Patna: Attack on ‘sanatan dharma’, ‘infiltration (of Muslims from Bangladesh)’, cancellation of holidays for Raksha Bandhan and Janmashtami, and ‘appeasement (of minorities)’ constituted the central themes of Union home minister Amit Shah’s speech at Jhanjharpur in Bihar on September 16.
Ever since Nitish Kumar dumped the Bharatiya Janata Party and joined the Mahagathbandhan – now the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) – Shah has visited Bihar four times. He has invariably addressed public meetings in Seemanchal-Purnia and Kishenganj bordering north Bengal and Bangladesh and Mithila regions – both in north-east Bihar with a relatively denser concentration of Muslims.
Jhanjharpur is a part of the Mithila region, known for Madhubani paintings, saint-poet Vidyapati’s songs, the religious discourse between Aadi Shankaracharya and Mandan Mishra, the age-old culture of eating paan-maachh-makhan (betel leaves, fish and lotus seeds) and, most importantly, communal harmony. The regions have never witnessed large-scale communal violence in the past. But Shah showed little interest in what had kept the people strung for centuries.
“The INDIA alliance is humiliating sanatan dharma. The Nitish government has specifically targeted Hindu festivals by cancelling holidays for Raksha Bandhan and Janmashtami [the holidays had been restored when Shah spoke]. The infiltration [of Muslims from Bangladesh] will increase manifold if the Narendra Modi government doesn’t return to power in 2024 and the BJP doesn’t replace the Nitish government in 2025,” Shah said.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi falsely claimed that his government had built the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Darbhanga, inviting severe criticism for what Bihar’s deputy chief minister, Tejaswhi Yadav, termed “white lies”. There is no AIIMS at Darbhanga. Shah shifted the blame on the Bihar chief minister for allotting a “low lying field” for the project.
Shah fervently appealed to the people to bring Modi back to power for a third term in 2024 but escaped from mentioning Modi’s promises to Bihar, including a special package of Rs 125 lakh crore that the prime minister had announced at his election meeting at Arra ahead of the 2015 assembly polls. Among many of his lofty promises specific to Bihar, Modi had also promised to make the fruits- and vegetables-producing Vaishali region the “hub of the food processing industry” ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Ignoring the drought
Shah focused only on divisive issues, ignoring the drought that is looming large on the state due to inadequate rainfall this monsoon season.
“I don’t take notice of what they say,” Nitish said, responding to reporters’ questions about Shah’s speech. “They have no knowledge whatsoever about the development work in the state. In fact, they have no knowledge about the country either. They brazenly and relentlessly speak in insensible manners which I don’t pay attention to.” He suggested the journalists focus on the issues concerning the people.
As of now, the Bihar government is preoccupied with the issue of drought. Nitish has continuously been reviewing the situation, particularly in south Bihar with the hills devoid of vegetation and stony lands, and parts of central Bihar with little water bodies. He has announced subsidies on diesel and has deliberated on the issue with officials and his ministers concerned several times of late.
But the Union government has, so far, not responded to the drought situation in the state. Be it Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee or other prime ministers in the past, they always sent the team of Central officials to assess the situation arising out of droughts and floods in the states and helped them accordingly. But Shah – who holds as important a portfolio as home – didn’t find it necessary to even mention it.
“Amit Shah lacks in the basic manners and decency of how a Union home minister should speak and act. Incidentally, he comes from the state of Sardar Vallabhai Patel – the first Union home minister of India. But he shamelessly talks in terms of Hindus and Muslims in this multi-cultural and diverse country nursed with the life-blood of Gandhi ji, Nehru, Ambedkar, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia etc,” said veteran socialist leader and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s national vice-president Shivanand Tiwary.
Tiwary also said, “It (Bihar) is the land of Gandhi ji and JP. The communal operations of Shah and Modi won’t work here. But they (Modi and Shah) don’t know anything else other than dividing society and polarising the electorate on communal lines to win elections.”
The RJD leader was not wide off the mark. Political observers believe that Shah might be trying to experiment with a Muzaffarnagar riots-like situation in Bihar’s Mithila and Seemanchal regions, which are similar to Muzaffarnagar in terms of the minority population.
Muzaffarnagar had witnessed large-scale communal conflagration ahead of the 2014 elections. Modi and Shah – who was the general secretary in-charge of the Uttar Pradesh BJP then – harnessed the violence in Muzaffarnagar to their electoral advantage.
In fact, the first place that Shah visited ahead of the 2022 assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh was Kairana. He had selectively gone only at the Hindus’ doors, ignoring the minorities who were the bigger victims of the riots. Significantly, Shah had tried to stoke the communal divide in Muzzaffarnagar when the farmers’ stir had bridged the divide between the two communities and they were opposing the three later-withdrawn farm bills in a collective manner.
“It will be hard to replicate Muzaffarnagar and Kairana in Mithila and Seemanchal which have been the cradle of communal amity and peace for centuries. Modi’s and Shah’s tactics won’t work in Mithila and Seemanchal,” Abdul Bari Siddiqui, RJD’s national general secretary who has represented Mithila seats in Bihar assembly several times, said.
Nalin Verma is a senior journalist, author, media educator and independent researcher in folklore.