MUZAFFARPUR/PATNA: At a highway crossing in Jarang Baluaha village of Muzaffarpur, a group of men playing cards under a tree are discussing the ongoing Bihar elections.
As the debate touches on the subject of the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s rule of Lalu Yadav-Rabri Devi, when criminals ruled the roost, Amar Chand Verma, 32, turns agitated.
“Let Nitish Kumar keep on shouting Lalu jungle raj, but the people will vote for the candidate of their choice. It is not going to influence the voters,” he said.
His views are echoed by Shubham Thakur, 21, a graduate in Patna.
“What is the point in recalling the Lalu-Rabri rule? We want jobs, whoever will perform on this front will get our vote, irrespective of caste and creed,” he said.
Lal Bachchan Paswan, 30, of Kamtaul village agreed with them.
“Most of the people who witnessed that regime have died. Those who are still alive have no say in the decision-making of their family members,” Paswan said.
But Lata Sinha, 54, a college teacher in Patna whose doctor-husband was kidnapped for ransom in 2004, violently disagrees.
“Those who have seen those days will never forget them. We will not vote for that party at any cost,” she said. Sinha is supported by Kaushal Kumar Singh, 55, of Vaishali.
“In those days we didn’t have the courage to go out in the evenings or buy a new car. Either you would get mugged or your car would be lifted,” he said.
As campaigning for the three-phase elections peaks, a competing narrative is being built by the BJP-JD(U) combine on the one hand and the RJD on the other.
The BJP-JD(U) has repeatedly targeted the RJD and its leader Tejashwi Yadav, warning voters of the RJD misrule.
Campaigning in Muzaffarpur on Wednesday, Modi described the 15-year RJD rule as the age of “darkness” and called Tejashwi the “jungle raj ka yuvraj (prince of jungle raj).”
At a rally in West Champaran on Thursday, the PM urged the people to remember the “jungle raj when corruption was rampant and the people never ventured out of their homes after sunset.”
In contrast, Tejashwi has focused his campaign on development, unemployment and corruption. Reacting to Modi’s diatribe, he said the PM skipped “real issues” like corruption, jobs and the migrant crisis.
interestingly, Tejashwi has assiduously tried to hide any reminders of his parents’ rule, dropping photographs of Lalu in campaign posters. “Tejashwi
wants to change the focus from jungle raj to issues concerning the youth,” said Archana Kumari, an election analyst.
Which of the two competing narratives will prevail in the elections will be known only on November 10, but a generational divide appears to be emerging over the RJd’s alleged atrocities. While the young voters are indifferent to the jungle raj, the older voters vividly recall the “dark days.”
According to the EC, there are 7.5 crore voters in Bihar. Of this, 29.7% are in the 18-30 age group or young voters. The maximum, 44.1%, are 31-50 years. Another 17.2% are in the 51-65 age group and 9% are more than 65 years old. Among the young voters are 11.17 lakh first-timers.
Lalu prasad ruled for 15 years, either directly or by proxy. Crime shot up during the RJD rule, especially in the latter half. According to the Bihar Police, in 2004 and 2005 there were 3,861 and 3,423 murders.
Kidnappings for ransom in the same years were 411 and 251. in comparison under Nitish, there were 3,138 and 2,132 murders in 2019 and 2020. Kidnappings for ransom were down to 43 and 18 in the same years.
But Nitish's record on unemployment is abysmal. According to the RBi, while the urban rate of unemployment went up from 64 in 2004-05 to 105 in 2018-19, the rural rate of unemployment jumped from 15 to 102 in the corresponding years.
For its part, the RJD dismissed the allegations of misrule. But, JD(U) leader Ajay Alok disagreed. “Those who have seen and suffered warn their children and family members to stay away from the perpetrators of the jungle raj.”