In a campaign broadly run on the themes of Nitish Kumar’s Bihari pride versus Narendra Modi’s development plank, there is near absence of communal rhetoric from both sides in the ongoing Bihar elections.
While the Janata Alliance covertly blames the BJP for the simmering tension between Hindus and Muslims in the State, none of its leaders are raising the issue publicly. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s hitherto forceful condemnation of the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “anti-Muslim” credentials are also missing this time.
Lalu has, in the past, distributed audio-visual recordings of the communal riots in Gujarat and his campaign has followed a strident line against the BJP’s Hindutva agenda. Stopping LK Advani’s chariot during the heyday of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement and attacking Modi for the 2002 Gujarat riots almost always figured in Lalu’s campaign speeches.
But this time, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief is uncharacteristically silent on these issues. His attacks on Modi have mostly centred around the absence of delivery on promises.
There is a specific reason for Lalu stepping down on the “communal” agenda. The near-universal acceptance of Muslim consolidation in favour of the Janata Alliance has made them extremely cautious of a reverse polarisation in the BJP’s favour.
“Have you heard Lalu talking about Hindutva or Muslims even once in the campaign?” asked a top campaign manager for the alliance. “We don’t want to fall into the BJP’s trap by raising these issues.”
From the BJP’s side too, rabble rousers such as the party MP from Nawada Giriraj Singh, have fallen silent. Although caste calculations and a latent communal discourse forms the bedrock of its campaign, the articulation of issues by the BJP is almost entirely on the development plank.
The PM’s special package for Bihar is the party’s talking point while, at the same time, the BJP has made a rainbow coalition of castes by attracting Jitan Ram Manjhi who represents the Mahadalits, Upendra Kushwaha who gets the Koeri votes and Ram Vilas Paswan who represents the dominant caste among the Dalits in Bihar. The BJP’s social base is mainly among the upper caste groups, while it has made a strong pitch for attracting the backward and most backward castes in Bihar.
Although the PM made some references to “Yaduvanshis”, presumably with a view to wean the Yadavs away from Lalu in the beginning of the campaign, he has almost entirely focused on development in his last two rallies. The discourse has centred around who has better credentials as a ‘Vikas Purush’ to govern Bihar.
From the alliance’s side, the target is the PM. “We are not bringing any State leader in the picture. It is Nitish Kumar versus Narendra Modi on development in Bihar,” said a top campaign manager for the Bihar Chief Minister.