Invoking the construction of the Ram temple for the first time in the Bihar assembly campaign, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tore into the state Opposition’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav on Wednesday, terming him the prince of “jungle raj” and warning the electorate that vested interests are out to rob the state of development funds and drag it back into “Bimaru” or sick condition.
Modi addressed three rallies in Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Patna, and said the state could face the double whammy of the Covid-19 pandemic and poor growth if the Grand Alliance – comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress, and Left parties – was successful in the ongoing assembly elections that kicked off on Wednesday.
Modi directly attacked Yadav and his poll promise of one million government jobs and said if the RJD came back to power, they would likely wipe out private enterprise and derail the rule of law in Bihar. He, however, didn’t mention estranged ally Lok Janshakti Party, which is fighting the election alone but is a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre.
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“It’s not the time for ‘hawa hawai’ (empty promises). These elections are an opportunity to re-elect those who have pulled Bihar out of deep darkness… Please ask yourself if the yuvraj of jungle raj has the credibility and the experience to fulfil the aspirations of the state’s lower and middle classes,” the PM said.
In Darbhanga, Modi invoked the Ramayana and said he was happy to be in the birthplace of Sita — Mithila. “And the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya has also begun. Those ‘siyasi log’ [political opponents] who used to taunt us over the delay in construction of the Ram temple are now compelled to clap in applause,” he said.
The NDA – comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U), the Hindustani Awami Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) – is seeking a fourth consecutive term for chief minister Nitish Kumar in an election shaped so far by debates over development, public health, and a referendum-of-sorts on the 15-year-rule of Kumar compared to an identical period by his predecessors Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi.
Voting on 71 seats was completed on Wednesday; 94 seats go to the polls on November 3 and 78 on November 7. Results are scheduled for November 10.
In his rallies on Wednesday, Modi repeatedly invoked the aspiration of Biharis, urged people to defeat the parties that ushered in “jungle raj” (a reference to Prasad and Devi’s regimes), alleged the Grand Alliance constituents embezzled funds, said Kumar was the only option to continue ongoing development projects in the state, invoked the Ram temple and listed the NDA’s development initiatives.
“There are two dangers for Bihar. One is the disease called Covid-19, which has swept across the world and Bihar is no exception, while the second is to prevent the state from those who want to make it ‘Bimaru’ (sick) once again. Development is a continuous process and it needs to be maintained. Nitish Kumar leading the NDA government is the answer to take forward Bihar’s development journey,” he said.
The Opposition immediately hit back by questioning Kumar’s governance record and citing Bihar’s poor development indices. In West Champaran, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi questioned the government’s policies and accused Modi and Kumar of lying.
“There are no jobs in Bihar. This is not the fault of farmers and youth. The fault is with chief minister Nitish Kumar and PM Modi, who never speak the truth,” alleged Gandhi.
Modi said Bihar came a long way in the last 15 under Kumar’s leadership due to its march from darkness to light. “This aspiration is the success of the NDA government. Once, people were so deprived and despondent that they could not even aspire. Nitishji needs gratitude for igniting aspirations with his good governance, which removed distrust and fear to build an atmosphere of trust and ambition,” he added.
Without naming Prasad, or Devi, he attacked their administration between 1990 and 2005. “Jungle raj in the midst of pandemic will be double whammy for the people. In these critical times, experienced leadership is required to handle the situation deftly,” he added.
In Patna, Modi invoked former prime minister Atal Bihar Vajpayee.
“Atalji used to say that in Bihar electricity comes less and goes often. Today, lantern age is forgotten, as people have woken up to new opportunities and facilities. If people aspired for a makeshift road 15 years ago, now they have all-weather road connectivity. There are hospitals and other facilities. Now they have learnt to aspire. Can the people with jungle Raj legacy fulfil people’s growing aspirations?” he asked.
Listing out development initiatives by the NDA government, including online money transfer, incentives to farmers and free grains to the poor, Modi asked people to be vigilant against those looking for opportunity to push the state back in the “dark age when kidnapping industry and lawlessness drove away investors and the working class”.
At Muzaffarpur, Modi attacked Yadav’s promise of one million government jobs that has drawn an impressive public response in rallies, scorn and scrutiny from Kumar and a counter from the BJP that pledged to generate 1.9 million jobs in its election manifesto.
“Those people are promising you jobs. But you know them better than me. They want only to be voted for scamming developmental funds meant for you. So, be aware and don’t be swayed,” said the PM.
“They are promising you 10 lakhs government jobs. But it is only a mirage as once they would be voted for power, let alone government jobs, the jobs in private sector will vanish as these companies will go away. They [Opposition] have no road map of the state development,” he said.
Political analyst Ajay Jha of the AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies said PM Modi’s speech focused on Bihar’s aspirations and its development journey, but targeting Tejashwi Yadav with the “jungle raj” statement may not work in the BJP’s favour.
“That was something like hounding a young leader for the failures of his father after 15 years. It may not go down well with the youth. Apart from that, he emphasised aspirations of Bihar and his vision for the state,” he said.