On his third visit to Bihar in under a month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to have turned into a benevolent monarch. He promised to shower the state with goodies worth Rs 1.65 lakh crore — an unheard of figure in the context of development funds.
“I am offering a package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. I have to change the fate of Bihar. I need your blessings for developing the state,” said Modi in Arrah. He went on to detail how an additional Rs 40,000 crore worth of recently-started projects could be added to that. An hour later in Saharsa, he repeated the same thing, but laid emphasis on the why the people need to rid the state of an arrogant ruler (Nitish) in this election.
The political significance of the Bihar election for the BJP is apparent from the fact that Modi held rallies in Arrah and Saharsa mere hours after his return from a hectic two-day visit to the UAE. He narrated how he overruled the apprehensions of his officers to come to Bihar. Arrah, a sleepy district town near Patna, has lived on the century-and-a-half-old nostalgia of Veer Kunwar Singh's valour, and Saharsa across the Kosi river is a Yadav, who lives on hypothetical pride, according to the prime minister. “Rome Pope ka, Saharsa Gope (Yadav) ka”.
While the delivery of the pre-election bonanza will depend on the outcome of the October-November state Assembly elections, the fact remains that even the most bitter critics of Modi, like Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his alliance partner Lalu Prasad Yadav had not anticipated such a magnanimous package.
Flanked by nine union ministers from Bihar, Modi didn’t stop there.
He went on to play on Bihar’s pride by repeatedly referring to how Nitish let down state “swabhimaan” (honour) when after “an act of betrayal by dumping the BJP, he went to Delhi desperately pleading, prodding and begging” for money but settled for a package worth only Rs 12,000 crore from the erstwhile Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. Successive JD(U) governments — headed by Jitan Ram Manjhi and Nitish — could not spend that amount and around Rs 8,000 crore are still unspent.
Nitish’s government is now surviving on the support of the Congress and RJD in the state and at the Centre, the JD(U) is backing Rahul and Sonia Gandhi's every move, including the stalling of Parliament.
Modi is hitting Nitish hard where it could hurt the latter most — his arrogance and betrayal. He also challenges Nitish’s credentials as Sushashan Babu (good governance man) on two accounts: The dependence on Lalu for survival and personal arrogance. In his first rally, where a series of developmental schemes and a special package for Bihar was announced, Modi lauched an offensive against Nitish on the 'Bimaru' issue (a classification of poor states: Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh). "The chief minister is very angry about the Bimaru issue. It's good news if he is right in his claims that Bihar has come out of the Bimaru category. But if that is the case, why does he go on asking for help?" asked Modi.
Nitish’s eagerness to ally with the Congress was also used as ammunition by Modi to corner the chief minister. How could the JD(U) leader align with killers of Jaiprakash Narayan, asked the prime minister. Indira Gandhi had jailed Narayan during the Emergency, and his health deteriorated. Nitish and Lalu are products of the JP movement. So are the BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi, and Ravi Shankar Prasad. When Nitish had staked a claim to the legacy of JP and Ram Manohar Lohia earlier, the NDA leaders had reminded him through an open letter that the two political icons laid down their lives fighting against the Congress.
Modi has also not forgotten Nitish’s decision in 2009 to return the Gujarat government's contribution for relief and rehabilitation of flood-affected people in the Kosi region. Nitish’s decision taken in the aftermath of that infamous cancellation of dinner to Modi was widely criticised, but the former stood by his actions. On arrival in Saharsa to campaign for his party and the NDA, it was time for Modi to recall that incident. Saharasa region was the worst hit by the Kosi floods in 2008. “Kosi ke log marein toh marein, hum apna ahankar nahi chhod sakte. Aise ahankari (Nitish) ko janata ko chhodna chahiye ki nahi ('If the people of the Kosi die, so be it, I will cannot abandon my arrogance'. Shouldn't the people abandon such an arrogant person?)”, Modi asked, reminding them how it was the prime minister who promptly took action when threat of the Kosi flood loomed large yet again in August 2014.
By speaking at length on issues of pride and prejudice, Modi has provided some additional fodder to the Mahagathban (Nitish-Lalu-Rahul-Sonia) to retaliate in their proposed Swabhimaan rally at Patna Gandhi Maidan on 29 August. Modi will return to Bihar in the communally-sensitive Bhagalpur on 1 September with his response.
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2015 12:19 PM