Bihar Battle: Modi's 'Big Blunder' In Campaign Speech Could Cost the BJP, Says JD(U)

27/07/2015 10:52 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attends a function to pay floral tributes to a picture of Bal Gangadhar Tilak inside the Parliament house, in New Delhi, India, Thursday, July 23, 2015. Thursday marked the birth anniversary of Tilak who was a pioneer of the Indian Independence Movement. (AP Photo/ Manish Swarup)

PATNA — The massive campaigns launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (United) for the Bihar state elections are wasted on two residents: Sanjay Kumar and Sushil Sinha. Kumar drives a taxi and works at the airport, while Sinha services Patna’s bustling Fraser road with his auto rickshaw.

Kumar and Sinha know exactly who they will vote no matter what Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Chief Minister Nitish Kumar do or say in the next few months.

Kumar's vote will go to the JD(U). "Nitish gave roads and electricity," he said, matter-of-factly. "BJP has no candidate like him. Just watch, the party will collapse from infighting as soon as a (chief minister) candidate is chosen."

Sinha will vote for the BJP: "I supported Nitish until he was with the BJP. Joining forces with Lalu could be bad for him. The time for 'jungle raj' has passed."

Unwittingly, Kumar and Sinha touched on the pillars of Modi's first campaign speech in Bihar on Saturday: attacking Kumar for breaking with the BJP in 2013 and pounding the alliance between Kumar and the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav.

While Modi clawed into some of JD(U)'s flaws and contradictions with precision, Kumar's camp feels that the prime minister made a 'big blunder' and one "overkill."

READ: Modi Launches BJP's Election Campaign In Bihar With Brutal Attack On Nitish-Lalu Alliance

"Big blunder"

The "big blunder," according to JD(U) members, was Modi's reference to Kumar's "DNA" when he accused Kumar for lashing out and dumping other politicians. Modi may have been unleashing his wrath against an old nemesis, but his political rivals are characterising his remark as an insult to the people of Bihar.

"Bihar has been the cradle of civilisation. People find terracotta pieces when they dig foundations of their houses which go back 5,000 years. That is the layered civilisational legacy of Bihar. People of this state may have seen bad days but to pass a sweeping comment..." Pavan Varma, JD(U)'s lawmaker in the Rajya Sabha, told HuffPost India.

"It shows contempt for Bihar," he said. "He is the son of an OBC, he is the son of a freedom fighter."

Insisting anger over the DNA remark has transcended party lines, the JD(U) leader said that even BJP's lawmaker from Patna, Shatrughan Sinha, is unhappy.

"Yesterday, I was with Shatrughan Sinha and I was checking with him today. He said, 'Questioning the DNA of the chief minister is a slap on the face of each Bihari.' What I'm trying to say is that people react like this," Varma said.

Sinha, the BJP MP from Patna, set off nervous moments for the BJP on sunday evening when he met Kumar and Varma.

In his campaign speech on Monday, Modi recalled how Kumar cancelled a dinner with BJP leaders after the party published ads which showed them holding hands in 2010, and then talked about former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi's explusion from the JD(U) in February.

"I didn't say anything but I was very hurt. But when Jitan Ram Manjhi was persecuted, then I became restless. He snatched the plate from the son of a poor tea seller. But when he took away everything from a mahadalit, then I thought something is wrong with his DNA," he said.

The term "DNA" has failed to register with the public, but observers say that it could hurt the BJP if the JD(U) decided to go on a war footing by likening DNA to blood, and making it a "son of the soil" issue.

Reacting to his objection, BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi, who previously served as deputy chief minister, said that Kumar had "betrayal and arrogance in his blood."

READ: The Stage Is Set For A 'Mahabharat' Of An Election In Bihar

"Overkill"

Even JD(U) members can't deny the contradiction in the Nitish-Lalu alliance. "People stood behind you to get rid of jungle raj and today you are dragging Bihar back to the same jungle raj," said Modi on Saturday.

While targeting the alliance is a key strategy in the BJP's election campaign, some observers feel that it's too easy to be effective. Neither side has hidden that alliance is solely for beating the BJP, which arguably makes bashing their political expedience a bit facile.

But then Modi did get the biggest response when he made the crowd chant - "Rozana Jungle Raj Ka Dar" -- in response to his question, "What does RJD mean?"

And the audience roared when the prime minister nailed his caustic rebuke of the recent "poison-snake-sandalwood" exchange between Kumar and Yadav. "Instead of discussing issues of farmers and employment...they are talking about who is the snake and who drinks the poison... why don't you both sit in a room and figure it out... don't force the public to drink this poison," he said.

Verma said that Modi's chastising the RJD-JDU alliance had "resonance," but it was an "overkill."

"I thought the endless repetition was an overkill. The vehemence of that repetition has led to a consolidation in the Yadav community," he said.

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