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Stakes high, electioneering goes bitter

Patna, Aug. 19: The campaigning for the 10 Assembly seats going to the polls on Thursday was one of the bitterest in the recent memory.

The leaders of opponent camps launched personal attacks on each other. Metaphors of poor taste were also used during the bypoll campaigning, which drew to a close today.

Former MP Shivanand Tiwari was shocked over the campaigning style of the leaders. “This was one of the most bitter by-election campaigning I have witnessed. The language used was undignified,” he said.

In no holds barred electioneering, the verbal battle often got personal. The RJD chief, Lalu Prasad, called Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan a “doctor of political weather” in an apparent reference to the political flip-flop of the Dalit leader who joined the NDA before the Lok Sabha polls.

Paswan shot back at Lalu calling him a “doctor of jails” apparently referring to the latter’s jail journeys in connection with the fodder scam.

After the “bout” with Paswan, Lalu dubbed senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi a nachania (dancer).

Modi did not retaliate to Lalu but took a jibe at his “chhota bhai” (younger brother) and newfound ally Nitish Kumar. The senior BJP leader today said in Bhagalpur: “Nitishji himself made fun of Lalu for holding the lathi (cane) rally. Now, he has joined hands with the same person for the sake of retaining power. Lalu made fun of Nitish by declaring that the latter was kidnapped by the BJP and he (Lalu) had no alternative but to sit in his lap. Despite the insults, Nitish continues to be associated with Lalu.”

After his campaigning was over, Modi told The Telegraph that Lalu had his own style of campaigning and making remarks against his rivals but the BJP never got personal.

“Our attacks were not personal. We targeted the newly formed JDU-RJD alliance. We never launched personal attacks,” Modi said.

Political observers attributed the bitterness in the bypoll campaigning to the reunion of Nitish and Lalu.

“The two sworn political enemies who did not even dream of sharing a political platform have come together to stop the BJP, which decimated both the RJD and JDU in the Lok Sabha polls. The results are important not only for Bihar but for the entire country. Already an abortive attempt was made to bring Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati together on the same platform. Naturally, there was aggressive campaigning before the bypolls,” said a senior JDU leader.

An RJD leader said: “If we fail to win the polls, it will be demoralising for both the parties as the message will become clear that we are incapable of defeating the BJP even after joining hands. In such a scenario, both the parties will go to the Assembly polls of 2015 staring at a certain defeat.”

For the new grand alliance comprising the JDU, RJD and the Congress, it is a do-or-die situation. If they fail to win majority of the seats, even the Manjhi government will get jittery over its survival.

It is no wonder that chief minister Manjhi tried to distance himself from “jungle raj” — the term the JDU leaders coined to describe the 15 years of Lalu-Rabri era. He declared that everybody makes mistakes, which are rectified with time.

The bypolls is important for the NDA also because the BJP has to prove that it can win elections without the “Modi wave”. “It has to prove that it can win even when the two most important political players of Bihar have joined hands. During the campaign the NDA leaders have deliberately targeted Nitish and spared Lalu. They have remarked that Nitish has thrown self-respect to the winds to join hands with Lalu for the sake of retaining power. They have taunted Nitish for conspiring to start jungle raj II in Bihar.

“The BJP targeted Nitish deliberately. It is easier to make inroads in Nitish’s votebank than Lalu’s. Voters of Nitish have been voting against Lalu for over 17 years and we have to prove that the alliance is not compatible at the grassroots,” said a senior BJP leader.

Results of bypolls do not necessarily indicate towards the mood of the state. The simultaneous elections of five Assembly seats with the Lok Sabha polls prove it as the RJD won three of the five seats despite the NDA sweeping the Lok Sabha polls. “The results will be more of a psychological victory, but an important one,” said a BJP MLA.