Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed four election rallies in Bihar on Thursday, seemed to have changed the tone of his speech at the fourth rally, perhaps after a tweet from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar questioning his "deplorable silence" on certain issues.
Speaking in Nawada, at his fourth rally during the day, Modi pitched for communal harmony and brotherhood in the country, saying Hindus and Muslims should work together to fight the common enemy of poverty. He also urged people to ignore "irresponsible" statements from politicians, even if he himself made one.
His remarks come against the backdrop of controversial statements made by various politicians, including BJP Ministers Mahesh Sharma and Sanjeev Balyan and other leaders like Sakshi Maharaj, Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som, as also Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi.
Earlier in the day, Nitish Kumar had made a stinging comment alleging Modi was trying to add a "communal texture" to Bihar polls. Nitish's message on Twitter read: "The real Modi on display - brazen attempt to add communal texture to Bihar polls, but deafening silence on deplorable incidence of Dadri." (sic)
In his first comments amid communal overtones in the wake of the Dadri incident, where a Muslim man was lynched by a mob for allegedly storing beef in his house, Modi on Thursday invoked President Pranab Mukherjee's message from a day earlier. He said the countrymen should follow the President's message on preserving the core civilisational values of diversity, tolerance and plurality.
Asking people to ignore the "irresponsible" statements, he said politicians made such remarks for political interests. "Some politicians are making irresponsible statements for political interests... Such statements should end... Do not pay attention to such statements, even if Modi himself makes any such statement," the Prime Minister emphasised.
Modi's focus during the three other rallies that he had addressed in the state before Nitish's tweet on Thursday, however, had been markedly different. Speaking in Begusarai, he had entered the beef controversy by ridiculing Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad's comment that Hindus also ate beef.
"In Gujarat, Yaduvanshis (people of the Yadav caste) were the harbingers of the white revolution. Rearing cows and Amul were made possible only because of the Yaduvanshis. But here (in Bihar), we don't know what he (Lalu) has eaten up… He has insulted the Yaduvanshis," Modi had said in Begusarai, turning the beef controversy into a caste appeal, apparently for the Yadav votes.
The context of the statement was Lalu Prasad's earlier comment on the Dadri lynching incident. Lalu had said, possibly to reassure local Muslims, that some Hindus also ate beef. He had, however, quickly retracted the statement as many from his own party and the grand alliance were concerned the remark could prove costly for Lalu's two sons in the electoral fray, as well as for other candidates of his party and alliance. By way of justification, Lalu had later said a shaitan had got his tongue when he made that remark.
Modi took full advantage of Lalu's discomfiture while addressing the first three rallies on Thursday, even as campaigning for the first phase of polling on October 12 hotted up.
Referring to the shaitan (devil), Modi said: "I want to know how the shaitan got Lalu's address… the shaitan homed in on him the way people recognise their relatives… so far, we were fighting (political rivals) human beings. But now a shaitan in a human body is after us". Some even criticised Modi for opting only to make a satirical comment about a political rival, rather than condemning an incident that was a clear violation of law.
As the day progressed, and Modi learnt about the criticism of his take on the beef controversy, he changed course.
In all other respects, though, Modi's Thursday rallies in Bihar were a huge success. Not only did thousands turn up to listen to him, like at other places, there also was a significant presence of young people. Capitalising on this, Modi directly addressed the youth of Bihar. He appealed to them to throw the ruling government out of power for "development of the state".