Bihar poll campaign gets acerbic; historical, mythological characters figure in personalised barbs

With the first phase of Bihar elections over, the state’s poll atmosphere has now become more acrimonious with jibes flying thick having shades of personalised attacks and references of historical characters and episodes adding more colour to the high decibel campaign.

On Thursday, Union minister Giriraj Singh attracted eyeballs when he likened Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief ministerial face Tejashwi Yadav to Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Singh said the 31-year-old Yadav scion had sidelined his parents – jailed RJD chief Lalu Prasad and former chief minister Rabri Devi – by projecting himself as the face of the RJD in all party posters, akin to what Aurangzeb had done after taking the throne from his father Shah Jahan who was held captive at the Agra Fort for long after being deposed, as per historical records.

“Pictures of Lalu and Rabri are missing in the RJD posters. Tejashwi has come to politics on the Lalu Yadav’s legacy but the latter is missing in the pictures. It’s the same like many emperors have done in the past just like Aurangzeb,” he said.

The reference of infamous Jallianwala bagh tragedy – one of the dark episodes of pre-independence movement when hundreds were killed during a peaceful demonstration inside a park in Amritsar on April 13, 1919, in a police shootout by General Dyer – too got a mention.

Tejashwi, on Wednesday, drew parallels between the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy and Munger police firing on Monday night in which one person was killed and 27 got injured. The Grand Alliance leaders wondered who was playing “General Dyer” – an indirect attack on chief minister Nitish Kumar.

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described Tejashwi as ‘Jungle Raj Ka Yuvraaj (prince of the Jungle Raj)” without naming the 31-year-old in his election speeches in Patna, Muzaffarpur. PM Modi’s veiled jibe had undertones of a personal attack and accentuated the NDA’s poll narrative against the RJD promoting “Jungle Raj” – a euphemism for poor governance and law and order during previous the RJD’s 15-year rule. The Yadav scion has not reacted to it.

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A few days back, the RJD’s chief ministerial face had invited big flak when he remarked how “the weaker sections dared to sit in front of ‘Babu Sahebs’ during his father’s tenure as the CM,” giving the BJP a handle to call the remark a casteist slur against the upper caste Rajputs. The RJD leaders were quick to go for damage control saying Tejashwi had made the remark in the context of bureaucrats and ‘babu culture’ and that the BJP had purposely given a spinoff to give caste colour.

Even chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is known for making less off the cuff remarks, has shown signs of being temperamental when he recently said, “some leaders have yearning for sons despite having several daughters showing how they have little respect for women” – a remark seen as an indirect attack against his bete noire and jailed RJD chief who has nine children including seven daughters. Tejashwi called it an insult to all women, including his mother Rabri Devi, by the JD(U) chief.

“Does it behove of a Prime Minister to speak against Tejashwi? PM Modi has lowered the dignity of the post he holds by making such a statement. Even CM Kumar, fearing of losing power, is using street language. Such utterances have not affected Tejashwi and shows how the young RJD leader has shaken both the PM and CM in this election,” said RJD’s national vice president Shivanand Tiwary. On his part, JD(U) state spokesperson Rajeev Ranjan defended PM Modi’s barb against Tejashwi saying it mirrored how the Yadav scion is carrying the legacy of the previous RJD rule marked by lawlessness and poor development.

Political observer and former principal of Patna College, professor Nawal Kishore Choudhary said the political discourse turning more personalised and getting acerbic is sign of how the ruling NDA is under pressure from its rival RJD. “The NDA thought it would be a decisive victory but it’s not a cakewalk now. Tejashwi’s unemployment issue has put pressure on the ruling BJP-JD(U), which is now harping on ‘Jungle Raj’. It is relevant because Tejashwi is carrying the legacy of his father and cannot avoid it. The attacks are getting shriller as both the NDA and the GA want to aggressively mobilise their core voters in the next two phases,” he said.

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The use of such acerbic political lingo has happened in the past elections in Bihar. In 2015 assembly polls, PM Modi’s statement at a Muzaffarpur rally, saying there was something wrong in the political DNA of chief minister Nitish Kumar had raked up a big future. The PM had thrown the jibe at the CM for breaking off with the BJP before the 2014 parliamentary polls and later also withdrawing support from Jitan Ram Manjhi, who served as the CM for a short while.

Kumar had called PM Modi’s remark against him an insult to the people of Bihar. The JD(U), which was part of the Grand Alliance with the RJD in 2015 election, had also demanded withdrawal of the words spoken by PM Modi and launched a campaign by sending lakhs of samples of hair and nails to PM’s office to test the DNA of the people of Bihar.

In the same polls, the RJD chief had stirred a controversy when he had called PM Modi a political ‘Ravana’. In 2019 parliamentary polls, a senior JD(U) leader Sanjay Singh had called RJD chief’s eldest daughter and Rajya Sabha MP “Shurparnakha” to assert how Bharti was playing a role of causing friction between her two brother Tej Pratap and Tejashwi in the RJD’s first family similar to the mythological character in Ramayan who had caused differences between demon king Ravana and brother Vibhishana. The RJD had hit out at the JD(U) saying it was a party harbouring devils and evil spirits who cause harm to others.

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