith that only the NDA government can work for the state's development.
"I am convinced about the development of Bihar. I need the Nitish Kumar government to ensure that there is no paucity in Bihar's development and the welfare schemes continue there uninterrupted," he said.
"I have full faith that the power of 'double engine' will take Bihar to new heights of development in this decade," Modi said.
In his four-page letter in Hindi, the prime minister also said that better infrastructure and rule of law are imperative for social and economic prosperity and only NDA can provide that in Bihar.
The prime minister also claimed that the NDA has done work in all sectors in Bihar, including electricity, water, roads, health, education, and law and order.
Modi said it was a matter of pride that the focus in Bihar polls has been on development. He said that the NDA has presented its report card to people and also shared its vision for the future.
For the last phase of the election, Modi addressed rallies in remote districts of Araria and Saharsa, exhorting the masses to retain their trust in the NDA. He asserted that the coalition headed in the state by Nitish was looking forward to meeting the "aspirations" of people in the decade to follow, having fulfilled their "needs" in the preceding one.
However, the prime minister has been accused of trying to communalise the election. While addressing a rally at Saharsa on 3 November, when phase two polls were underway, Modi reportedly called the 15 years of RJD rule "jungle raj", and said that its supporters did not want the people of Bihar to chant 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' and 'Jai Shri Ram'.
He said, "We have in front of us people who start running temperature at hearing these chants. The friends of 'jungle raj' don't want people of this land who worship 'chhathi maiya' to hail 'Bharat Mata' or chant 'Jai Shri Ram'."
"If they are uncomfortable with those who chant 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai', Bihar is also uncomfortable with them," he was quoted as saying by PTI at a rally in Saharsa.
Tehseen Poonawalla, a political analyst, filed a complaint with the Election Commission over Modi's comments, alleging that the prime minister was trying to polarise the elections on communal lines.
A total of 12 rallies were addressed by the prime minister, on whom the NDA banks for performing well in the 243 Assembly constituencies across the state.
What Tejashwi Yadav has said
The Grand Alliance's chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav set the tone of the campaign early on with his promise of creating jobs and struck a chord with voters, political commentators have said.
The RJD leader appealed to the large portion of voters who are under the age of 39 with a pitch to decrease unemployment in the state.
Unveiling the party's election manifesto amid the ripples caused by the BJP's 'free vaccine' promise, Tejwashwi said his party will provide 10 lakh jobs to the youth. After political rivals questioned the logistics of his promise, he said that 40 percent of the unspent budget will be used to fulfill the announcement.
"Though there is a lot valid criticism about how real this poll promise is, many political observers say they're happy that it at least is helping people rise above their differences of caste, which used to dominate poll discourse in the previous campaigns," News18 reported.
The report also quoted a local journalist, Kanhaiya Bhelari as saying, "I have been travelling across many constituencies for several days now. And I can tell you that caste barriers are melting at several places for the youth. Tejashwi perhaps knows the promise may not be deliverable. Even the young know that all 10 lakh jobs may not materialise. But he is at least talking about jobs and that is good enough for a lot of young people."
Tejashwi has also repeatedly said that Nitish is "tired" and "no longer able to manage the state.
Tejwashwi added that Nitish has got tired due to which "he gives up when faced with a difficult situation— be it the coronavirus pandemic or Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) outbreak in Muzaffarpur".
"It seems that he has become energyless from the kind of boring, meaningless speeches he is giving and the things he is doing. Nitish Kumar is tired now and he is no longer able to manage Bihar," Tejashwi said.
What Rahul Gandhi has said
On Wednesday, Rahul addressed rallies in Madhepura and Araria and described Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) as "Modi Voting Machine" (MVM). He also asserted that the youth of Bihar is "angry" this time and will vote out the NDA government "whether its EVM or MVM".
Wrapping up his campaign for the ongoing election in Bihar, the former Congress chief slammed Modi and Nitish over the migrant issue, handling of the coronavirus crisis, unemployment, and the new agricultural laws.
In his first rally at Madhepuras Bihariganj, from where veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav's daughter Subhashini Yadav is contesting the poll on a Congress seat, Gandhi said the Bihar chief minister had promised he would provide jobs to the youth and "change" Bihar, but he "could not deliver".
"When youths today ask Kumar during his public meetings about the jobs he had promised, he threatens them, chases them away, and gets them thrashed," Gandhi alleged.
"He (Nitish) tells them he doesn't need their votes. Fine then. The youth of Bihar will not vote for you," he said.
Raking up the EVM issue for the first time in this election, he said, "The name is not EVM (Electronic Voting Machine). The name is MVM, ie, Modi Voting Machine. E is written just like that.
"But there is anger among the youth of Bihar this time around. So whether it's EVM or MVM, the mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) is going to win," he said.
Gandhi also said that he was not scared of "whether it's MVM or Modiji ka Media".
"Truth is truth, justice is justice. I am fighting a war of ideology against this man. We are fighting against their thoughts. We will defeat their thoughts," he said.
"I won't budge an inch until I defeat Narendra Modi," he said.
The final phase of polling on Saturday will cover 78 constituencies spread across 19 north Bihar districts.
What Chirag Paswan has said
Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan on Thursday sought to rock the boat for the JD(U)-BJP alliance in Bihar, claiming that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar will stand "with hands folded and head bowed" before the RJD leadership for another shot at power despite his party's poor show in the Assembly elections.
Addressing a press conference in Patna a few hours before the campaign for the final phase of the elections came to a close, Paswan reiterated that the LJP will do well despite having gone solo in the elections and asserted, "We will help the BJP form the next government."
"You all must have seen photographs of Kumar standing in front of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at rallies, with hands folded and head bowed. So much bitterness he had for Modi just a few years back, He has sought to swallow it all because of lust for power," Paswan said.
The LJP chief, who has of late been claiming that the JD(U) boss was poised for another volte-face, said, "This lust for power is not going to leave him. He will not easily give up the chief minister's chair though his party is bound to be drubbed."
"So, what we may witness, after the results are out, is Nitish Kumar standing before Tejashwi Yadav just like he is doing now before Modi. If needs be, he will go to Ranchi and seek blessings of the party supremo Lalu Prasad with bowed head and folded hands," Paswan said.
With inputs from agencies
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