Patna: The Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] has just floated a fresh slogan, hoping that it catches the imagination of Bihar’s electorate as the state prepares for assembly elections. The last few slogans the party came up with had been twisted by opponents to poke fun at the state’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar.
The JD(U)’s new slogan, which was first seen on July 19, reads: “Bihar ke vikas mein chhota sa bhagidar hoon; haan main, Nitish Kumar hoon (I am a small participant in Bihar’s development; yes, I am Nitish Kumar).”
In March, when the JDU used “Kyon karein vichar; phir se Nitish Kumar (Why should you have second thoughts; re-elect Nitish Kumar)” as its slogan, Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) fired back a counter-slogan: “Kyon na karein vichar; Bihar hai bimar (Why should we not think twice; Bihar has fallen ill).”
The RJD cadres went to town with this counter-slogan, ridiculing the JD(U) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and Nitish Kumar’s ‘lip service’ to its management in the state. Soon, the JDU quietly removed the slogan from the party’s official graffiti walls and its offices.
However, the ruling party’s new slogan lacks originality. It is very close to the BJP’s 2019 Lok Sabha elections slogan, “Desh ke vikas mein main chhota sa bhagidar hoon; main bhi chowkidar hoon (I am a small participant in the country’s development; I am also a chowkidar).”
The great slogan battle
In 2015, the JDU contested the state assembly elections in an alliance with the RJD and the Congress. They called it a grand alliance (Mahagathbandhan) against the BJP and the JD(U)’s election strategist, Prashant Kishor, coined the slogans the party needed. These slogans, apparently, caught the imagination of the voters and the grand alliance won the elections. That it later split and the JD(U) allied with the BJP is another story.
Now, of course, it is impossible to know who will win the Bihar assembly elections should the polls actually take place ahead of November 29, when the term of the current assembly expires.
But Nitish’s JD(U) appears to lack innovation and freshness in the absence of Kishor, who was expelled from the party due to his comments on the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). In the pre-poll war of slogans, it is being beaten hollow.
Bihar, which is known for its folk culture, enjoys the slogans raised by various political parties before elections, especially if they have a rhythm that ensures they can be sung.
Unlike Nitish, Lalu Prasad Yadav always coined his own slogans, rooting them in local adages and fables that instantly connected with the people of Bihar.
For example, in 2015, Lalu mocked Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim about “bijli (electricity)” by screaming, “Bijli aayee, bijlee aayee,” in his own inimitable style, raising peals of laughter at his election meetings.
His slogans went viral on social media too. When Lalu sang: “Jab tabla baaje dhin dhin, toh de ooper se teen teen,” suggesting that for every BJP voter at the polling station, there would be three RJD voters, his audience at election rallies departed singing that song.
But Lalu, who is in jail at this time, is not available to campaign for the 2020 assembly elections and it is obvious that his son, Tejashwi Yadav, who is the leader of the opposition in the assembly, does not have his charisma. Thus, the RJD seems as stale as the JD(U) at this time.
A culture of jingles
Slogans have played a significant role in Bihar’s political culture over the years. In 1980, smarting from her massive defeat in the Lok Sabha elections of 1977, Indira Gandhi rode an elephant to Belchhi, a village in Patna district that had been torn apart by massacres. Her supporters sang: “Aadhi roti khayeigein, Indira ko layeingein (We will live on half a slice of bread, but we will bring Indira back).”
This slogan that emerged from Bihar’s hinterland caught the imagination of voters all over north India.
Also in 1980, courtesans in Muzaffarpur sang: “Chuhe ghus jaiengein bil mein; Charan ho chahe Jagjivan; Padengin haath hathkadiya jab Indira jeet jayeingee (Rats like Charan Singh and Jagjivan Ram will slip into their holes; they will be handcuffed once Indira wins).” This song was often sung in favour of the Congress while Indira Gandhi was alive.
A decade later, when Lalu Prasad Yadav became Bihar’s chief minister, his rustic supporters coined the slogan, “Jab tak rahega samosa mein aloo, tab tak rahega Bihar mein Lalu (As long as there is potato in the samosa, there will be Lalu in Bihar).”
The slogan rang out every time Lalu’s supporters saw him and the man himself gleefully enjoyed it.
Polls and the pandemic
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Bihar increases, opposition parties have attacked the ruling JD(U) for putting politics above the pandemic at this time.
“It’s downright criminal to float slogans when COVID-19 has affected nearly 30,000 people in Bihar,” said Shivnand Tiwari, vice president of the RJD. “CM Nitish Kumar seems unconcerned that the number of coronavirus patients in Bihar has trebled in the span of 20 days. He has engaged his party cadres and government machinery in preparation for the polls instead of taking care of the people who are sick. We have demanded the postponement of the elections.”
Tejashwi Yadav said: “The Nitish government has failed to deal with the pandemic. The state should be placed under President’s Rule and the focus at this time should be on the suffering of the people.”
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist. He is the author of Gopalganj to Raisina – My Political Journey, a biography of Lalu Prasad and The Greatest Folk Tales of Bihar.