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Nitish and Lalu Are in Alliance but Speak in Different Languages

Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar have tied up before the assembly polls, but each has a distinct campaign style. 

Updated
Politics
4 min read
Nitish Kumar, the chief ministerial candidate for the RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine, deploys the ‘development’ language in his electoral campaign. (Photo: PTI)
Nitish and Lalu Are in Alliance but Speak in Different Languages

Political-Speak

  • Nitish Kumar the chief ministerial candidate has taken to tweeting one-liners trying to warn his detractors
  • Lalu Yadav known for taking swipes at opponents in local dialect typical of identity politics prevalent in hinterland
  • Will the Nitish-Lalu duo be able to cater to the rising aspirations of people in Bihar?

Elections in Bihar, raucous and rancorous as they have always been historically, are also about the politics of language and communication. Poll campaigns are often marked by witticism and there was a time when Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad Yadav would regale voters with wisecracks typical of Bihar’s rustic backwaters.

And now Janata Dal(United)’s Nitish Kumar, the chief ministerial candidate of the Janata Parivar’s RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine, has taken to tweeting one-liners and couplets which will not quite crack you up, but set you thinking about what’s up the wily leader’s sleeves.

On July 22, Nitish tweeted a Rahim couplet which said: “Jo Rahim uttam prakriti, ka kari sakat kusung, chandan vish vyapat nahi, lipte rahat bhujang” (Bad company does not affect a virtuous man, just like the sandalwood tree is not affected by snakes wrapped around it). The tweet set speculations rife that the target was Lalu with whom he had joined hands to take on the BJP. Nitish later clarified that the “tweet and the use of Rahim’s couplet was meant for BJP, which is poisonous.” At this point in time, it is a tad difficult to ascertain whether Nitish had targeted Lalu or detractors within his own party.

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Lalu Prasad Yadav’s speeches are punctuated with wit. But will such a style hold him in good stead in the run-up to the assembly polls? (Photo: PTI)
Lalu Prasad Yadav’s speeches are punctuated with wit. But will such a style hold him in good stead in the run-up to the assembly polls? (Photo: PTI)

Not Just Banter

The Lalu-Nitish alliance is a tie-up between two politicians who speak different languages in Bihar’s clangorous political culture. Among other things, an effective political idiom has the capacity to link both upper and backward castes by taking care of the symbol depicting development and good governance, which have been alien in Bihar. Nitish has spoken the language of development before while this time around – three months before the assembly election – he has also tried to arouse Biharis’ identity consciousness.

On the other hand, Lalu’s political idiom is replete with symbolism and glossaries which encourage the mass of illiterate and backward as well as Muslims to connect with each other. He makes creative use of secularism and social justice symbols in his inimitable Bhojpuri accent. Folk idioms, satires, vernacular drama and subtle body language have been his strength since long. Lalu’s masterful deployment of Bhojpuri has a magnetic appeal among the public.

On his part, Nitish’s political language is used to bridge the gap between the urban middle class and the rural folk who are far more aware of their rights now than they were a decade or two ago.

Lalu’s Punch

During the decade of the 70s, the Bhojpuri drama ‘Loha Singh’ broadcast over Bihar radio stations was very popular among the public. In the drama, Lalu Yadav incorporated his political thoughts in a delightful pastiche of Hindi, Bhojpuri and English, making it popular. Sample this from Rameshwar Singh Kashyap’s ‘Loha Singh’: “Arre sunte ho! Khaderan ki Madar!” (Listen, mother of Khaderan). The protagonist, Loha Singh, used a combination of Bhojpuri, Hindi and English delivered with a military accent.

As a student of Patna University, Lalu copied the dialogues of the play, using significant snatches in numerous speeches. He worked on his style of speech, sharpening it and integrating ideas of social justice which had a powerful impact on listeners. While Lalu has certainly lost his original charm and wit, he still has the capability to pack some punch, and all with the objective of achieving political alignments.

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What remains to be see is how Bihar’s voters take to Nitish Kumar’s development agenda. (Photo: PTI)
What remains to be see is how Bihar’s voters take to Nitish Kumar’s development agenda. (Photo: PTI)

Mark Your Words

There can be no two opinions that Bihar has progressed in the last four to five decades. Literacy levels have risen, though migration to other states continues unabated. Over the past few years, different communities have felt the effects of development, causing a growth in aspirations and the desire to live well. The credit for this new phase in Bihar must go to Nitish who harnessed the people’s aspirations with his own brand of the idiom of development which is incongruous for those comfortable with Lalu’s gawai language.

Social conflicts and tensions are common in Bihar and result from sharp cleavages. The challenge before Lalu and Nitish in the course of the election campaign would be to balance the two varied languages they speak. Nitish must realise that jibes such as the one contained in his tweet could prove electorally costly, especially when the RJD-JD(U)-Congress combine is up against a BJP still riding on Narendra Modi’s popularity.

(The writer is an eminent political analyst)

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