Modi reaches out to Lalu, signals shift in Bihar politics
Modi's speech at his hunkar (war cry) rally was remarkable for the olive branch he extended to his long-time critic, RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his Yadav castemen. He took many by surprise, when he spoke emotionally about Prasad who is lodged in a Ranchi jail after being convicted in a fodder scam case.india Updated: Oct 28, 2013 13:44 IST
More than anything else, BJP prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi debut political meeting in Bihar on Sunday was significant for a new political equation he sought to set in motion.
Modi was ferocious in his attack on his arch rival, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had broken his alliance with the BJP in June over Modi's elevation in the party.
But Modi's speech at his 'hunkar' (war cry) rally was as remarkable for the olive branch he extended to his long-time critic, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his Yadav castemen, who constitute 12 % of Bihar's population.
Modi took many by surprise, when he spoke feelingly about RJD leader Lalu Prasad, lodged in a Ranchi jail after being convicted in a fodder scam case.
"I had called him when he met with an accident a few months ago. He was moved sufficiently to disclose this to the media," Modi recalled. What he said next was equally significant.
"I, a man from Yaduvanshi king, Sri Krishna's Dwarka (in Gujarat), promise to take full care all Yaduvanshis in Bihar and UP," Modi said in an exhortation to Lalu's Yadav community.
"The move is aimed at striking an emotional chord with Yadavs at at a time when the community is united behind Lalu," said DM Diwakar, director of Patna think tank AN Sinha Institute of Social Sciences.
He said Modi's strategy was aimed at cornering Nitish Kumar in his own den. "Modi's call may appeal to many Yadavs who feel aggrieved over what they see as undue targeting of Lalu Prasad," he said.
Diwakar said if Modi's olive branch to Yadavs counted for anything, it could significantly alter the electoral equations in Bihar in the BJP's favour, ahead of the Lok Sabha poll.
He conceded it was a difficult call for the community, which under the leadership of Lalu and his wife Rabri Devi, had ruled Bihar for 14 years (1990-2004) in alliance with Muslims "for whom Modi is an anathema".
Modi has been trying to woo Yadavs through Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, whose followers in Bihar, many of them Yadavs, have already pledged their support to the BJP's PM nominee.
In the 2010 Bihar assembly poll, the BJP polled 16.46% of votes to 22.61 % votes polled by its then ally but now an opponent, the JD (U). Lalu's RJD had polled 18.84% votes at the time.
"If even a small percentage of RJD votes goes the BJP way in the Lok Sabha poll, in response to Modi's appeal to Yadavs" it could count for a lot, said a BJP leader present at the rally.
Lalu Prasad had earlier vbeen keen to revive his alliance with the Congress (2000-2009), which had been termined ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha poll following a seat sharing dispute.
But the way the Manmohan Singh regime withdrew a proposed ordinance that would have help Lalu save is Saran Lok Sabha seat in the wake of his conviction in a fodder scam case, has shaken his confidence in the Congress.
Interestingly, Modi also spoke of how he bore the humiliation of being 'debarred' from undertaking his election campaign trips to Bihar for several years at Kumar's behest, as he did not want "a return of jungle raj In Bihar".
This was a reference to 14 years of Lalu Prasad's direct (1990-1997) or indirect (when his wife Rabri Devi was chief minister from 1997 to 2004) rule in Bihar.
Later in his speech, Lalu was the man he sought to ingratiate himself with.