Patna: Loudspeakers fell silent as a high-decibel vitriol-filled campaigning for 49 seats going to poll in the first phase of Bihar assembly elections ended this evening. Though the electioneering got off to positive start with the two main contenders to power– BJP-led NDA and JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance–initially singing the development tune, it soon turned into a slanging match, with rivals freely engaging in name-calling. From ‘Shaitan’ (devil) to ‘Brahma Pisach’ (super devil) to ‘Chara Chor’ (fodder thief) to ‘Narbhakshi’ (man eater), they called each other all.
As campaigning peaked, Lalu Prasad’s “Hindus also eat beef” remark was hotly debated, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking to turned the tables on the RJD boss, who had latched onto RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a review of the reservation policy to claim that the BJP-led Centre was contemplating scrapping caste-based quotas.
As Lalu and the anti-BJP alliance’s chief ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar harped on the alleged move to scrap quotas, rally after rally, to consolidate the backward caste votes, the RJD supremo’s “Hindus also eat beef” remark, made in the aftermath of the Dadri lynching episode, gave BJP and Modi an opportunity to counter one sensitive issue with another.
Modi vigorously stirred Bihar’s melting electoral pot by accusing Lalu of “insulting” the “yaduvanshis” (Lalu’s own yadav clansmen), who rear cattle, by his comment. “What all is he saying. What all Yadavs eat? Whatever position Lalu rose to, it was because of these Yaduvanshis and he insulted them. What kind of abuses you are hurling at them. Is it not an insult of Yadavs and Bihar? Do not humiliate the Yaduvanshis so much? Laluji, these Yaduvanshis helped you to come to power,” said Modi, addressing elections rallies in Munger, Begusarai and Samastipur on Thursday.
Modi’s remarks provoked accusations of trying to communalise the elections. “The real Modi on display — brazen attempt to add communal texture to Bihar polls, but deafening silence on deplorable incident of Dadri,” said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Kumar said it was for all to see “why Vajpayee ji was forced to remind him (Modi) to follow Raj Dharma, but wonder who will do the Vajpayee today ?” Warnings of a return of “jungle raj”, a term used by Lalu’s critics to describe alleged lawlessness during RJD’s 15-year rule, was an oft repeated refrain of the NDA leaders, including Modi and Shah.
With the electoral discourse getting reduced to petty name-calling, the Election Commission expressed “deep anguish” at the “plummeting level” of speeches, saying those were aimed at causing mutual hatred and urged politicians to show restraint. With accusations and name-calling flying thick and fast, FIRs were lodged against Amit Shah, Lalu, JD(U) president Sharad Yadav and AIMIM MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi for violation of model poll code.
Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah spearheaded the NDA’s campaign, with the Prime Minister addressing six election rallies on October 8 and 9. Several Union Ministers like Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda, Ananth Kumar and Kalraj Mishra too chipped in, addressing a string of rallies.
Union Finance minister Arun Jaitley released BJP’s vision document that promised laptop, scooty and colour TV to dalits. BJP is contesting the polls in alliance with Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP, Hindustani Awam Morcha of former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. These leaders were also present during Modi’s election meetings.
Lalu and Nitish led the three-party Grand Alliance’s charge. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi visited the state only for a day each for canvassing support for JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine’s nominees.
There was also a dash of Bollywood glamour to the campaign. Though actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha was absent from the scene, BJP fielded Hema Malini, Smriti Irani, Manoj Tiwari and actor Ajay Devgn to stump for its candidates.
Voting will take place in 49 constituencies of a total of 243 in the first phase on October 12. These constituencies are spread over 10 districts of Samastipur, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Banka, Khagaria, Munger, Lakhisarai, Sheikhpura, Nawada and Jamui.
A total of 1,35,72,339 voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the first phase. Out of the 49 seats that would go to poll on October 12, JD(U) of Nitish Kumar had won 29 in 2010. BJP, which was with JD(U) in last election, had won 13 seats, while RJD had clinched four.
This time, BJP has fielded a maximum of 27 candidates, while JD(U) candidates are in the fray in 24 seats, RJD on 17, LJP 13, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) 6, Hindustani Awam Morcha 3 and Congress 8.
Prominent among those whose fate will be decided in the first phase are senior minister Vijay Chaudhary (Sarai Ranjan), veteran Congress leader and former state assembly speaker Sadanand Singh (Kahalgaon) and LJP state chief Pashupati Kumar Paras (Alauli). Paras is the younger brother of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan.