Rally season sparks power show among friends & foes

Soroor Ahmed

It is the season of rally-race in Bihar. The November 4 Adhikar Rally of the Janata Dal (United) was preceded by Vedana (Anguish) Rally of BJP MP Uday Singh in his parliamentary constituency, Purnea, on September 30.

As it was named, this big public meeting was organised by Singh to show to chief minister Nitish Kumar what is the ground reality in Bihar.

Just five days after the Sunday show of strength by the ruling party in Patna, the CPI-ML will be holding its Parivartan (Change) Rally on November 9 at the same venue. Needless to elaborate what the CPI-ML means by change.

Then the BJP would be holding its Hunkar Rally on April 15, 2013 in Patna. It would certainly be a challenging exercise as the name suggests and all efforts would be made to mobilise the masses in a much bigger way than the Adhikar Rally for some very obvious reasons. But the Adhikar Rally would certainly be different as this would be the first mass mobilisation to be organised in Patna by any of the two constituents of the NDA in the last seven years.

Nitish Kumar, who relies more on yatras than rallies, is not totally averse to the very idea of a rally — and so is the BJP. If the two parties did not hold rallies in Patna in the first term, it was simply because they never wanted to be associated with anything even remotely linked to arch rival Lalu Prasad, who organised about half-a-dozen such shows. Nitish shot into his own after the February 12, 1992, Kurmi Rally at Patna’s Gandhi Maidan. Though it was another Kurmi leader of the erstwhile Janata Dal, Satish Kumar, who was actually the main force behind that show, it was Nitish who fully capitalised on it.

The rally gradually helped him come out of the shadow of Lalu Prasad. In the heydays of the pro- and anti-Mandal agitation, Nitish never hesitated in making public his priorities. The Kurmi Rally thus went down as the first caste rally to take place in Bihar after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report by the V.P. Singh government in August 1990.

The second big rally with which Nitish Kumar was associated was held on October 19, 1994, when he, along with other Janata Dal stalwarts like former Union minister George Fernandes, diplomat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin and former chief minister Abdul Ghafoor, broke away to form the Samata Party. Sharad Yadav was till then strongly with Lalu Prasad so was Ram Vilas Paswan. Since then, Nitish has passed through many downs and ups. His outfit Samata Party was later re-christened Janata Dal (United). It fought the 1995 Assembly elections in alliance with the CPI-ML, but ended up winning just seven seats in the House of 324 (Jharkhand was then a part of Bihar). It was on the eve of the 1996 parliamentary elections that the then Samata Party joined hands with the BJP and thus became the first secular party to have any political alliance with the saffron brigade after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Till then only the Shiv Sena and Shiromani Akali Dal were the two alliance partners of the BJP. So Nitish and Fernandes played a very important role in providing secular legitimacy to the BJP. However, Shahabuddin and Abdul Ghafoor gradually parted ways. But in the next couple of years, Sharad Yadav and Paswan came over to join the party. The latter, however, resigned in 2000 to form the Lok Janshakti Party though he, like Fernandes, Nitish and Sharad Yadav, remained in the Vajpayee cabinet. He quit it only in 2002.

Ever since then, Nitish has addressed many big and small public meetings in Patna and elsewhere in the state, but his party never actually organised any such big rally.

The November 4 show would be the first Janata Dal (United) rally to be held with Nitish as the chief minister of the state. So it would be viewed more critically. It would be after 18 long years that he would be addressing such a big crowd in the state capital. Unlike in the past two rallies — when he had to prove his strength only before his political opponents — this time he has to prove his mettle even before the good friend, the BJP. Though his verbal arrows — the JD(U)’s election symbol too — would be aimed towards New Delhi, he would like some of them to fall on Ahmedabad as well.

Yet an average Bihari is somewhat confused. If the special status category for the state is so important, than why has his alliance partner, the BJP, been kept away from it?

The article is also published in the Telegraph.

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