Lalu and Nitish embrace each other at the rally in Vaishali’s Subahi on Monday. On BJP president Amit Shah’s comments about Nitish sitting in the RJD leader’s lap, Lalu said: “I am Nitish’s elder brother, so what’s so great if he has come into my lap?” Picture by Deepak Kumar
Subahi (Vaishali), Aug. 11: A tight hug was all it took to bury over 20 years of bitter rivalry as Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad embraced each other’s politics and vowed not to part as long as the Narendra Modi-led BJP remained at the helm.
The venue for the reunion of two of Bihar’s tallest leaders — the third, Ram Vilas Paswan, switched camps ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and has found rehabilitation in Modi’s cabinet — was the remote village of Subahi, camouflaged by a thick mango orchard, in Vaishali district. A hurriedly put together dais at a private ground of the village — nearly 40km north of Patna across the river Ganga — was where Lalu and Nitish came together to drive home the same message but in their own distinctive styles.
“India in its independent history has for the first time seen a party (read BJP) in power that played no role whatsoever in the freedom struggle. Supporting this government amounts to betraying the sacrifice of Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel, Lohia, Subhas Bose, Jayaprakash Narayan and many others — all known to you — made,” Nitish said, explaining how the people have got an “undeserving” party in power.
Lalu, true to his style, was more direct and scathing in his attack, comparing Modi to Gogia Pasha, the legendary magician of yore who made the words “Gili, Gili, Gili” universally associated with his vanishing and hypnosis tricks. “Yeh Narendra Modi kaun hai? Yeh Gogia Pasha ki sarkar hai. Ganeshji ko doodh pilane walon ne janata mein bhram phaila kar satta hadap liya (Who is this Narendra Modi? It is the government of the likes of the magician Gogia Pasha. Those who fed milk to Ganesha’s idol have usurped power by fooling the people),” he said.
A motley crowd of nearly 5,000 people — comprising villagers drawn mainly from the extremely backward classes (EBCs), Mahadalits and Yadavs, the core voters of Lalu’s RJD and Nitish’s JDU — was witness to the grand reunion, or “homecoming” as Lalu described it. Initially, the two leaders had decided to address a joint rally at Chhapra on August 16. But they suddenly planned yesterday to choose the birthplace of veteran socialist leader Basawan Singh to begin their joint campaign for the by-elections to 10 Assembly seats on August 21.
Subahi is a part of the Hajipur Assembly seat, where Awadhes Singh Patel of the BJP is pitted against JDU’s Rajendra Rai, a candidate for the new alliance.
For the two leaders, the alliance could well be their last throw of the dice to keep themselves relevant in the aftermath of the Modi blitzkrieg that swept them away. Nitish’s JDU was reduced to single digits (2) and Lalu’s RJD managed four seats in the Lok Sabha polls, biting the dust even in pocketboroughs like Saran.
So complete was the humiliation that Nitish, having given up the chief minister’s chair to take moral responsibility for the defeat, swallowed pride and agreed to stitch together an alliance with Lalu — his archrival ever since they parted ways in 1994.
But in Bihar’s caste-driven polity, just how much of impact the alliance would have remains to be seen. “Yeh khushi ki baat hai ki dono neta saath ho gaye (It is a matter of happiness that the two leaders have got together),” said Nagina Ram (65), a Mahadalit from Subahi, a sentiment echoed by most of the people from the lower castes.
Nawal Kishore Sharma (70), an upper caste Bhumihar, disagreed. “Nitish should not have sided with Lalu, who is a symbol of anarchy,” he said, adding that he was “all for BJP”.
Though Nitish and Lalu had got together on the dais to campaign for Rajendra Rai, they talked in terms of the big picture. Lalu appealed to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh and all other “secular parties” to get together and launch a collective campaign to drive out the “communal forces from power”.
“Mera bhi umar ho gaya. Hum mit jaengein lekin sampradayik takto ke khilaf ladte rahengein (I too have turned old now. I will prefer to go down fighting against the communal forces till my end),” he said.
Nitish sought to put things in perspective. “Position of power does not matter to us. I have resigned as chief minister. What matters most to us (Lalu and I) was the very idea of India. Burying our differences, we have got together to save what we and our country stand for — brotherhood, social harmony, multiplicity and respect to all faiths and religions co-existing in our land for centuries. It will last till the end of this (BJP) rule,” he said. “Janata ke acche din inke sashan mein kabhi nahin aayenge (The good days for the people will never come under BJP rule),” Nitish added, taking a dig at Modi’s election slogan.
Lalu supplemented as only Lalu can. “Narendra Modi has heralded a bad omen for the nation. He took oath in godhuli bela (setting sun) at 6.15pm, causing drought in the country. Nepal fell in immediate crisis as he set his foot there. Mountains cracked, filling the river Kosi because of his pranks with natural laws,” he quipped.
The RJD-JDU-Congress together polled 45 per cent votes against the BJP-led NDA’s 31 per cent in the general elections. “Never before in the history has a party with such a small proportion of votes got a clear majority in the Lok Sabha,” Nitish said, suggesting that the BJP’s tally of MPs hardly matched with the vote-share it got.