PATNA/MUZAFFARPUR/BHAGALPUR/KHAGARIA: With campaigning for the third and last phase of the Bihar elections coming to end on Thursday, the loudspeakers have turned silent and the choppers transporting VIP candidates have returned to the hangars.
On the face of it, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav were the two main rivals of this election. But, for the 7 crore voters in Bihar, the fight was not really between Nitish and his young challenger but between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal and Tejashwi’s promises.
Kaushal Kishore, a school teacher in Darbhanga district, said he would be voting for Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party in the name of Modi. “See, I am not voting for Nitish Kumar or Chirag, I am voting for a candidate of my choice in the name of Prime Minister Modi,” Kishore said.
Stating that he had no grudge against Nitish, Kishore said: “I personally support Modi for the work he has done. The vote I will cast will indirectly go to Modi. He is a more popular leader and an acceptable face in Bihar.” Perhaps realising the mood in his favour, Modi for the first time reached out directly to the voters, issuing a four-page letter in which he appealed to the “brothers and sisters of Bihar” to vote for the ruling alliance as “reforms are impossible in a state of disorder and anarchy.” “Since 2005, Bihar has been on a path of growth. For social and economic prosperity, the rule of law and better infrastructure are prerequisites. Only the NDA can give Bihar these two things,” the Prime Minister wrote.
That the BJP-JD(U) are banking on Modi’s appeal and not on Nitish is clear from the places where the PM campaigned. In a carefully-crafted tour programme, the BJP deployed the PM more in the not-so strong areas of the BJP-JD (U). Modi began his rallies in Sasaram followed by Motihari, Forbesganj, Saharsa, Bagah and Samastipur, areas where the NDA is somewhat weak. And almost everywhere, rarely was there any direct praise for Nitish and his work. Rather, his speeches centred around his government’s aid to the Bihar CM to help develop the state.
In other words, Nitish was only the vehicle to drive the growth engine, nothing more. “We have done a lot under Nitish Kumar and will do a lot more if voted to power. The BJP delivers what it promises,” Modi said almost everywhere. That the RJD also considers Modi and the BJP as its main rival are apparent from Tejashwi’s utterances.
At rallies in Seemanchal and Araria, and while speaking to reporters in Patna, Tejashwi said: “After the first and second phase of the elections, it is clear that the grand alliance is coming to power comfortably. Nitish is nowhere in the race. This fight is now between me and the BJP.” To blunt Tejashwi’s appeal, the BJP’s online team went on an overdrive, popularising the PM’s comments during rallies through social media. Such was the hype around Modi that Tejashwi avoided speaking against the PM.
Election observers were of the view that the young RJD leader targeted the BJP only 20% of the time during his campaign, saving his caustic attacks for Nitish. Nitish also acknowledged the PM’s contribution and appeal, often bringing in the ‘Modi factor.’ “Listening to his (Narendra Modi’s) appeal, if you give the NDA one more chance to work in the state, then you take it for sure that he will transform it into a developed state. Bihar will march ahead,” Nitish said at a rally in Patna.
Ram Babu Rajan, a farmer in Darbhanga, said the Bihar CM’s appeal had diminished. “I believe that Nitish will get votes in the name of Modi. Modi is a more acceptable personality among the people than Nitish,” he said. Amit Roy, who runs a tea stall in Khagaria district, said the NDA would get votes in the name of Modi as he had a good image among the people. “After the surgical and air strikes on Pakistan and the release of (Wing Commander) Abhinandan, the PM has become very popular among the youth,” Roy said.