Patna: As the Bihar legislature’s budget session got underway on February 27, the Bharatiya Janata Party created a ruckus in the assembly raising what its members described was the poor law and order situation in the state.
Soon after, as reports of alleged attacks on migrant labourers in Tamil Nadu blazed in the Bihar editions of two Hindi newspapers, BJP MLAs became vocal on the issue in the assembly.
These news items were said to be based on video clips doing the rounds on social media. They fuelled panic and some labourers returned to Bihar on the Ernakulam-Patna Express.
Bihar CM Nitish Kumar is learned to have ordered the chief secretary and the Director General of Police to speak to their Tamil Nadu counterparts. Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav got in touch with the Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin.
Authorities in the southern state investigated the matter and categorically denied what they described as “fake news” and lodged a police complaint against the newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, a Tamil Nadu based BJP leader and others for propagating falsehood and stoking hatred in society.
The Tamil Nadu governor R. N. Ravi in his report to the Union government and Bihar denied the news and said that “north Indian migrant workers were safe in Tamil Nadu” while the district magistrate and the superintendents of police of Coimbatore and Trichy, Kranti Kumar and Sujit Kumar respectively denied it by Saturday, March 4.
The secretary of the rural development department of Tamil Nadu, Bala Murughan D. also apprised a four-member team of officials from Bihar. “Malicious propaganda with evil designs had been spread. There is nothing to be worried about. The north Indians are safe in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
BJP had, however, continued to bring up the issue last week.
"बिहारी मजदूर पीटा रहा है मगर तेजस्वी जी के मुख से आवाज तक नहीं निकल रही"
माननीय नेता प्रतिपक्ष श्री @VijayKrSinhaBih pic.twitter.com/TLncDw5SQG
— BJP Bihar (@BJP4Bihar) March 3, 2023
Tejashwi Yadav responded to BJP MLAs’ criticism of how migrant workers were being treated by asking for a probe. “You (BJP) have Amit Shah ji as Union home minister. Let the home ministry probe it. We will like the Union home minister himself to lead the probe,” he said.
Speaking in the House on Friday, March 3, Rashtriya Janata Dal member Munna Yadav said, “The BJP is panicking after the failure of its February 25 rally. Now it is looking for some emotive issues to fuel hate.”
Two rallies on February 25
Big rallies organised by the BJP and the seven-party ruling alliance took place on the same day, February 25, at Lauria and Purnea respectively.
The Lauria BJP rally was attended by Amit Shah, BJP’s chief strategist and second in command to only Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Shah’s attendance made the rally a proverbial show of strength in the run up to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. Initially, Shah was scheduled to address a rally at Patna on February 23, to commemorate the 135th birth anniversary of the farmers’ leader Swami Sahajanand. That the BJP suddenly rescheduled it for February 25 at Lauria, under the Balmikinagar Lok Sabha constituency in north Bihar, bordering Nepal, reflects its ambitions to see it as a face-off with the opposition alliance.
The Nitish Kumar-led alliance’s rally was at Purnea, in the centre of what is now known as Seemanchal, bordering Nepal, Bangladesh and Bengal and the comprising four Lok Sabha constituencies – Purnea, Kishanganj, Araria and Katihar.
Accounts say that the BJP’s rally saw fewer attendees than the alliance’s.
“Amit Shah’s rally looked like a street corner meeting in comparison with the Mahagathbandhan’s [grand alliance’s] mega assemblage in which Purnea’s Rangbhoomi Maidan overflowed,” said Kanhaiya Bhelari, managing editor of Newshaat, a digital news channel that had deployed camerapersons at both rallies.
Bihar’s alliance parties suspect that the Sangh Parivar is plotting to build the narrative that migrant workers of Bihar, eastern Uttar Pradesh and other parts of the Hindi heartland are not safe in Tamil Nadu, Punjab and other non-BJP ruled states in north and south, in order to reinforce that idea that a strong Centre headed by Modi is what is necessary to protect workers in other states.
That the Lok Sabha battle is heating up in Bihar is evident from the fact that Nitish Kumar too directly attacked Modi and Shah, questioning their standing and contributions in Indian politics at the February 25 Lauria rally.
“The BJP has only two leaders, the Prime Minister and the home minister. What experience do they have? They don’t do any work and speak lousily. What do they know about India’s struggle for freedom?” Nitish asked in what is probably his first direct attack on Modi and Shah.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav who is convalescing at the house of his daughter, Rajya Sabha MP, Misa Bharti at New Delhi in his video address said, “The BJP is a mascot of the RSS that works on the principles of Gowalkar. The RSS is an anti-reservation and anti-poor outfit. Nitish and I have come together. We will uproot the BJP in 2024 Lok Sabha elections and 2025 assembly elections in Bihar. Stay united to oust the BJP”.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, media educator and independent researcher in social anthropology.