A stamp release ceremony became a politically loaded event on Monday as the NDA spelled out its intent ahead of the Bihar assembly elections, invoking Emperor Ashoka’s administrative legacy and ethnic identity to win votes for the alliance.
Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, accompanied by the state BJP brass, released a first-day cover on the emperor, who he noted “ruled from Burma to Kandahar in Afghanistan and from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, bringing together all castes, tribes, regions into one big Hindustan under one capital at Patna”, while recalling the subaltern caste roots of his dynasty that ruled the entire India the longest.
The sweep of Hindustan as recounted matched the Hindutva idea of the territory that RSS ideologists have long wished to unite, even as the reference to Ashoka’s Kushwaha roots attempted to reinforce PM Narendra Modi’s idea of ‘sameness’ and potential as a pan-Indian EBC (extremely backward class) leader.
“Yeh hoga (this unification will happen)” Prasad said. “We will come out with stamps to commemorate the work of all those who united the nation by their acts.”
Kushwahas or Koeris have recently emerged as the natural lead caste with tremendous influence among lower EBCs, despite being in the OBC category and a vital cog in the JD-U wheel till the 2010 elections.
Prasad pointed to Ashoka’s predecessor Chandragupta Maurya who ‘overthrew’ the dynasty of Mahapadmanand, known to be a corrupt and cruel king of Patliputra, in whose time law and order was at its nadir. He did not refer to the ‘Jungle Raj’ of Lalu Prasad, which has been the BJP’s running theme in its battle with the Grand Alliance, but he left no one in doubt about the political intent in his reference.
The lower EBC vote led by the Kushwahas and Dalits will be crucial to the NDA when it takes on the Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Congress-led Grand Alliance this October.