New Delhi: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) have a message for ally BJP, which lost the Delhi polls last week on the heels of a highly polarising campaign — don’t try this when the state goes to the polls later this year.
According to Janata Dal (United) chief Nitish, the Bihar assembly polls should be fought on the development carried out by the Nitish Kumar government and other local issues, not national matters like Ram mandir, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and Article 370.
“The Bihar election will be fought on ‘Jal Jeevan and Hariyali [water, life and greenery, an initiative of the Nitish government]’ and development done by the government in the last five years,” Nitish told reporters Saturday, while in Delhi to attend the wedding reception of late finance minister Arun Jaitley’s son.
“My first and last priority is governance… I adopted ‘Har Ghar Nal Se Jal [a Modi government scheme to ensure piped water in all households]’ way back in 2016… before the central government adopted it in 2019,” he added.
“Bihar is clocking a double-digit growth rate of 10.5 per cent… These are the issues on which elections will be fought… It’s not a national election.”
Elaborating on the JD(U)’s concerns, party general secretary K.C. Tyagi said, “The Bihar election will be fought on development and governance issues… This is not a national election where the BJP should raise national issues. Nitish ji himself said there is no point of implementing the National Register of Citizens [the BJP had claimed it would bring a nationwide NRC before retracting its statement] and it’s not compulsory to state your parents’ birthplace in the NPR [National Population Register] exercise.”
Tyagi’s NPR statement is a reference to reports that the form for the upcoming population register, which seeks to ease the delivery of government welfare schemes, includes a query about one’s parents’ birthplace. Many see it as a precursor to an NRC, an exercise meant to identify citizens that courts criticism as an alleged tool to expel illegal immigrants.
“The BJP should restrain those leaders who rake up contentious issues,” Tyagi added.
LJP has same message
Paswan, whose LJP is based in Bihar, has issued a similar warning.
“Bihar elections will be fought on local issues and the development work of the alliance government,” said Paswan, a minister in the Modi government, in an interview to news agency PTI Sunday.
“The BJP has fulfilled the promise of Ram temple, scrapping Article 370 and triple talaq… there is no need of repeating this in every election.
“We have publicly said that hate speech of BJP leaders in the Delhi election can’t be justified. There should not be a repetition of this in Bihar.”
His son, Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan, said he had raised the issue of “the BJP’s hate campaign midway through the Delhi campaign”.
“We hope the BJP will avoid a repetition of its Delhi campaign in the upcoming Bihar polls,” he told ThePrint. “Restraint over language is a must and we are highlighting the work of our alliance government in Bihar.”
The BJP, including former party president Amit Shah, has publicly acknowledged that its vitriolic campaign cost it heavily in the Delhi elections.
The action, it is believed, was taken with the Bihar elections in mind.
The JD(U)’s biggest worry heading into election season is that the BJP’s perceived anti-Muslim policies may lead the community to gravitate towards the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad. Prasad’s son Tejashwi Yadav visited anti-CAA protests in Darbhanga and Madhubani just last week.
Despite his alliance with the BJP, Nitish’s image as a leader who pursues development has so far earned him a sizeable chunk of the state’s Muslim vote.
For example, in the Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat, which has a 70 per cent Muslim population, the JD(U) came second in 2019, just 30,000 votes shy of victor Congress’ tally.
Speaking about Nitish’s popularity, a JD(U) leader said Muslims understood that “despite the alliance with the BJP, Nitish never compromised with communal elements, and dealt firmly with Ram Navami hooligans”.