Chowkidar in 2019, Modi ka parivar in 2024: How BJP milks random gibes
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in Aurangabad on March 2, 2024. Pic: PTI

Chowkidar in 2019, Modi ka parivar in 2024: How BJP milks random gibes

Lalu Prasad was probably just playing to an amused gallery, but his comment on Modi's 'family' has become fodder for BJP's campaign machinery now

Bihar seems to have sprinted back to the centre-stage in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

This is largely due to a bitter row that has broken out over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parviar (family) or, rather, the lack of it.

Across parties, most current-day politicos have sons and daughters while Modi has none. The Prime Minister is known to slam dynastic politics at every opportunity. He is also known to be against his contemporaries bringing their progeny into public life at the cost of merit, fairplay and talent.

Lalu Prasad kicks off row

It was the redoubtable Lalu Prasad – who has several children, many of who have been dabbling in politics – who kicked off the row.

Lalu arrived with his several family members in tow, including his wife and former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi, on March 3, at Patna’s sprawling Gandhi Maidan to address a huge rally organised by his party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and other like-minded leaders from other parties and their supporters.

A day before, Modi, at an NDA rally held at Begusarai in Bihar, had emphasised the need to do away with dynastic politics to cleanse public life.

“Who’s Modi? What’s Modi," shot back Lalu. "These days Narendra Modi is attacking parivarwad (dynastic order). So, if Modi doesn’t have his own family what can we do? He better tell us why he doesn’t have any children of his own.”

BJP offended

Lalu’s words evoked loud applause from the large crowd gathered at the sprawling maidan, spurring him to say more. He asked why Modi didn’t get his head tonsured per Hindu rites when his mother died. “You (Modi) are also not a Hindu,” he added.

Obviously, his comments triggered rage through the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party. A day after the Opposition parties’ Jan Vishwas rally at Gandhi Maidan, angry BJP leaders, from central ministers down to lower-ranked party workers, started appending ‘Modi ka Parivar’ next to their names in parenthesis on their social media accounts. "We are Modi's family" is the essence of the messaging meant to show their indignation over Lalu’s remarks.

This incident has happened amid the upcoming national electoral battle, as top leaders from both the BJP-led NDA and INDIA coalition and Bihar CM and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar, are addressing big rallies at different locations in the state. Perhaps, the two camps did not realise that their rhetoric at the rallies would have such a fallout and set off such a bitter battle.

Gauging public mood in Bihar

These massive rallies are being held to regroup, mobilise and rev up the respective support bases of the two competing coalitions in one of the most politically pivotal states in the Hindi heartland. The top leaders of the two sides have been testing the waters in Bihar to gauge the public mood.

Therefore, back-to-back rallies took place in Bihar through the weekend on March 2 and 3. The first was addressed at Begusarai and Aurangabad by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with Nitish Kumar.

To counter this, the Jan Vishwas rally was held at Gandhi Maidan on Sunday, with an impressive line-up of Opposition leaders, including Lalu and Tejashwi Yadav (RJD), Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi (Congress), Akhilesh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M), D Raja (CPI) and Dipankar Bhattacharya (CPI-ML).

The homilies and banters that Lalu is generally known to crack to engage his audiences has taken quite a bitter turn now, and may have a bigger impact on the election than what he may have intended.

In damage control mode, Opposition leaders like Congress’ KC Venugopal and Supriya Shrinate have taken to social media platforms.

National-level tussle

Besides this fallout of Opposition's Bihar rally, there are a few other points that may deserve attention in view of the LS polls. More so, since Modi is going to visit Bihar again on March 6, to kickstart a few development projects in the state. These points are:

1. Gandhi Maidan’s rally could have been a localised affair with only state-level impact, had the BJP not turned it into a national issue by recasting it into a Modi ka Parivar battle.

2. Most speakers at Sunday’s rally were attacking Nitish Kumar more vehemently than Modi because the former had crossed over to NDA from the INDIA bloc that he had virtually founded last year. So, it is the BJP that has magnified it and given it the hue of a national-level tussle.

3. What is at the root of the row is the desperation on both sides to woo Dalit and Mahadalits or Scheduled Castes (SC), Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) voters. Modi had accused “dynasts” in his March 2 rally of using SCs, OBCs and EBCs as a “shield” to protect and perpetuate their rule and clout, while Lalu and his son Tejashwi called upon RJD workers in their rally to win over the trust of poor, needy and deserving Dalits, Mahadalits and EBCs in order to pack off Nitish from Bihar and Modi from Delhi. The purpose is to make a dent in Nitish’s significant support-base among these sections.

Presence of Left cadres

Another factor that emerged from these rallies is that Lalu and RJD can draw some comfort that CPI-ML cadres participated in large numbers in their rally. So much so that their red flags visibly outnumbered RJD’s green flags at the Gandhi Maidan.

The CPI-ML has strong support among Dalits, Mahadalits and EBCs in Arrah, Siwan, Gaya, Jahanabad, Patliputra, Patna Sahib and maybe in one or two more parliamentary constituencies in Bihar. So, it would be in INDIA bloc's interest to offer one or two Lok Sabha seats to CPI-ML candidates, though this can pose a hitch, as the CPI and CPI-M too may ask for a seat each in Bihar’s otherwise saturated political and electoral landscape.

Modi ka parivar

Last but not the least, the current controversy over Modi’s lack of family versus Modi ka parivar may throw up a situation akin to the Chowkidar row of the last or 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That row was triggered by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s chowkidar chor hai riposte ('the security guard himself is a thief') to target Modi.

The BJP leaders and cadres had added 'chowkidar' to their names in social media profiles. This time it is parivar that is replacing chowkidar. But, earlier, during one of the Vidhan Sabha polls in Bihar, Modi had earned the anger of the Biharis due to doubts expressed by him over the 'DNA' of state leaders. Nine years ago, this faux pax led to BJP’s loss in the polls.

But, as of now, no guesses about which way the parivar row is headed. What has become clear is that it has muddled the current political and electoral scenario in not only Bihar and also beyond.

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