Durga devotees in poll-busy Bihar who went pandal hopping during this month’s pujas frequently stumbled upon murals, paintings and idols of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as incarnations of Shiva or Ram.
His party is not alone in employing such Hindu motifs as rivals too are wooing the community to press for a win in the crucial assembly election with caste and sectarian concerns emerging as charged issues.
After facing criticism over his “Hindus also eat beef” remark, RJD chief Lalu Prasad has been flaunting a Durga locket around his neck to hard-sell his Hindu identity at a slew of rallies. Several leaders burnt effigies of opponents depicted as Ravan during Dussehra last week, a common practice in the eastern state during polls.
If the political undercurrent in campaigns for past elections saw waves of Islamic symbolism, analysts say the canvassing this time seems clearly focused on Hindu motifs and themes.
“Both sides are invoking Hindu sentiments to reach out to the formidable EBC (extremely backward classes) vote bank,” said Prof DM Diwakar, director of the Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.
“As far as other communities (Muslims, Yadavs, upper castes) are concerned, their preferences have more or less been decided.”
Political veterans like Prasad, who is part of chief minister Nitish Kumar’s grand alliance, as well as BJP ally and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan often wore skullcaps and had an Osama bin Laden lookalike by their side while campaigning in previous polls.
But the mood is different this time as the BJP and its affiliates have whipped up “Hindu self-esteem” as an emotive issue with the central message one of religious pride and tactical emphasis on uniting the community by overcoming caste barriers.
Political parodies sung in Bhojpuri that are a rage during elections also have an unmistakable saffron tinge. One popular number goes, “Modi ke votwa dele mai, Hindu sarkar banhaiye mai (an invocation to Durga to bring votes for Narendra Modi for the installation of a Hindu government).”
At the Jitwarpur village in north Bihar’s Madhubani that’s famous for its paintings, artists are busy depicting Prasad and Kumar in Ramayana imagery, while the “chaita” plays staged on the countryside with boys dressing up as girls are focusing on Hindu identity to send out a politico-religious message.