In the first major BJP events in Bihar following the NDA split early last month, which saw Chief Minister and JD(U) supremo Nitish Kumar cutting his ties with the BJP and joining hands with the Mahagathbandhan to form a new government, Union home minister Amit Shah will address a rally at Purnia on Friday and hold a meeting of the state BJP core committee in Kishanganj on Saturday.
The choice of the venues for Shah’s rally and the BJP meet has got the Mahagathbandhan target the saffron party for allegedly making attempts to “disrupt communal harmony” in the state whose Seemanchal region comprising Araria, Purnia, Katihar and Kishanganj districts account for a substantial concentration of the Muslim population. While Kishanganj has over 67 per cent Muslim population, each of the other three Seemanchal districts has over 40-45 per cent Muslim population.
These four parliamentary constituencies would often see religious polarisation during the elections. At present, the BJP represents only the Araria Lok Sabha seat while the JD (U) holds Katihar and Purnia seats with Kishanganj represented by the Congress. In the 2015 Assembly polls, the BJP could manage to win just eight seats in the Seemanchal region with most of the seats picked by the Mahagathbandhan.
Shah’s Friday rally assumes significance as it would involve messaging from the BJP top brass in the wake of the NDA break-up in Bihar. Though the RJD is usually in the line of the BJP’s fire in Bihar, this time CM Nitish is likely to be the latter’s principal target.
From the Purnia rally, the BJP is likely to mount a sharp attack on the Nitish government for allegedly not keeping a close watch over activities of the Popular Front of India (PFI), whose several members were booked last July for allegedly attempting to set up a new terror module in Bihar. Three PFI members were arrested from the Phulwari Sharief area soon after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Patna on July 12.
Bihar BJP spokesperson Santosh Pathak told The Indian Express: “Our leaders would surely expose Nitish Kumar over PFI, which had its office in Patna for several years and state police hardly kept a watch over its activities. Our senior leaders have been speaking about how Nitish Kumar would often feel uncomfortable whenever BJP would take up threat of terror surge in states that have seen growth of organisations like PFI. Though some people may attack us over our ‘jungle raj’ charge, random police firing in Begusarai is only suggestive of a rerurn of jungle raj”.
Meanwhile, central agencies like the NIA and the ED Thursday conducted searches at the PFI offices and its leaders’ premises across 10 states, including Bihar,over their alleged involvement in terror activities, detaining or arresting scores of them.
It was described as the “largest-ever investigation process till date”.
The Bihar BJP has appointed Union minister and Begusarai MP Giriraj Singh as the in-charge of the BJP’s two-day Seemanchal events, entrusting ex-Bihar minister Mangal Pandey with the responsibility of managing the Purnia rally.
Amit Shah is also reportedly scheduled to hold a security forces meeting at Kishanganj on Saturday to assess challenges and infiltration threats in Bihar districts bordering Bangladesh and Nepal. This official meeting was scheduled before the NDA split, although the BJP has now sought to capitalise on Shah’s presence in the region by holding its events there.
As the BJP could pick seats in the Seemanchal region in the 2009 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls when it had Nitish on board, the party has been looking to make inroads in the region on its own steam. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when the NDA (minus Nitish) had won 31 of 40 Bihar seats, the party had still not been able to get any Seemanchal seats. Now with the Mahagathbandhan partners, JD(U), RJD and Congress, posing a formidable challenge to it in the entire state, its Seemanchal foray would become a more arduous task for the BJP.
Even though BJP/NDA cannot think of winning Muslim-dominated Kishanganj seat, it may work on three other Seemanchal seats where Lok Sabha polls are often polarised on religious lines. Shah’s rally is more about symbolism and attacking Nitish’s Muslim appeasement politics,” said a Purnia BJP source.
JD (U) national spokesperson KC Tyagi, however, told the Express: “Why did BJP choose Purnia and Kishanganj? Why it did not choose Samastipur, the land of former CM Karpoori Thakur, or Nalanda, the ancient seat of education, or Madhepura, the worst flood-affected area. It is only because BJP has been attempting communal polarisation and intends to give message to rest of Bihar from Purnia and Kishanganj. During Nitish Kumar’s regime, Seemanchal has not seen any case of communal violence unlike UP. Nor is there any case of conversion in Seemanchal. And see who is being made in charge of BJP events, Giriraj Singh, who is known for his provocative speeches.”