Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have decided to counter the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) narrative of unemployment and corruption by harking back to the previous regime of Lalu Prasad Yadav, often dubbed the ‘Jungle Raj’.
And the lead has come from the BJP’s chief campaigner — Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Wednesday, addressing a rally at Muzaffarpur, Modi reminded people of the opposition’s track record, in an apparent dig at the RJD’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav.
“You can imagine, if there is an epidemic on the one hand, and at the same time if the people of Jungle Raj come to rule, then it will be like a double hit on the people of Bihar. What can people expect from ‘yuvraaj’ (crown prince) of ‘Jungle Raj’? Modi asked.
आप कल्पना कर सकते हैं, एक तरफ महामारी हो और साथ ही जंगलराज वाले राज करने आ जाएं तो ये बिहार के लोगों पर दोहरी मार की तरह हो जाएगा।
जंगलराज के युवराज से बिहार की जनता पुराने ट्रैक रिकॉर्ड के आधार पर और क्या अपेक्षा कर सकती है: पीएम @narendramodi #BiharWithNDA pic.twitter.com/y6Z20ehuQN
— BJP (@BJP4India) October 28, 2020
He also said that the people of Bihar have decided that they will once again defeat the forces that brought ‘Jungle Raj’ to the state.
“We will again defeat those who looted Bihar. The youth of this talented earth will again defeat those who cheat,” he said. “They will again defeat those who make the lives of women in Bihar difficult.”
बिहार के लोग ये ठान चुके हैं-
बिहार में जंगलराज लाने वाली ताकतों को फिर परास्त करेंगे।
बिहार को लूटने वालों को फिर हराएंगे।
इस प्रतिभाशाली धरती के नौजवानों को धोखा देने वालों को फिर हराएंगे।
— BJP (@BJP4India) October 28, 2020
This strategy of the BJP-JD(U) alliance is not something new. In the run-up to the 2010 Bihar assembly elections too, leaders of both parties had highlighted the “dark days” of the Lalu Prasad Yadav regime. The move worked and the coalition swept the polls that year, winning 206 of the 243 assembly seats.
Cut to 2020, the NDA is once again concentrating on the same strategy by comparing what it says are 15 years of “misrule” under Lalu and 15 years under Nitish government that “ushered in development for the state”.
While the issue may find some resonance, the NDA faces a major problem — a number of millennial voters have only heard of the ‘Jungle Raj’ and not experienced it. The term was coined to describe the RJD rule between 1990 and 2005, which was allegedly marked by lawlessness and open intimidation.
The silver lining for the BJP is that a number of youngsters ThePrint spoke to were full of praise for Prime Minister Narendra Modi but angry with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
“There should definitely be a change. I don’t think Tejashwi is my leader but, yes, I am willing to give Chirag Paswan a chance as I know he is with the BJP,” said 23-year-old Dinesh Kumar, a resident of Muzaffarpur district.
“Nitish’s time is over. Modiji has been working for the people of this country and look where India was earlier and where it is now. It is all because of him. But at the same time, the government should focus on the issue of corruption and unemployment.”
May make a mark, say experts
While experts say the NDA should have concentrated more on showcasing the work done at the Centre, they also say the ‘Jungle Raj’ narrative has the potential of moving some young upper caste youths.
“There is no denying that the NDA should have concentrated on a positive campaign especially of the work done by PM Modi and Nitish. I feel that strategically they have not played well,” said Badri Narayan, a social scientist.
“As far as the youth vote is concerned, while they may not have experienced it first-hand but at the same time it is part of their memory due to the stories they have heard from their elders. And somehow it can have the same impact as a lived experience. The upper caste youth may get impacted. There is a 50-50 chance.”
He further said that while Tejaswhi Yadav is going strong and his unemployment issue is finding resonance but in a caste fragmented society like in Bihar what goes on in the mind of the voter on the day of the polling is important.
