The rally in Muzaffarpur on March 3 by Narendra Modi, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, was a significant departure from all the other public meetings he had addressed in the last couple of years across the country. It was a rare occasion because he did not, even for once, utter the term, “shehzada”, the expression he uses to describe the Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi. Nor did he talk about dynastic rule, the criminalization of politics and corruption.
However, Modi was critical of the Congress, the Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, as well as of the Rashtriya Janata Dal president, Lalu Prasad. But he was not at his aggressive best. The speech cannot be compared to the one he delivered in Patna on October 27 last year. On that occasion, the crowd had listened to him with rapt attention even though bomb explosions led to the death of at least half-a-dozen people.
Instead of corruption and the criminalization of politics, Modi spoke like a champion of the pro-Mandal movement. He went on to claim that nobody can stop the emergence of the Dalits, tribals and other backward communities. With the Lok Janshakti Party leader, Ram Vilas Paswan, his son, brothers and other relatives on one side and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party chief, Upendra Kushwaha — regarded as a strongman from the Koeri community — on the other, he could not muster up enough courage to mock and ridicule the family rule of the Gandhis. The macho image was certainly missing and China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were not warned or asked to keep their hands off Indian territory.
But he did accuse the Centre and the Bihar government of being soft on terrorists coming from across the Nepal border. Given that the LJP president’s dreaded lieutenants, Rama Singh and Surajbhan Singh, were in the vicinity, Modi was not in a position to address such issues as the criminalization of politics, rampant corruption and the inflow of black money.
Modi remained tongue-tied in Muzaffarpur. Meanwhile, a revolt is brewing in the Bihar BJP. Protesting against the alliance with the LJP and the RLSP, half-a-dozen top state-level leaders, all of them Modi loyalists, stayed away from the rally. A number of legislators and workers boycotted the event as well. Under the circumstances, Modi could not take the moral high ground.
But the moot question is this — why did he remain silent on granting special category status to Bihar? This in spite of the fact that on February 28 his party had brought trains to a standstill in Bihar to fulfil this demand. During the bandh, BJP leaders had assured the people of Bihar that the state would get special status once Modi becomes the prime minister. They accused the Centre of professing double standards. They also alleged that the chief minister was fooling the people of the state.
But Modi seems to have learnt something from Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Vajpayee had refused the demand to accord special category status to Bihar after mineral-rich Jharkhand was created. The state assembly had passed a resolution demanding a special package worth Rs 1,79,000 crore. Even BJP legislators had supported the demand, but Vajpayee refused. Incidentally, Uttarakhand got this status on the plea that it is a hilly state sharing borders with a neighbouring country. Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand were denied the privilege.
The February 28 agitation was a move to score political points over Kumar, who had observed a Bihar bandh on the same issue. Modi’s silence has made it clear that the BJP is not considering special category status for Bihar.