Patna: Nearly five years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the controversial “DNA” remark against Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it is likely to come back to haunt the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the run up to the state assembly elections.
Currently, all eyes are on announcement of poll dates by the Election Commission which is likely this week. Meanwhile, big colourful banners and posters appeared in Patna on Wednesday morning, in which Modi’s DNA remark against Kumar was highlighted to embarrass both the top leaders and their respective parties—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)].
Banners with Hindi text in bold letters read what Modi stated in July 2015 ahead of last assembly polls: “Nitish Kumar ke DNA mein hi garbarh hai”. Another line used in the banners questioned Kumar’s trust: “Marte rahe bus palti, Nitish ki har baat kachchi”. Interestingly, the name of the sponsor of the banners is not mentioned on them.
PM Modi, while addressing a ‘Parivartan’ rally in Muzaffarpur, about 75 km from Patna, to kick off the NDA’s campaign(in 2015) had said there was something wrong with Kumar’s “political DNA” that led the JD(U) leader to ditch friends who worked with him.
“I was hurt when he withdrew his support from the BJP (JD-U's split with the BJP in 2013). But when he did the same thing to a Mahadalit such as former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, then I figured out there is something wrong with his political DNA," Modi had said in 2015 when JD-U was contesting polls in Grand Alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress. His remarks were widely reported and triggered controversy as Kumar and his party loudly objected to it and countered it.
The JD(U) chief had played it as an insult to the people of Bihar and requested Modi to take back his DNA statement against him. Later, Kumar launched a signature drive against the remark.
However, the sudden appearance of the latest banners to target Modi and Kumar is being seen as a part of banner-hoarding war between the opposition RJD-led Grand Alliance and NDA comprising BJP and JD-U ahead of Assembly polls.
Earlier this week, banners were erected at several places in Patna in which former chief minister and RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his family, including his wife and former CM Rabri Devi and his younger son and opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, were described as a liability for Bihar.”Ek Aisa parivar, jo Bihar par Bhar.” In another banner, the Yadav family was painted as a “Loot Express”.
The JD(U), RJD, Congress alliance had won the last assembly polls by defeating BJP. But Nitish Kumar’s political credibility was damaged after he dumped the alliance and once again joined hands with the BJP to form a new government in July 2017.
Political watchers in Bihar say the banners and hoardings war will intensify all over the state between opposition Grand Alliance and ruling NDA. This will be part of their strategy to send political message to their supporters and voters.”Many more such banner and hoarding will become a reality soon; wait for the formal announcement of dates of polls,” A K Mishra, a political watcher, said.
According to BJP leaders, the party will highlight the face of PM Modi and his achievements of the last six years and will focus on reminding people of the ‘jungle raj’ of Lalu-Rabri. “We will seek votes in the name of Modi,” a senior BJP leader revealed.
Ironically, BJP has kept away from projecting Nitish’s image in its banners and hoardings so far. However, BJP’s national president J P Nadda has made it clear that the NDA comprises three parties – BJP, JD-U and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) – under the leadership of Nitish Kumar and he will be their chief ministerial candidate. Nadda was not the first to say so. In mid-June, at a time when the shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic were being felt, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had announced that Kumar would be their chief ministerial candidate in upcoming assembly polls.
Even PM Modi has lauded Nitish Kumar like never before. It is believed to be the reason why two senior BJP leaders from Bihar – both Union ministers – Giriraj Singh and Ashwani Kumar Choubey, known as vocal critics of Nitish Kumar, have been unusually quiet.
The JD(U) says it will highlight the face of CM Nitish Kumar, his popular image of ‘vikas purush’ and the development done during his rule. “Nitish Kumar is an acceptable face and people have faith in him. PM Modi is also lauding and praising him for his work,” JD-U leader Sanjay Singh said.
Experts say that the BJP had used ‘brand Nitish’ to fight against the RJD since the mid-90s till the early 2000s. The BJP had projected a clean image of Kumar as a suitable face for the post of the chief minister during the 2005 Assembly polls and it clicked with the masses.
Several BJP leaders privately mention that the ‘Nitish factor’ is not working in the state any longer and the JD-U itself is banking heavily on the ‘Modi factor’. Nitish Kumar, too, had promoted ‘brand Modi’ during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “It benefited the JD-U that won 16 of the 17 seats it contested this time as an ally of the BJP, unlike 2014 when it had won only two of the 30 seats it contested in Bihar by itself,” a BJP leader said.
A BJP MLA also said that Kumar’s popularity has declined and he is no longer a reliable face. “His claim of ‘sushahan’ (good governance) has been punctured on account of the collapse of law and order in the state and his political credibility is at an all-time low,” said the MLA.
But the RJD, Congress and Left parties, likely to contest polls together this time, say they will use banners, hoardings and posters to highlight joblessness, issues of poor education and healthcare, and rampant corruption in the name of building infrastructures and implementing welfare schemes for the poor.