| Sushil Kumar Modi |
Patna, Aug. 23: The BJP latched on to jungle raj — a term used by a high court bench — to attack the RJD government in August 1997 and now, 17 years down the line, it claims the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar alliance amounted to a jungle raj 2.
Monday — the day of the Assembly by-elections results — would, however, prove what has really caught the fancy of voters.
On August 6, 1997, a division bench orally observed that there was no state government worth the name and jungle raj prevailed in Bihar. The bench was referring to the horrible civic conditions in Patna but the Opposition BJP caught on the word and started attacking the government.
Rabri had just been foisted on the chief minister’s chair by Lalu (on July 25, 1997) who went to jail for the first time in a fodder scam case (RC-20A/96). The suddenness of it all — in office for barely two weeks, without her husband by her side — left Rabri clueless. The Opposition pilloried her as a “gungi gudia (dumb doll)”, unable to issue directives or reply to the Opposition’s charges.
The court directed its wrath at the bureaucrats who had started to operate unsupervised in the face of a political vacuum.
“There is no government worth the name in Bihar as handful of corrupt bureaucrats run the show,” observed the court in its records.
Sushil Kumar Modi, then the Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, took up the high court’s jungle raj observation and exploited Rabri’s “naiveté” and Lalu’s absence.
Every news meet, every public meeting, he drove the point across that the Lalu-Rabri government was synonymous with jungle raj. It later evolved into the BJP’s agenda “to end jungle raj in Bihar”. But it was still a few years till the party managed to do that. In Lalu’s absence, Ram Kripal Yadav — once the RJD chief’s foot soldier and now a BJP MP — vociferously countered Modi.
After Lalu came out of jail, the RJD continued to perform well in the 1998 Lok Sabha polls (it won 17 seats) and the 2000 Assembly elections. Rabri stayed in office for the next five years only to be replaced by the Nitish Kumar-led NDA in November 2005.
Now, Modi has again let out a cry of jungle raj-2 over Lalu and Nitish striking a grand alliance. At every election meeting in the run-up to the Assembly by-elections on Thursday, he drove home the need to stop the return of jungle raj.
Nitish, on the other end, coined jahar raj (spell of spreading poison in society) to counter Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sushil Modi’s agenda in Bihar.
Both Nitish and Lalu repeatedly said their alliance sought to be an “antidote” to the “venom” the BJP was spreading in society.
Senior JDU MP Ali Anwar explained to The Telegraph: “Jahar raj is actually a sub-text to describe the dose of poisonous division that the BJP has been administering to our pluralistic society.”
So, it remains to be seen what comes up on top in Monday’s results — BJP’s jungle raj 2 slogan or Nitish-Lalu’s jahar raj call. Even more because experts stressed the NDA came to power in 2005 not because of the attack on jungle raj but Nitish taking away Lalu’s votebase.
Economist and member-secretary of Asian Development Research Institute, Shaibal Gupta said: “The BJP’s description of the Lalu-Rabri regime as jungle raj did not go down well with the backward class support base of Lalu. Rather, they felt insulted at what the BJP said about the government they had mandated”.
Political observers maintained the Lalu-Rabri regime lost its grip on the backward classes — its main support base — when the BJP projected Nitish, a backward class leader, as the chief ministerial candidate in the 2005 elections. The JDU were given more seats also, enabling the leaders to carve out the extremely backward classes support base.
When the JDU-BJP alliance was well intact, Nitish was even cautious of using words such as jungle raj to refer to the Lalu-Rabri regime.
In the 2013 budget session, he even clarified on the House floor: “I have never used the word jungle raj and I strongly object to its use. I have simply maintained that I have established kanoon ka raj (rule of law) over atank ka raj (reign of anarchy).”