Ashes and votes

By undertaking an asthi yatra, the BJP conveys that it is not above using the Patna terror for political ends.

When serial bombs killed six and injured over 80 in Patna last Sunday, on the day of his "hunkar" rally, BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi made no mention of the event in his speech. In fact, there was a noticeable shift in his tone that day, as he told Muslims and Hindus that their common enemy was poverty, and seemed to be finding his way towards a rhetoric of aspiration rather than of anxiety and rancour. That elevated approach may have been a short-lived thing after all, going by the zeal with which his party has made a political spectacle out of the Patna terror attack ó and how he plans to cash in on it.

The Bihar BJP has started a "Shahid Asthi Yatra" , travelling across the districts that the victims belonged to, with their ashes. It so happens that this allows them the opportunity to be visible in areas across Patna, Nalanda, Kaimur, Gopalganj, Begusarai and Supaul, which the JD(U) has dominated. Modi will visit the families of those who died and the party will contrast his action with that of the state's chief minister, Nitish Kumar. The state government's grant of Rs 5 lakh to the victims' families is being matched by the BJP, which will accompany the procession that immerses the ashes in Patna. The mission is transparent ó to show up Nitish Kumar as inept on law and order and insensitive to the human toll of terrorism. The BJP has also accused him of being soft on terror because he is reluctant to confront the radicalisation in the state, suggesting that "vote-bank politics" was responsible for his alleged inaction. This is on par with Digvijaya Singh's conspiracy theories on Batla House, and introduces politics into the neutral assessment of evidence. Bringing terror investigations into the coarse fray of communal politics is unwise and dangerous, and betrays the "nation first" principle that Modi has lately been propounding.

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