Patna: In the run-up to the 2015 Bihar assembly elections, when Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) had joined hands, Amit Shah, then national president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had chosen the Gandhi Maidan in Patna to kick-start his party’s poll campaign.
The Nitish-Lalu led RJD-JD(U)-Congress grand alliance swept the polls, while the BJP and its allies managed to win just 58 of the 243 seats.
Seven years on, as the JD(U) once again joined hands with the RJD and Congress after severing ties with BJP, the party in power at the centre has not just chosen a different venue to start off its campaign for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, but also a set of issues on which it plans to take on the grand alliance.
Next month, now Union home minister Shah will kick off the BJP’s poll campaign for 2024 in Bihar from the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal area, which comprises the four districts of Katihar, Purnea, Araria and Kishanganj. Shah is scheduled to first address a gathering in Purnea on 23 September, and then one in Kishanganj the next day.
“It will be our shankhnad (clarion call) for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. We will reinstate our vows to provide a crime-free and corruption-free government in Bihar,” former speaker and now leader of opposition in the Bihar assembly, Vijay Kumar Sinha, told The Print.
The Muslim population of Seemanchal ranges from around 70 per cent (in Kishanganj) to 35 per cent (in Purnea).
In the past, BJP has done well in this region by polarising Hindu votes. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA won three of the four seats here, including one won by JD(U) in Katihar, for which it had fielded a former BJP leader on its ticket. The NDA won 39 of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in 2019.
The JD(U) meanwhile seems unperturbed by the BJP’s outreach in Seemanchal.
“It is obvious why the BJP has picked up Seemanchal to kick-start its campaign. But it will not succeed because our social base there is much larger and our voters are more aware of the motive of the BJP’s communal agenda. The BJP’s tally in Bihar will be in single digits,” claimed Upendra Kushwaha, chairman of the JD(U)’s national parliamentary board.
Meanwhile, Telangana CM K. Chandrashekar Rao (KCR) is scheduled to visit Patna on 31 August and is expected to meet CM Nitish Kumar and deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav over lunch.
While KCR will be in town to distribute compensation money to families of Bihar labourers killed in Telangana in a fire accident and families of soldiers from Bihar killed in the Galwan valley, discussion on an anti-BJP front is also likely. In January, Tejashwi had flown to Hyderabad to meet KCR for the same.
Consolidation of Hindu votes
The BJP has its job in Seemanchal cut out.
“The Seemanchal region is a sensitive area. It is a hub of Islamic terrorism, infiltration from Bangladesh and IS (Islamic State) activities,” state BJP spokesperson Prem Ranjan Patel told ThePrint.
Schools in the area had been a bone of contention between the JD(U) and BJP since even before they severed ties. Last month, then Bihar education minister Vijay Choudhary had asked for a “status report” on government schools in the Seemanchal area which remain closed on Fridays instead of Sundays, to allow teachers and students from the Muslim community to attend the jumma ka namaz or Friday prayers.
The issue had cropped up in Bihar after it was raised in neighbouring Jharkhand the same month. While the Jharkhand government has changed the holiday to Sunday in schools which had earlier remained closed Friday, the BJP wanted the same to be done in Bihar.
Consolidation of Hindu votes in Seemanchal will not only send a message to other parts of Bihar, but also to adjoining West Bengal districts which also have a high percentage of Muslim population, said a senior BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
“This time, the onus will be on the grand alliance partners to save their vote banks,” said BJP leader and Bihar legislative council member Samrat Chaudhary. Claiming that the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will be all about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chaudhary recalled how the NDA had 27 per cent more votes than the grand alliance in Bihar in the 2019 elections.
The JD(U) had been a part of the NDA then.
For 2024, the BJP will hope that the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which had created a dent in votes in 2020, will also get Muslim votes, impacting the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance’s prospects in Seemanchal.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)