Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar launched on Thursday a campaign to “free” India of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), kicking off what is expected to be a high-octane battle for politically crucial Uttar Pradesh that goes to the polls next year.
The JD-U leader is widely seen as the face of a combined opposition in the electoral battle against the BJP, which is bidding to grab power in the country’s most populous state.
The choice of Kumar’s first campaign meeting –dubbed a workers’ rally by the JD-U – was high on symbolism: his war cry came from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi.
“We take (the) resolution to make Sangh mukt Bharat, sharab mukt samaj (RSS-free India and liquor-free society),” Kumar said to thunderous applause of party workers at the rally held at a college playground.
Prohibition is one of Kumar’s pet issues which brought him rich dividends in last year’s assembly polls in Bihar. He returned the favour to lakhs of women who voted him to power by introducing total prohibition in Bihar recently.
“We have ensured complete ban on liquor across Bihar and everyone, including women and their family members are very happy. Now even those who were habitual drinkers (peenewale) are happy,” he said.
He asked what the BJP has done in states ruled by the party to enforce prohibition and help families brought to economic ruin by addiction to liquor.
He was very harsh on the BJP – his ally in Bihar till just before the 2014 parliamentary elections – saying the party’s government at the Centre has failed to fulfill any of its promises in the two years in power.
“They promised that everyone would get Rs 15 lakh, so far no one got even a single penny,” he said referring to Modi’s pre-poll promise of bringing back black money stashed in overseas tax havens. Kumar, however, did not name Modi even once.
Calling the RSS the “ideological ancestors” of the BJP, Kumar said the organisation which had no role in the freedom struggle was “preaching nationalism”.
The recent incidents at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi and the suicide by Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula also cropped up during Kumar’s speech as he pointed out the “lesson” taught by the people of Bihar to the BJP in the assembly polls.