Addressing a series of election meetings in Bihar, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said on Friday that the political discourse in the State should focus on roads, power and employment rather than “unnecessary discussions” on issues like beef.
The plea for keeping the campaign focused on governance was, however, tacitly targeted at the ‘grand alliance’ of the Janata Dal (United) (JD-U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress.
“The discussion is on unnecessary issues, like beef, and who is an insider or outsider. Useless issues are being raised. We should discuss roads, power, employment, water and medicines,” Mr. Singh said at a public meeting near Chhapra. He accused the ‘grand alliance’ of diverting the debate to these issues as it was “lagging behind” in terms of development record.
Accompanied by BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain, Mr. Singh made a conscious inclusive pitch, which seemed a marked departure from the shrillness in statements of some of the BJP leaders, including the alleged statement made by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar that “Muslims could stay in the country but would have to give up beef.”
Mr. Singh chose the martyrdom of a Muslim freedom fighter, Ashfaqulla Khan, to make a point about patriotism while speaking at Bihar Sharif. He said, amid applause from the crowd, that Khan had asked the magistrate to send a message to his mother that he was embracing death like a bride. At Raghopur, which has a strong Yadav population and where RJD leader Lalu Prasad’s son Tejaswi is the grand alliance’s candidate, Mr. Singh exhorted the crowd to think beyond “Mandal and Kamandal.”
Mr. Hussain said at Bihar Sharif that the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee would not have made A.P.J. Abdul Kalam the President of India if it were “communal.”
Mr. Singh accused the Bihar government of doing little to provide basic services like power, water and medicines or generating employment for the youth. In contrast, he said, the Centre had started programmes skill development programmes for the youth and offered them low-interest loans for entrepreneurship. He hailed the “strong” policy of the present government vis-à-vis Pakistan. Mr. Singh said he recently received a late-night phone call from the BSF DG apprising him of the killing of five Indians in firing by Pakistani Rangers. “I asked him what the BSF did and he said it waved white flags as a message that we should sort out the issues. When I asked him how Pakistan responded, he told me it offered no response,” Mr. Singh said.
“Then my blood boiled and I told him that while we should not fire the first bullet, we should not count the bullets we fire if they attack us.”