Kicking off Bharatiya Janata Party's campaign for the Bihar state election with a brutal verbal assault on his political rivals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi attacked Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for breaking his party's relations with the BJP in 2013, and mocked his new alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav.
"We won't let Bihar return to 'Jungle Raj'," said Modi, referring to the 15 years when Bihar descended into chaos, corruption and crime under the rule of Yadav and his wife Rabdi Devi, who head the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
"What is the meaning of RJD," he asked the crowd of thousands, who had gathered for the BJP rally at the Chakkar Maidan in Muzaffarpur on Saturday afternoon, 70 kilometers from Patna, which marked Modi's first visit to Bihar since he became prime minister in May 2014.
Modi exhorted the audience to chant: "Rojana Jungle Raj Ka Dar" (The fear of Jungle Raj every day).
Bihar is likely to head to the polls in October-November.
Modi's speech today revealed BJP's campaign strategy to attack the alliance between Kumar, chief of the Janata Dal United - JD(U), and his one-time rival Yadav, which was formed with the sole purpose of beating the BJP.
The alliance makes an easy target considering the juxtaposition of its two principle players: Kumar is widely regarded as having rescued Bihar from a dark era of caste politics under Yadav, when the state had become a no-go zone because of rampant kidnappings and staggering poverty.
"Why are you dragging the state towards Jungle Raj again," Modi said at the rally.
A recent episode over a Twitter message exposed chinks in the Nitish-Lalu alliance. In his tweet about development in Bihar on Tuesday, Kumar quoted a Rahim couplet, likening himself to sandalwood which is not affected by the snakes wrapped around it.
. @SunilVChandak Bihar’s development is my sole agenda.जो रहीम उत्तम प्रकृति, का करी सकत कुसंग| चन्दन विष व्यापत नहीं, लिपटे रहत भुजंग ||— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) July 21, 2015
In the midst of an uproar that the "snake" referred to Yadav, Kumar was forced to clarify that he meant the BJP.
Taking a swipe at the "sandalwood-snake" spat, Modi said: "Instead of development and governance, they are discussing snakes and poison. They should decide who is what, who is drinking poison. The people of Bihar want to drink water."
Modi today also launched a personal attack on Kumar, who has expressed his intense dislike for the BJP leader over the years.
In 2010, for instance, Kumar returned the funds which Modi had given as Gujarat chief minister for flood relief in Bihar. In 2013, he broke the 17-year-old JD(U)-BJP alliance when Modi was made in charge of his party's national election campaign.
At the time, Kumar said that JD(U) relied on the votes of Muslims, who constitute 17 percent of Bihar's population, and questioned Modi's secular credentials since he was chief minister of Gujarat when religious violence engulfed the state in 2002.
Modi rebuked Kumar for throttling development in Bihar by ending the JD(U)-BJP alliance. "If he didn't like me then he should have come and slapped me or even choked me," he said. "I'm sad that the people of Bihar had to pay for his anger."
Modi also mocked Kumar for making fun of politicians using Twitter, but now having his own account on the social media platform. "Some leaders of Bihar, who used to make make fun of using Twitter, are now doing so themselves," he said.
Two years ago, Kumar came down heavily on politicians who used Twitter. "The dictionary meaning of twitter is the chirping of birds which makes a man happy hearing them in the morning. But some leaders through excessive tweeting have turned it into a jarring sound," he said.
Jitan Ram Manjhi as 'Vibhishan'
Speaking at the rally, Bihar’s former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi said that he was "Vibhishan," who would help Modi defeat "Ravana" (Kumar), the villain in Ramayana.
Earlier this year, Kumar ousted his one-time friend Manjhi, who, he made the first ‘mahadalit’ chief minister after stepping down because of his party's dismal performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: BJP bagged 31 out of 40 seats in Bihar, JD(U) won just two. In contrast, the BJP-JDU alliance got 32 seats in 2009.
"Ravana-like Nitish Kumar is the worst politician in Bihar,” said Manjhi, who is expected to tap votes of the ‘mahadalits’ for the BJP.
Referring to the expulsions of Manjhi and George Fernandes (2009) from the JD(U), Modi said that there is something wrong with the "DNA" of the party chief.
Responding to this barb, Kumar said that his DNA was the same as the people of Bihar.
मोदी जी ने कहा मेरा डीएनए ख़राब है| मैं बिहार का बेटा हूँ तो ऐसे में मेरा डीएनए तो बिहार के लोगो का डीएनए है | (1/2)— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) July 25, 2015
अब मैं बिहार की जनता पर छोड़ता हूँ कि उनके डीएनए को ख़राब बताने वाले को वह कैसे जवाब देती है| (2 /2 )— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) July 25, 2015
Sharing a stage in Patna
Earlier in the day, Modi shared the stage with Kumar while inaugurating the Indian Institute of Technology campus in Patna, an incubation centre for medical electronics, the Rs10,000-crore Jagdishpur-Haldia pipeline, and flagging off two trains: an AC Express between Patna and Mumbai and the Rajgir-Biharsharif-Daniyawan-Fatuha passenger train.
While announcing that Bihar will receive Rs3.75 lakh crore for various schemes in the next five years, Modi said that he will soon unveil a package worth over Rs50,000 crore for Bihar.
Welcoming the prime minister to Bihar, Kumar said that he often visited Gujarat when Modi was chief minister and he was railway minister in the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Kumar asked Modi to finish stalled railway projects in Bihar.
Modi said that these would have been completed if the Vajpayee-led government had been in power for six more months. "Bihar has been hurt by politics," he said.
But pleasantries on the stage could not mask the political showdown which unfolded through the day. Modi took a dig at Kumar's ally, Yadav, who was the railway minister from 2004 to 2009 in the UPA government. "Railway ministers after Nitish Kumar did not do any work and projects were stalled until I took power,” he said.
Ahead of Modi's arrival, the JD(U) put up posters in the city, which said, "We won't be fooled by falsehoods, we will make Nitish win."
Sharing the slogan that the party has issued on Mr. Modi's arrival in Bihar pic.twitter.com/rpMpqCdE4t— Nitish Kumar (@NitishKumar) July 25, 2015