Roughly a week to go before the state elections in Bihar, footfalls have increased exponentially at opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav’s election meetings, giving a go-by to coronavirus safety norms. Party leaders say time and place make no difference to the attendance — meetings held early in the morning or late in the night are as crowded as the ones at “prime time”. His party said the size of the crowds have been over 7,000 to 8,000 and at places more than 15,000.
Enthused, Mr Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal has stepped up the numbers to ensure that the party’s message reaches as many people as possible.
On Wednesday, the 30-year-old Chief Ministerial candidate of the Grand Alliance — the RJD, Congress and the Left parties — will be addressing no less than 12 meetings.
Tejashwi Yadav has tweeted, saying he felt “humbled” by the crowds:
EMBED: This sea of people is standing for change, development, employment and jobs in Bihar. The incompetent NDA govt of 15 years have ruined Bihar. Humbled and grateful to receive rousing reception across the Bihar. Such an electrifying crowd in Goh assembly, Aurangabad.
The BJP is playing down the crowds. Party spokesman Sahnawaj Hussain said most of the meetings are held in the RJD strongholds, where the “traditional supporters come in big numbers”.
“But if you see previous elections, the results have no connection to the turnout at rallies,” he pointed out today.
The results of 2015, though, was different. That year, RJD patriarch Lalu Yadav, who is currently in jail, was spearheading the campaign. A speaker par excellence with his engaging style and earthy wit, Lalu Yadav’s rallies were always well attended. But that year, he had spoken of extraordinary crowds — “the biggest since 1995”, was how he had put it.
The results showed that his Rashtriya Janata Dal won 80 — the lion’s share of the state’s 243 seats, Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal United won 71 seats and the Congress, 27 seats.
Without hoping for as much, the RJD leaders are happy with the response Lalu Yadav’s political heir is getting. “We are really taken aback by this large number, but it only confirms that there is huge anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar,” said senior RJD leader and party spokesman Shivanand Tiwari.
The crowd, he however, claimed, consist of people “beyond our traditional support base”.
While admitting that crowds at rallies do not translate into votes, Mr Tiwary said what propelled this massive footfall was the anger among the migrant labourers.
The state government, the labourers feel, did not support them or made any effort to bring them back from the faraway places where they are stranded after the overnight announcement of lockdown in March by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Tiwari said. Worse, even after seven months, most of these people are jobless, he added.
Under the circumstances, Tejashwi Yadav’s promise of providing 10 lakh jobs in his first cabinet meeting, has its allure, he said, adding that for now, it is generating curiosity about the young leader.
With his parents’ 15-year rule having its share of liabilities as much as advantages, Tejashwi Yadav has kept its message direct and simple instead of going for rhetoric like his father.
His poll promises hinge on a few key points. Besides 10 lakh jobs, he talks of equal pay for equal work, regularizing contractual workers, hiking the salary of people in ground-level administration like panchayats, eradicating bribery at local level and repealing farm laws.
A senior BJP leader said it will be “foolish” to dismiss the crowds. Admitting that his promise for the 10 lakh jobs has given him space among youths, the BJP leader said, “What really surprises us is the way he connects with the people in his rally”.