On 22 September, the prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted a letter by Harivansh Narayan Singh, the deputy chairman of the Rajya Sabha, to Ram Nath Kovind, the president of India. Modi urged all Indians to read Harivansh’s letter. In the letter, Harivansh expressed anguish that Members of Parliament tried to intimidate him by flinging the house rule book at him. The incident he was referring to was the uproar in the upper house against two contentious farm bills that were passed by voice vote on 20 September.
Harivansh is a Rajya Sabha MP of the Janata Dal (United), and represents Bihar. The JD(U) is an ally of the BJP in Bihar’s ruling coalition and at the centre. Harivansh was previously a journalist and has worked with the Times of India group, the Ananda Bazar Patrika group, the Hindi weekly Ravivar and as chief editor of the Hindi daily Prabhat Khabar. More significantly, Singh is from the Rajput community—an upper caste based predominantly in north India.
The incident in the Rajya Sabha and Harivansh’s letter quickly gained traction among BJP’s leaders from Bihar. “Harivanshji is respected in Bihar and all over the country,” Sushil Modi, a BJP leader and Bihar’s deputy chief minister, said. “The uncalled for incident which occurred with him in parliament yesterday has hurt the people and pride of Bihar. The people of Bihar will give a befitting reply to the opposition.” BJP Bihar president Sanjay Jaiswal also posted Harivansh’s letter on twitter and urged people to read it.
The day after the uproar in the Rajya Sabha, eight MP’s, who were suspended for their conduct during the voice vote, protested against their suspension and the farm bills by camping out on the laws on the Parliament. The next day, Harivansh went to the lawns carrying tea for the suspended MP’s. While they refused to accept the tea, Modi tweeted about Harivansh’s gesture invoking Bihar. “For centuries, the great land of Bihar has been teaching us the values of democracy,” he said in a tweet. “In line with that wonderful ethos, MP from Bihar and Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Shri Harivansh Ji’s inspiring and statesman like conduct this morning will make every democracy lover proud.” In a second tweet, Modi continued, “To personally serve tea to those who attacked and insulted him a few days ago as well as those sitting on Dharna shows that Shri Harivansh Ji has been blessed with a humble mind and a big heart.” The BJP’s vocal support for Singh is one example of how the party is trying to woo the Rajput community in Bihar ahead of the state elections.
Another example is a controversy over letters that the JD(U) and BJP claimed were written by Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, one of the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal’s senior most Rajput leaders, shortly before he died on 13 September. At the time, Raghuvansh was undergoing treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, in Delhi. A few days before Raghuvansh’s death, a letter surfaced in the media, which Prasad purportedly wrote to RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav on 10 September. “I have stood behind you for 32 years … no longer. Pardon me.” More letters surfaced, in which he wrote to Nitish Kumar, the Bihar chief minister about carrying forward specific development projects.
The RJD has cast doubts on the authenticity of these letters, and questioned how Raghuvansh could write them while he was seriously ill. However, as reported in The Wire, the JD(U) and BJP interpreted these letters as Prasad’s resignation from the RJD and a sign that the party had neglected him. Modi paid tribute to Raghuvansh in a tweet, and urged Kumar to fulfil Raghuvansh’s wishes by executing the development projects Raghuvansh wrote about in his letter. In trying to court the Rajput vote, the JD(U) and BJP attempted to project Raghuvansh’s letters as a sign of his unhappiness with the RJD before he passed away.