“The caste arithmetic can go in the favour of Tejashwi as people are extremely angry with Nitish and hence they will choose any other option whether it is the RJD, LJP, RLSP. They would want anyone who is non-Nitish,” Narayan added.
Out on the road, the older generation is still cognisant of Lalu and Rabri’s ‘Jungle Raj’ tenure.
Take 60-year-old Rajinder Shah, a resident of Kanti assembly constituency, who said that while CM Nitish Kumar has become “stagnant”, Tejashwi is still not an option as it is still better to either vote for Nitish or an Independent candidate than vote for ‘Jungle Raj’.
However, as ThePrint travelled 80 km away from the assembly constituency towards Patna, 23-year-old Aditya Kumar is all for “satta parivartan”.
“It is true that compared to Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar has performed better but now we need a young leader,” said Kumar who was sitting inside Patna College studying for his competitive exams. “Unemployment is a major issue and Tejashwi has at least offered a solution. He has promised to create jobs and I am willing to give it a chance.”
For 22-year-old Suraj Pratap Singh, a student of sociology at Patna College, ‘Jungle Raj’ as a concept is past its expiry date. “There is rampant corruption in all the schemes of the government. There has to be greater accountability,” he said.
“I am not saying the NDA has nothing to offer but rather than a negative campaign they should concentrate on what they have to offer. As far as ‘Jungle Raj’ is concerned, even today the crime rate has been on an increase. We read it in the newspapers everyday.”
For 25-year-old Saurabh Singh, a resident of Patna who works in a bank, unemployment is definitely an issue but he is still willing to give the NDA a chance as ‘I don’t want Jungle Raj’. “I don’t think Tejaswhi is an option. He is not serious enough,” Singh said. “At the same time, Chirag is there but he doesn’t have the numbers so I don’t have any option but to vote for the NDA.”
It is such sentiment that has prompted the NDA to stick to the strategy.
“We all know what the law and order situation was during Laluji’s tenure. As far as Nitish Kumar’s track record is concerned, it is in front of everyone to see,” said JD(U) spokesperson Rajiv Ranjan. “Law and order has improved drastically under CM Nitish Kumar and people appreciate it.”
The BJP too has been focusing on this.
“The term ‘Jungle Raj’, a lot of media attribute it to us. But at the very outset let me be very clear, ‘Jungle Raj’ was first used by the High Court, which said it in the context of misrule, no semblance of law and order, peace and stability in the state of Bihar,” said Guru Prakash, national spokesperson of BJP.
Prakash insisted that he had experienced it personally.
“I grew up in Bihar; I am now 32 years old and I have closely seen the first 15 years of the Lalu-Rabri rule and the last 15-years of the JDU-BJP combine,” he said. “In terms of the national crime records bureau data as well, Bihar is now at number 23 and if you look at the statistics of different types of offences and crime, you would realise that in terms of ransom cases, extortion, crime against women and murder, the numbers have phenomenally gone down and this is in inspite of an increase in the population. The situation now is much better now than what it was 15 years ago.”
Narrative stretched too far: RJD
The RJD, on its part, claims this narrative of ‘Jungle Raj’ has been stretched too far by the BJP and JD(U) to obfuscate the “real issues” of unemployment and corruption.
“The talk on Jungle Raj is nothing but a ploy to divert attention from the main narrative, which is unemployment. Tejashwi has managed to set the narrative and it is finding resonance among the voters too. It is what is baffling the BJP and the JD(U),” said RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari.
“The fact that both the parties are talking about ‘Jungle Raj’ is a testimony to the fact that they are not confident. They are busy raking up issues that are 15 years old. Tejashwi as a leader has evolved over a period of time. He is raising pertinent issues and people are appreciating that, which is why the BJP and JD (U) are resorting also to raising issues related to Pakistan, Jinnah.”
A section of BJP leaders also claim that the ‘Jungle Raj’ rhetoric has been overplayed. “This narrative of dark days under the Lalu regime can be one of the issues but not the main issue,” said a BJP leader. “It is unlikely to pay political dividends this time. This election is about generation change.”
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