BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi tore into Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and signalled a new social alignment for his Hindu nationalist party in a cleverly crafted address to a mammoth rally on a day a series of blasts rocked the state capital.
At least five people were killed and more than 60 injured in eight low-intensity explosions, seven of which were reported from around Gandhi Maidan, the venue of the party’s Hunkar (battle cry) rally on Sunday.
The blasts occurred in quick succession shortly before top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Modi, joined the rally that proceeded as scheduled. In the aftermath, the blasts triggered a blame game.
Nitish Kumar alleged the explosions were planned to “vitiate the atmosphere”, while the BJP’s Bihar unit accused the state government of not addressing security flagged ahead of the rally.
Modi made no mention of the blasts in his speech, but later tweeted describing them as “saddening and unfortunate”.
In his 85-minute speech to a gathering estimated at more than 400,000, Modi packed punches against friend-turned-rival Nitish Kumar and slammed the Congress for perpetuating dynastic politics.
He surprised analysts by calling for Hindu-Muslim unity — a first for the Gujarat strongman who still wears the taint of the bloody 2002 riots in his state.
He asked whether Hindus wanted to fight Muslims or the scourge of poverty. In the same breath, he wanted to know whether Muslim youth wanted to fight Hindus or deprivation. “Poor Hindus and poor Muslims will have to fight together against their condition. Let’s unite to fight poverty.”
Modi also invoked Lord Krishna to woo Yadav voters, in an apparent bid to cash in on a possible crisis of leadership that the community might face in the run-up to the 2014 elections. Yadavs account for 12% of Bihar’s population and play a decisive role in state politics.
He reached out to Yadavs at a time when the community’s popular leader Lalu Prasad is battling his conviction and sentencing (in a fodder scam case) and the consequent electoral disqualification.
BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addresses a rally in Patna. (AP Dube/HT photo)
Modi gave “my friend” Nitish much of his attention.
“People in Bihar are not opportunistic, except a few,” he began, referring to Nitish, who was instrumental in getting his party, the Janata Dal (United), to sever a 17-year-old alliance with the BJP in June following Modi’s elevation — first as the saffron party’s campaign committee chief for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and then as its PM face.
“People ask me why your friend has left the BJP. I tell them a person who can leave Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) can also leave the BJP,” Modi said.
People gathered at Gandhi Maidan in Patna where Narendra Modi addressed a rally. (HT Photo)
“Our friend (Nitish) was told by his counsellors to talk to the Congress. That will ensure prime ministership. He has not betrayed the BJP alone, he has backstabbed the people of Bihar. Let’s uproot these backstabbers.”
Modi said the BJP gave up its right to form a government in Bihar because it was more concerned about the state’s welfare. “We let him (Kumar) become the CM so that jungle raj of the earlier governments could end.”
Turing his attention to Rahul Gandhi, Modi said he had seen on television that Congress leaders were peeved that he was referring to their vice-president and party chief Sonia Gandhi’s son as “shehzada” (prince). “If you feel bad, you leave dynastic politics and I will stop calling him shehzada.”