New Delhi/Patna | A day after the government decided to confer Bharat Ratna on Karpoori Thakur, the political fight to claim the socialist stalwart's legacy heated up on Wednesday as the BJP lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi for following his ideals while opposition leaders flaunted their work on his agenda and made a fresh pitch for a caste census.
On Thakur's birth centenary, Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and other BJP bigwigs paid rich tributes to the former Bihar chief minister who came from the Extremely Backward Classes, a politically decisive group in his home state, with the prime minister calling him an "inspiration" for his government's pro-poor programmes.
The BJP accused opposition parties of not acknowledging Thakur's contribution when they were in power.
Alarmed by the BJP's concerted push to stake claim to the legacy of the leader whom socialist satraps of Bihar have always considered to be a member of their ideological pantheon, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad-led RJD highlighted his influence on their politics and their demand for Bharat Ranta for him while targeting the central government.
The Congress, which was locked in a political rivalry with Thakur at a time when it called the shots in the state's politics and has begun championing the cause of caste census, welcomed the highest civilian honour for him but its leader Rahul Gandhi added that a caste census will be a true tribute to him as the country now needs "real justice" and not "politics of symbolism".
Kumar, who sees himself as a follower of Thakur's legacy, taunted Modi for not informing him about the Bharat Ratna decision even though his government had long demanded it.
"I was told by my brother Ramnath Thakur that the PM called him up. However, he did not bother to call me. I would like to extend my thanks to him, nonetheless, through the media persons present here. I would like to say to him, you may say that you took the step just like that, without taking into account what we did,", said Kumar said at an event in Patna to mark Thakur's birth centenary.
Addressing a group of NCC cadets and NSS volunteers in the national capital, Modi was effusive in his praise for Thakur.
Lauding the backward leader, Modi said it is necessary for the young generation to know about him and learn lessons from his life.
Thakur was born amid extreme poverty and social inequality but rose to become Bihar's chief minister twice, he noted, adding that the socialist leader always remained humble and cared for every section of society.
His life was dedicated to social justice and the uplift of deprived sections, Modi said in a generous tribute to the visionary leader.
His honesty is cited as an example, the prime minister said, adding Thakur has been an inspiration for his government in its work for the poor's welfare and the uplift of backward sections of society.
The BJP went at full throttle to associate its agenda with Thakur's ideals and hit out at opposition parties, whose many leaders had worked with the former chief minister, for doing little to acknowledge him when they were in power.
Modi did "Ram kaaj" (work for Ram) on January 22 and "garib kaaj" (work for the poor) on January 23, Shah said at a function, blending the BJP's Hindutva agenda with the plank for social justice.
By announcing Bharat Ratna for Thakur, the prime minister, who himself comes from the backward communities, has given honour and justice to the crores of poor and the youth who sincerely and selflessly work for society and those who have been practising politics of probity, Shah said.
He cited the government's pro-poor work, including kitchen gas connection, housing and electrification, to assert that it has toed the socialist leader's agenda.
Union minister Ashwini Choubey who comes from Bihar - the ground zero of politics around Thakur's legacy - claimed that Prasad and Kumar did nothing for the leader they claim to be their mentor.
Prasad used to call him "kapti" (deceitful) Thakur, he alleged, claiming that the RJD leader and the JD(U) president insulted him in his lifetime.
RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said Thakur was Prasad's ideological guru and his party as well as the JD(U) had long pushed for conferring Bharat Ratna on him.
In his address, Nitish Kumar urged the central government to pay heed to other demands raised by his government as well, an apparent reference to his pitch for special status for Bihar and a country-wide caste census.
Drawing a parallel between his and Thakur's agenda, he said his government imposed prohibition and he has also not promoted his family members in politics unlike some others, remarks which may be seen as a swipe at his allies RJD and the Congress.
"It was Karpoori Thakur who first introduced prohibition in Bihar. But his government was toppled before completion of its term and the decision was then withdrawn," he said.
Rahul Gandhi alleged that the BJP government's "concealment" of the results of the social and economic caste census conducted in 2011 and their "indifference" towards a nationwide census is an attempt to weaken the movement for social justice.
The BJP hopes to make a big dent in the votes of non-dominant backward castes, especially those belonging to the EBC bloc, with the honour for Thakur.
The party has so far been less successful in the eastern state in wooing them to its side than in some other Hindi-speaking states, like neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, due to the sway of entrenched backward satraps like Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar.
The JD(U) president especially owes his rise to his adroit political and administrative measures aimed at the EBCs. However, claiming that his political fortunes are on a decline, the BJP has been making moves to chip away at his support in the run-up to the upcoming Lok Sabha polls and then the assembly polls, scheduled for next year.