Fashioning his campaign for the assembly elections around 15 years of his rule versus a decade-and-half of Lalu-Rabri government, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday asked JD(U) leaders and workers to reach out to voters, particularly the new generation, explaining them about the difference between the two. Kumar, also the JD(U) president, spoke for 176 minutes, dwelling at length on the new era of development he ushered in during the last 15 years, as he kicked off his campaign for a fourth straight term in office with a virtual rally.
He pulled no punches while assailing jailed RJD boss Lalu Prasad, politically and personally. The “pati-patni sarkar” (husband-wife rule) was the focus of his all-out assault against challenger RJD, as he chose to keep a discreet silence over the truculence of another major NDA constituent Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), whose president Chirag Paswan has been targeting his government with unsparing regularity.
Kumar, who has already been declared the NDA’s chief ministerial candidate by its powerful ally the BJP, left nobody in doubt tht “15 years of my rule and 15 years of yours” will dominate the narrative at the hustings. Addressing party leaders and workers remotely over giant TV screens put up across the state, Kumar enumerated measures taken for the uplift of the state after the exit of “jungle raj” under the Lalu-Rabri dispensation.
He also waded into the personal domain as he spoke about the matrimonial discord between Lalu’s MLA son Tej Pratap and his wife Aishwarya, who are fighting a legal battle for divorce. Kumar also talked about alleged maltreatment of Jai Vardhan Yadav, an RJD MLA and grandson of former Union minister Ramlakhan Singh Yadav.
Both Aishwarya’s MLA father Chandrika Rai and Jai Vardhan Yadav recently quit the RJD and walked over to the JD (U). The Yadavas form the bedrock of the RJD’s support base and the two leaders belong to the caste which constitutes around 15-16 per cent of the electorate.
“I want to know what happened to former CM Daroga Prasad Rai’s son Chandrika Rai and his daughter Aishwarya Rai. What kind of treatment was meted out to Aishwarya Rai? “It is sad that an educated girl was treated in such a manner. She is the granddaughter of Daroga Babu…How Ram Lakhan Babus grandson Jai Vardhan was treated? Did they forget Daroga Babu and Ram Lakhan Babu? “Tell me whether parivarwad (nepotism and dynastic politics) is everything? There is no respect for those who helped you,” Kumar added.
Training his guns on leader of opposition in the assembly and RJD’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav, Kumar referred to the seven sins enumerated by Mahatma Gandhi. The chief minister, whose decision to align with Lalu Prasad’s RJD had raised many eyebrows in 2015 as did his equally controversial move to dump it less than two years later, said he took the step because of his adherence to the Gandhian principle of ensuring morality in politics.
The JD(U) leader said “politics without principle” and “money without work” were among those sins. “I asked him (Tejashwi) to explain to people from where the money (that he had) came, but he was not in a position to do that. So I decided to part ways (with RJD),” the Bihar chief minister said explaining why he broke up with the grand alliance and returned to the NDA fold in 2017.
Tejashwi Yadav was then the deputy chief minister. Lalu, his wife Rabri devi, Tejashwi Yadav and some other members of the family are accused in the alleged ‘Hotels for Land’ scam being probed by the CBI.
Lalu and his family members allegedly received prime land in the state capital, when the RJD chief was the railway minister, in return for contracts to run two hotels owned by the IRCTC, a subsidiary of the Indian Railways. He made references to the Bhagalpur riots of 1989, when the state was ruled by the Congress and over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, and taunted Lalu, who enjoys tremendous clout among the minorities, for his “failure” to ensure justice to the victims.
The JD(U) chief, who must ensure that his party gets a sizeable chunk of Muslim votes lest it gets eclipsed by the BJP its rapidly growing alliance partner also dwelt at length on schemes run by his government to improve the lot of the minority community. He cited the central government data of 2018 to show that law and order situation in Bihar was much better than many states.
Kumar also defended his decision to impose prohibition, and asserted the ban on liquor will continue as long as he is in power. The JD(U) leader claimed that while only 33,499 jobs were created during the 15 years of Lalu-Rabri government, 95,734 people got government employment under his dispensation.
In 2005, when the RJD was defeated in the assembly polls, immunisation stood at a dismal 18 per cent and has now shot up to an impressive 86 per cent, he said. The number of power consumers has swelled from 24 lakh to 1.61 crore, he said, adding instead of repeated outages, people are drawing over 22 hours of electric supply a day, marking an end to the “lantern age”. Lantern is RJD’s election symbol.
Kumar also raked up the issue of the mysterious death of film actor Sushant Singh Rajput, and asserted justice will be done to him. Rajput’s death has, surprisingly, become part of the political discourse in Bihar ahead of the assembly elections that are likely in October-November.
Noting that it was his government which had recommended a CBI probe into the actor’s death, Kumar said the incident sadennened both the state and the country. A sizeable number of Rajput voters had remained loyal to Lalu, despite his pro-backward political stance when he was in power, while all other upper castes backed the BJP or the Congress.
Soon after Kumar’s rally got over, Tejashwi Yadav mounted a counteroffensive against the chief minister. “We will not allow Nitish Kumar to deflect the peoples attention from the actual with his virtual antics, Yadav sarcastically told a press conference.
He also lashed out at the chief minister for raking up the jungle raj remark by the High Court and accused Nitish Kumar of conveniently forgetting searing indictment” of his government by the Supreme Court in the Muzaffarpur shelter home sex scandal..