Narendra Modi does not mind taking things personally. He made the Lok Sabha elections a personal battle to wrest power from the Congress and become prime minister. Now, he is fighting a battle in Bihar, to wrest power from Nitish Kumar and install a BJP chief minister.
Modi's dislike of Nitish is an open secret; the Bihar chief minister had opposed the National Democratic Alliance making Modi its prime ministerial candidate. Now the personal enmity has turned into a war of rallies in poll-bound Bihar. Like battles, these rallies, too, have names. The BJP rallies are called parivartan rallies. They seek to effect a change in the government.
At one such rally in Muzaffarpur on August 25, Modi took a swipe at Nitish for his party's alliance with Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal and Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party. The alliance is expected to earn Nitish the support of Yadav and Muslim voters. “There seems to be some problem with Nitish Kumar's DNA,” said the prime minister, referring to Nitish's joining hands with arch-rival Lalu.
Nitish shot back in writing to Modi, expressing the hurt and humiliation that the DNA remark had caused to the people of Bihar and seeking an apology. He said Modi's comment smacked of bias against Biharis. He converted it into a political opportunity, organising a swabhiman rally on August 30. Nitish was the star speaker in the rally, which was attended by Lalu and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. While they hit out at Modi, the BJP picked on what it described as a poor turnout and said it was not about swabhiman (pride) but apman (insult).
At the next parivartan rally, in the silk city of Bhagalpur, Modi dared Nitish on issues of governance. The highlight, however, was Modi's calling the swabhiman rally a tilanjali rally, one for the departed. He elaborated that Nitish and Lalu had performed the last rites of the legacy of their socialist idols Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia, and asked the electorate to perform the last rites of Nitish and Lalu.
Each rally is followed up with tweets—comments and rejoinders by the hit, the hurt and the humiliated. There are press conferences, too. While Nitish responds to Modi in Patna, BJP spokespersons do it for Modi at the party headquarters in Delhi.
The rallies give a forecast, perhaps erroneous, of the funds and development works. When Modi announced a “special package” of Rs1.25 lakh crore for the state, Nitish rubbished it as repackaged old schemes and announced a Rs2.7 lakh crore package. At the next rally, Modi trashed it saying it was all Central funds, and charged Nitish with not talking about the Rs3.76 lakh crore that would come to the state in five years courtesy the 14th Finance Commission recommendations. Nitish retorted: “He is talking as if he is shelling it out of his pocket. Central grant is a right of states. He talks of cooperative federalism, and then this.” He commented that Modi was full of himself: “Maine, maine, maine (I, me, myself)”.
Nitish told THE WEEK that Modi's anger against him had increased since the formation of the grand alliance, and the whole talk of “jungle raj” was being raised ignoring the development work done in the state. “Let them show us one single act of indiscipline at or after our swabhiman rally,” he said. “More than 100 vehicles for [Modi's] rally at Bhagalpur came from Jharkhand,” he added sarcastically. “He is prime minister, so people from all over the country can populate his rallies.”