Kheer, khichdi and the like spice up Indian politics

Patna: Union Minister and RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha addresses a press conference in Patna on May 13, 2018.(Photo: IANS)
Union Minister and RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha addresses a press conference in Patna in May, 2018. | Photo: IANS
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Politicians come up with interesting analogies. Upendra Kushwaha, whose party is a junior member of the National Democratic Alliance, has promised to create kheer (a rice pudding) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Kushwahas are farmers in the rice-growing part of the state, and he says his Rashtriya Lok Samta Party can combine with Yadavs, who rear cows and produce milk, to produce kheer. While it is sweet news for Lalu Prasad's Rashtriya Janata Dal, it can turn out to be a bitter drink for the Bharatiya Janata Party, which wants to replicate the spectacular success of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Kushwaha has two spectacular grievances. The folksy Bihar leader is convinced that he turned the majority of the Backward Class voters to Modi, despite old ally Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) opposing the BJP four years ago. Kushwaha thinks he did not get a meaty portfolio or importance, just because BJP got its own numerical majority in the Lower House. Kushwaha also has been ignored by BJP after Nitish returned to NDA fold in 2017, breaking a brief alliance with RJD and Congress. Now Kushwaha wants to be projected as the NDA's chief ministerial candidate in 2020, and also wants more Lok Sabha seats allotted in 2019 than those which will be given to Nitish. His argument is that his party won both Lok Sabha seats it had contested, while Nitish could win only two out of 27 seats his JD(U) had contested.

But BJP president Amit shah is not impressed by Kushwaha's arguments, as the ground situation is different and the Lok Samta Party has no traction on its own. Kushwaha, carried on by his imagery, added he will bring sugar from Brahmins, tulsi from the Chaudhury community which specialises in horticulture and there would be dry fruits from Other Backward Castes. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav welcomed the kheer formula saying it would be a nutritious diet for Bihari voters.

Kushwaha is not the first one to use analogies to describe caste combinations. Indira Gandhi had called the Janata Party – a combination of five parties – in 1977 as khichdi, the common rice and dal gruel of the common people, into which salt and spices are added. The Janata Party's ideological inspiration Jayaprakash Narayan had responded that while majority preferred khichdi which had many ingredients, Congress had become plain rice, losing its nutrition and taste, implying the domination of one person. The khichdi of multiple parties, however, won the electoral battle against the single dominant party of the time.

When the Congress and People's Democratic Party had formed the government in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of PDP had said it was a perfect multi-course Kashmiri wazwan meal. But when Mufti had teamed up with the BJP three years ago, the rival National Conference leaders had commented that the meal had only saffron look (the colour of BJP flag), without the Kashmiri saffron (the popular spice product of the Valley). When JD(S) and Congress made the unusual post-poll alliance in Karnataka earlier this year, a Congress leader termed it was the combination of ragi (millet) balls (the favourite dish of former prime minister and JD (S) leader H D Deve Gowda) and mutton curry (the favourite of former Congress chief minister Siddaramaiah). Normally, Gowda prefers sambar with his ragi balls, while Siddaramaiah prefers rice with his mutton curry.

Modi is famous for responding to criticism in style, the prime minister will chose the appropriate occasion to come up with his own answer to the kheer formula.

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