BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi’s ‘hunkar rally’ in Patna on Sunday promises to trigger a realignment of political forces in Bihar, a state that sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha.
Former fisheries minister Giriraj Singh of the BJP said on Saturday he expected a ‘spontaneous turnout of seven lakh people’ for the event, which will mark Modi’s debut appearance in Bihar after he was named his party’s PM nominee.
“It will be spoken of in the same breath as Bihar movement leader Jaya Prakash Narayan historic rally at the same venue, Patna’s Gandhi maidan, on June 5, 1974, which attracted a sea of humanity”, Singh said.
If the rally does, indeed, turn out be such a blockbuster of an event, it may encourage many leaders of parties opposed to the BJP to switch over to its side ahead of the Lok Sabha poll.
Two sitting JD(U) MPs, Jainarain Nishad (Muzaffarpur) and Purnmasi Ram (Gopalganj) have been placed under suspension after they met Parshottam Rupala, a BJP Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat in New Delhi recently.
“Cross party movements may certainly be expected in the run up to the poll”, said Bihar BJP president Mangal Pandey. But he declined to go into specifics.
However, intelligence sources put the expected rally attendance figure in the range of “two lakh or so”, modest in comparison to Giriraj Singh’s claim of 7 lakh.
“The problem with this rally is it has measure up to the big hype that has preceded it”, said DM Diwakar, director of AN Sinha institute of social sciences, a leading Patna think tank.
With 11 special trains, 6,000 buses, 20,000 SUVs, 126 river boats, 33 cranes and a giant gizmo-laden stage lined up for it, the rally certainly has much hype to live up to.
“Just as success of the rally will act as elixir for the BJP, any disappointment in the Sunday show may given something for our opponents to latch on to”, confessed a senior BJP leader.
Already, four sitting BJP MLAs – Amarnath Gami (Hayaghat), Rana Gangeshwar (Mohiuddinnagar), Vijay Kumar Mishra (Jale) and Avanish Kumar Singh (Chiraiya), have been indicating a preference for the JD(U).
The public response to the rally, sources said, would also play a role in firming up electoral alliances in Bihar. It may, for instance, help decide if the Congress goes with Nitish’s JD(U) or revive its earlier alliance with Lalu Prasad’s RJD and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP.
The perception that the Congress and JD(U) were drawing closer has taken a hit in recent weeks after the JD(U) seemed to be warming up to the idea of a third front and Congress leaders making remarks critical of the Bihar regime.
Besides, JD(U) chief Sharad Yadav is believed to be strongly opposed to his party’s alliance with the Congress. A call on this issue will be take at the JD(U) ‘chintan shivir’ which gets underway at Rajgir on Monday.
The BJP is organizationally strong in Bihar and having constituted 56,000 booth level committees with at least between five and 10 members each, it is better prepared than its rival for any election or a rally such as this one.
The problem for the BJP is it does not have any single state-level leader who can match the stature of Nitish Kumar. This is why it needs the ‘aura’ Narendra Modi to take on its rivals.
“I have nothing to do with the BJP. But I back Modi for the PM’s post”, said Upendra Kushwaha, a former JD(U) MP who resigned his Rajya Sabha seat a few months ago following differences with chief minister Nitish Kumar.
“Modi is becoming a magnet for forces opposed to Nitish Kumar, which feel he represents their best beg to take Kumar on”, said a senior JD(U) leader who is not on best of terms with Kumar at present.
Sunday’s rally will be the BJP’s first since the JD(U), its ally for 17 years and Bihar ruling coalition partner since November 2005, parted ways with it on June 16 following a scrap over Modi’s perceived PM slotting.
In a sense, it will also be a ‘revenge’ rally for Modi. Bihar remained out of bounds for him for election campaign purposes for over a decade as Kumar reportedly persuaded the BJP leadership not to field him lest his presence alienate the JD(U) Muslim supporters.
A pamphlet released ahead of Sunday’s rally also recalled how, during the BJP’s national executive meet in Patna in June 2010, Kumar had scrapped a dinner he was hosting for BJP leaders after posters showing him holding hands with Modi appeared in the state capital.
The expenditure incurred on Sunday’s rally has been made an issue by the BJP’s rivals, with leaders of the JD(U) and CPI claimed “crores of rupees” had been spent in organizing it.
In his response, Bihar BJP chief Mangal Pandey said his party was open to any inquiry and accused its opponents of targeting his party out of ‘jealousy’ over the popular response to the rally.
Intelligence sources said they were in no position to make a reasoned assessment of the overall expenditure as much of the details remained with local level BJP leaders.