Chief minister Nitish Kumar speaks at Sankalp Yatra on Saturday. Picture by Ajit Kumar Verma
Chhangarha, Dec. 7: From Gandhi to Nitish, the first cry for change has always been rooted in Champaran.
Today was no exception either when chief minister Nitish Kumar began his Sankalp Yatra with a firm determination to iterate people’s rights and special status for the state in a virtual “go-it-alone” mode ahead of the 2014 general elections.
Nitish had carefully chosen the remote Chhangarha village, primarily dominated by the extremely backward classes and Mahadalits, his core vote bank. Besides, the village, 180km northeast of Patna, is strategically located — it falls in the Bettiah (headquarters of West Champaran) Lok Sabha constituency but is part of the East Champaran district, which has Motihari as its headquarters.
In a way, Nitish had chosen the place to address the electorate of the two Lok Sabha seats — Bettiah and Motihari — the BJP’s stronghold area. The JD(U) always spared these two seats on the Nepal border to the BJP during its 17-year alliance. The JD(U) had little presence in the two Lok Sabha seats. Thus, Nitish used the venue populated mainly by his core support base to strengthen his position in the “alien” land.
The Champaran region has invariably been the “favoured” destination of Nitish to launch many a political campaign with success. In early 2005, he began his journey to replace the Lalu-Rabri regime from Bhitiharwa, where Mahatma Gandhi had first set foot in 1917-18, in West Champaran.
In April last year, the chief minister started his Seva Yatra from Bettiah. He had to abandon it midway because of violence and disturbances.
At the rally today, obliquely accusing the BJP and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for fomenting social tension and communal divide, Nitish said: “Unke mansube ko kabhi kamyab nahin hone dengein. Jaan ki baji laga kar sampradayik sauhardra kayam rakheigein (We will not allow their ambitions to fructify. We will maintain communal amity even if it costs our life).”
The message was loud and clear. It took a little for the crowd to guess to whom Nitish was alluding. “Modi ke sapne choor karne ki bat kah rahe hain Nitish (Nitish is speaking of shattering the dream of Modi),” a man in the crowed remarked.
To Nitish’s satisfaction, about 60 per cent of the people who attended the rally belonged to the Muslim community, indicating that his decision to dump the BJP for projecting Modi as the prime ministerial candidate was paying off with the Muslims gravitating towards his party. But the rally had barely 20,000 people, making it a moderate affair. Dominant upper castes and the Yadavs were by and large missing. The response from the crowd too appeared relatively subdued. The JD(U) leaders, however, described the crowd as “impressive” in the context of the remoteness of the venue.
Incidentally, the chief minister left some space for film director Prakash Jha, who made his political debut as Nitish’s friend in 2006 but switched sides to enter the Lok Sabha poll fray in 2009 on the RJD-backed LJP ticket from Bettiah. Jha had lost the election to Sanjay Jaiswal of the BJP by 47,343 votes. Jha’s presence today sparked speculations that he would now be the JD(U) candidate from the West Champaran (Bettiah) seat in the 2014 elections.
Probably, he has found favour with Nitish this time on the ground that the chief minister too might be looking for a “suitable man” for a seat which the JD(U) has never contested during the 17 years of the JD(U)-BJP alliance.
At the rally, Nitish played up “Bihari pride” with flamboyance to attack Modi and BJP. “We have to think what sort of a country we want to make. Bihar and Biharis have as much right over the country as Gujaratis and Marathis have. They are the Biharis who have contributed to the making of the high-rises in Maharashtra and Gujarat,” he thundered.
Significantly, Nitish attacked the Congress too, though not as vehemently as the BJP. “The Centre had constituted a committee (Raghuram Rajan committee) to decide on the backwardness of the states. It appears that the government sitting in Delhi is not in a position to take decisions,” Nitish said, asserting: “Our battle for the special category status will continue unabated till we succeed in getting it. It is our right.”
But getting back to attack the BJP, he cautioned the party cadres and people: “Never allow the divisive forces to succeed. Hindus, Muslims, men, women, haves and have-nots — all of you will prosper only when you stay united and live with amity.”
Turning his tenor in Nitish’s favour, Jha, who had found Nitish as his “political enemy” during the 2009 polls, said: “Angels feared to tread in Champaran because of kidnappers ruling the roost and Jungle Party controlled by brigands unleashing a reign of terror. It is Nitish’s yeoman efforts that have restored peace in the region, making it liveable. I am no longer getting the theme from the region to make my films,” Jha, who had offered box-office successes like Apaharan and Raajneeti, said.
State JD(U) chief Bashishtha Narayan Singh was among the several MPs, MLAs, MLCs and party cadres were in attendance. It was Nitish’s first stop of the Sankalp Yatra that is scheduled to be organised at 12 places in the next few months.