2 Bad Phases on, BJP Raises Guard
PATNA/DELHI:Following the poor feedback it got from constituencies after the first two phases of Bihar Assembly elections, the BJP appears to be on the back foot. What is of concern for the saffron party is that the NDA is not doing well in Bhagalpur, Jamui and in other districts where it has always been strong. Infighting within the party is largely responsible for its poor show, sources say. But, the party can console itself about its poor chances of winning from the Samastipur and Begusarai-Munger belts — which went to polls in the first phase — as they are traditionally the strongholds of socialists and communists respectively. In 2010, it was JD(U) that had performed better in these districts.
Signs of unease were visible when midway during the campaign, BJP president Amit Shah held a press conference in Patna on October 19, his first-ever in the State since the election process began. Putting up a brave face, he claimed that NDA would win 32-34 of the 49 seats in the first phase and 24 of the 32 seats in the second phase. The master strategist for his party focused on re-affirming BJP’s commitment to reservation, and attacked the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad combine for caste-based politics. His press conference was not without reason. “Nitish and Lalu have been able to percolate a sense of insecurity down to the village level on reservation. They used RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks to its mouthpiece Organiser to their advantage,” a party leader confessed. Another giveaway at the press conference was Shah’s angry retort to the media. “You are not asking me any question about Bihar or Nitish Kumar’s government... Before asking about BJP’s agenda, you should tell us about your agenda,” he told mediapersons. A party functionary said Nitish-Lalu’s strategy in spreading misinformation against the saffron party at the ground level so that it becomes a talking point seems to have gained traction.
A day before the conference, Shah flew to Delhi and summoned leaders like Haryana CM M L Khattar, MP Sakshi Maharaj and MLA Sangeet Som for making provocative statements about beef-eating and the lynching of a Muslim man for allegedly storing beef. Union Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh’s recent ‘dog’ remarks on the killing of two Dalit children in Haryana will be a headache for BJP in Bihar. BJP allies Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) president Ram Vilas Paswan have panned Singh’s statement. Sources said BJP was keen on a discourse to break the caste calculus, but initial reports suggested that castes voted as consolidation happened around their leaders. “There was transfer of votes between the two alliances,” a BJP leader confessed. The change in BJP’s strategy was visible after the first two phases of elections. The party started focusing on state leaders like Sushil Kumar Modi and allies like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi in posters and publicity material instead of just large cutouts of Modi and Shah, as Nitish-Lalu harped on the ‘bahari’ (outsider) versus Bihari debate.
Advertisements underwent a change midway. The initial campaign was focused on hard-selling the PM’s `1.25 lakh crore package on big ticket infrastructural projects. The new advertisement campaign had basic issues like providing electricity, employment and security for women, apart from questioning Nitish on his governance record. “People were more enthused when BJP promised laptops, scooties and colour TVs rather than the `1.25 lakh crore package,” a BJP insider said.
The tussle for supremacy of the Dalit leadership between Paswan and Manjhi is cancelling out each other’s influence. LJP and HAM have put up rebel candidates against each other in several constituencies even as BJP remains a helpless spectator.
Analysts feel that by leaving 23 seats for Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, BJP seems to have committed a blunder. RLSP has been highly overrated. The Koeris, on whose vote-bank RLSP was surviving, have almost deserted it and joined forces with Yadavs and Kurmis in voting for the ‘Grand Alliance’. Leaving 40 seats for LJP and 23 to RLSP was, according to political observers, a huge miscalculation. The absence of BJP’s chief ministerial face is also proving to be costly. In a hurry, BJP unofficially floated several names, mostly of Extremely Backward Class leaders such as Prem Kumar and Rameshwar Chaurasia, but the idea did not click. The PM’s speeches in Bihar lacked homework, with many factual errors that worked in favour of Nitish’s government. “Everywhere he would ask ‘bijli mili?’ (have you got electricity) when the fact is that the people of Bihar do not have any complaint about electricity, road and law and order. Instead, it is the failure to bring down prices that is turning people away from BJP,” says Begusarai-based social activist Pushpraj.
The Way Ahead
The party leadership wants to keep the workers’ morale high after panic gripped them after the cancellation of Modi’s proposed rallies on October 16. BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha has been making things difficult for the party. He publicly questioned the cancellation of Modi’s rallies, a charge BJP denied, and claimed that the first two phases of polling did not go his party’s way. BJP’s star campaigner Modi will address his next rallies from Sunday onwards, when he is expected to address eight of them in three consecutive days. In all, Modi will address 13 more rallies, taking the total to 22. Shah has held 29 rallies and will address 18-20 more. But what is worrying the leadership, according to sources, is the strife within NDA.
The saffron party is looking to improve its position in the third and fourth phases of polling. In the fifth phase, there is hardly any scope for BJP as polling will be held in Muslim and backward (essentially Yadav) dominated belts of Kosi and Seemanchal. In this era of sharp polarisation, factors like president of AIMIM, Asaduddin Owaisi, and Jan Adhikar Party leader Pappu Yadav have got eclipsed. The BJP is expecting that these two leaders may split Yadav and Muslim votes as the two communities are likely to support ‘Grand Alliance’ candidates.