Narendra Modi`s Hunkar rally: What it holds for Bihar?

Ritesh K Srivastava

Even as BJP`s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi prepares himself for what is likely to be his biggest ever public rally in Patna, everyone seems to be holding their breath to know what the Gujarat Chief Minister has in store for Bihar and what it would mean for his party.

In view of the mammoth preparations by the BJP to ensure success of Modi`s `Hunkar rally`, there remains no doubt that the October 27 event will be a magnum opus and would match its tallest leader`s stature and style. The Hunkar rally is significant in many ways since it would be for the first time that Modi will enter the political bastion of his bête noire, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has managed to keep him off the bounds of the state for the last couple of years.

Even when his party shared power with BJP in the state, Nitish Kumar had consciously tried to keep Narendra Modi away from Bihar to protect his secular credentials and JD(U)`s traditional Muslim vote bank. However, Modi`s elevation and growing clout in the BJP led to the split between the two, with the latter walking out of the NDA on June 16 this year.

Comparison with Jinnah

Another interesting aspect of Modi`s Hunkar rally is that it is also being compared with Mohammed Ali Jinnah`s rally in the winters of 1938, which was aimed at reviving the fortunes of his fledgling Muslim League. Not only was the rally held at the same venue, Gandhi Maidan (then known as Bankipore Maidan), but via the rally, Jinnah tried to unite Muslims in Bihar under the banner of Muslim League and later managed to win 36 of the 40 seats reserved for the community in 1946. The turnaround for Jinnah`s Muslim League came years after it faced drubbing in the provincial polls in 1937.

Like Jinnah, a fellow Gujarati, Modi is also expected to use his excellent oratory skills to the hilt to swing votes in his party`s favour when he addresses the rally in Patna on Sunday. Jinnah`s main aim during the 1938 and 1939 was to establish Muslim League as a party representing the true aspirations of Muslims and eventually strengthen his resolve to carve out a separate state for the brothers of his community.

Jinnah made excessive tours of India and roused the Muslims with stirring speeches in which he exposed the Congress. His countrywide tours were hugely successful and established him as an icon of Muslims. Wherever he went, he was given a red carpet welcome by the Muslims who saw him as their role model. As a consequence of his hard work, the Muslim League was recognised as the representative of the Muslims by the British Government by the end of 1938 and the Viceroy started giving the same importance to Jinnah as other Congress leaders of that time.

Though the players are different this time, the context remains the same. After separating with the JD(U), the BJP leaders have been sidelined by the Nitish Kumar government in the state. The leaders of the two parties, who had stuck with each other through thick and thin, are now baying for each other`s blood. A blame game has begun between the two and an attempt is being made to occupy the political space after RJD supremo Lalu Prasad’s conviction in a fodder scam case and his consequent five year jail term.

Also, both Janata Dal (U) and the BJP are trying to woo Muslims in Bihar, who are confused at the moment and still mulling which party to stick to after the fodder scam ruling. In the nineties, the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, had dared to arrest BJP veteran LK Advani when he tried to enter the state as part of his Rath Yatra in favour of a `grand temple` at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.

By showing the guts to arrest Advani, Lalu had managed to engineer a successful social combination (Muslim-Yadav) in favour of his party and rule the state for 15 years. So can Nitish do something on similar lines to split Muslim-Yadav combination and bring the minority with his already stitched EBC-Mahadalit combine, no one really knows.

Special Status for Bihar

Getting special status for Bihar has been the main poll plank of Nitish Kumar, who has utterly failed in persuading the Centre for granting a big financial package to boost the engine of growth in the state. Nitish Kumar has faced criticism from his BJP rivals for accepting the findings of the Raghuram Rajan report and conveniently reducing his demand for a bigger financial package.

Several big projects are still pending in the state and an estimated Rs 40,000 crore is required to complete them. So, it would be interesting to note if Modi would attack the Nitish government on the issue and promise special status for Bihar when he addresses the Bihar electorate through his Hunkar rally.

The BJP has already said that it would demand the creation of a new category of states to be named as ‘disadvantaged states’ – these being in addition to the three categories Raghuram Rajan committee had recommended earlier. The ‘disadvantaged states’ may be considered for granting special status, the party believes.

Uniting anti-Nitish faction

Another point of concern for the ruling disposition is the unexpected support brewing for Modi even before his ‘grand entry’ into the domain of his arch rival Nitish Kumar. This is evident from the fact that Bihar BJP`s Gaya resolution, demanding Modi be declared the party’s PM nominee, had found unequivocal support from two ex-MPs of the JD(U), who have since fallen out with Nitish.

Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) leaders Upendra Kushwaha and Arun Kumar declared that BJP`s decision on Modi was in “national interest” and enjoyed their “full backing”. Kushwaha was a JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP till he resigned from his seat in January this year after falling out with Nitish. Making common cause against the Bihar CM, he and Arun Kumar later floated RLSP in March.

As individuals, the two may not be so significant, but their backing for Modi can unite the anti-Nitish faction and bring more JD(U) leaders onboard to support Modi. This assessment is not unfounded as sitting JD(U) Lok Sabha MPs Jainarain Nishad (Muzaffarpur) and Purnmasi Ram (Gopalganj) had recently met Modi`s confidant Parshottam Rupala in New Delhi.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s estranged brother-in-law Anirudh Prasad aka Sadhu Yadav’s meeting with Modi in Ahmedabad and his support for latter as PM, also grabbed headlines recently. All this indicates the growing support for Modi among non-BJP MPs from Bihar.

Such support for Modi has come in a state which sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha. Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, popular among Yadavs who constitute 12% of the state`s population, is also very close to Modi and can be critical to his ambition of making inroads into Nitish’s territory. At the moment, the BJP is pulling out all stops to make Modi`s maiden political rally in Nitish`s home turf a grand success. Only time will tell if Modi`s `Hunkar` has the potential to reverberate in the hearts and minds of the people of Bihar.