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Will Modi’s Rallies and Promises Lead to Electoral Gains for BJP in Bihar?

August 20, 2015

The Narendra Modi juggernaut was set rolling in Bihar after his five high-voltage election rallies in the poll-bound state. The prime minister’s no-holds-barred campaign – he being the mascot of the party like in four of the previous five assembly elections since he became the PM – has mesmerised the people on the streets in Bihar.

Challenges Before Modi Ahead of Bihar Assembly Polls

He has carefully selected his venues – Patna, Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Ara and Kosi in his two whirlwind tours of the state in less than a month. These cities represent the Patna, Darbhanga, Magadh, Bhojpur, and Saharsa administrative divisions of the state respectively. These are the regions where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has weak presence. In Patna belt, the BJP has six of the 14 seats; in Darbhanga it has 10 out of 37 seats (It was 13 but three MLAs have deserted the BJP); in Magadh it has 8 of the 26 seats; in Bhojpur it has 10 out of 22 seats; and in Saharsha it has only one out of 18 MLAs.

His next destination on 30 August is Bhagalpur, from where its senior leader and prominent Muslim face Mohammed Shahnawaz Hussain had conspicuously lost in the last general elections. Of the 12 assembly seats in Bhagalpur, the BJP has only 4 MLAs.

More such visits will happen in the run up to the elections.

Modi’s Announcement of Mega Package for Bihar

His initial blitzkrieg punctuated by a jaw-dropping announcement of a Rs. 1.25-lakh-crore economic package for Bihar during his rally in Ara has already made the desired impact in every nook and corner of the state and set the tongues wagging.

The ruling Janata Dal (United) and its alliance partners, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, now term the package as a mere ‘jumla’ – an election gimmick. According to them, the Prime Minister has ignored the state government’s repeated pleas for according special status to Bihar. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reacted asking whether such a provision was made in the budget!

The RJD supremo Lalu Yadav took a potshot saying “Modi is a great hypnotiser…” The media analysts have already got down to assess the package politics versus ground reality but the fact is that Modi has succeeded in making a big political statement through this announcement. The expectations of the people have raised manifold. The refrain on the streets is that Bihar needs such package –“This is the biggest ever package and shows your (Modi’s) vision to build Bihar as India growth story…” Satyajit Singh, Chairman of Progress Harmony and Development Chamber of Commerce and Industry, wrote to the PM.

Frontal Attacks on Nitish Kumar Launched by Modi

Yet, what has brought the campaigning alive in the state is the way Modi launched a personal attack on the Bihar Chief Minister and the Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar during his rally in Muzaffarpur on 25 July by finding fault with the latter’s “political DNA”.

It may be mentioned that Modi and Nitish Kumar were not on talking terms during the last leg of their parties’ 18-year alliance, which ended in 2013. However, it was interesting that they were seen warmly greeting each other and exchanging pleasantries when they shared stage in Patna on 25 July where the PM launched a slew of projects. But that was all. Modi, thereafter, proceeded to his ‘Parivartan rally” where he made the DNA barb – “I was hurt when he withdrew his support. But when he did the same thing to a Mahadalit such as Jitan Manjhi, then I figured out there is something wrong in his political DNA,” Modi said, referring to the JD-U’s split with the BJP in 2013.

The frontal attack led to a besmirched chief minister reacting aggressively as he linked it to Bihar’s pride. He not only launched a counter-offensive by giving it a twist of “Bihari Asmita (pride)” but also started a shabdwapsi (take back your words) campaign to collect 50 lakh samples of the people to be sent to the Prime Minister for a DNA test!

Winning Bihar Elections Won’t Be a Cakewalk for Modi

Bihar is going to be crucial for Modi, particularly, after BJP’s complete annihilation in the Delhi state elections in February. Yet, unlike the Haryana, Maharashtra, Jammu & Kashmir, and Jharkhand state elections where the prime minister was the face of the party, he had stayed away from being the BJP’s face in Delhi where the mantle was given to India’s first lady IPS officer Kiran Bedi who the party projected as the Chief Minister.

Hence, his return as the lead campaigner for his party in Bihar puts his reputation at stake, especially after the Delhi debacle. This is an onerous task considering the caste-ridden politics of the state. The coming together of a beleaguered Nitish and Lalu could consolidate the Yadav, Kurmi, and Muslim support base in their favour.

Modi’s own community (Ghanchi, called Teli in Bihar) was recently added in the Extremely Backward Caste category list in Bihar (which has been challenged in court). With around 45 per cent EBCs in the state, the BJP seems to be counting more on its support besides the 15 per cent Mahadalit votes to counter the JD(U)-RJD-Congress challenge. In such a situation, his choice of addressing his very second rally in Gaya, the home constituency of the party’s prominent EBC leader and six-term legislator Dr. Prem Kumar, has turned many heads. His photos in the banners on the BJP rath (chariot) has suddenly catapulted him among the favourites for the CM’s slot in case the BJP wins the elections. The other BJP contenders for the coveted post include former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi, as well as leader of the opposition in the assembly, Nand Kishore Yadav (both OBCs).

Yet, as they say, ‘Bihar is still far away’ for Narendra Modi and the BJP as the Nitish-Laloo (both OBCs) combine continue to pose a stiff challenge that makes the Bihar elections a keen contest between the EBCs and the OBCs. As it is, with just about 24 per cent upper caste votes in Bihar, the state has not seen any upper caste as a chief minister since Dr. Jagannath Mishra (1989-1990).

Modi has a tough test ahead, and who knows it better than him!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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