In continuation of the IndiaFacts series on the upcoming Bihar assembly election, we can now examine the battle that increasingly looks fierce and promising. The consensus of most political observers is that it promises to be a neck to neck contest where each vote will count.
These are still early days, but the ground assessment from different districts tell a different story.
There seems to be a formidable level of anti-incumbency in Bihar, reflected by some reckless moves of CM Nitish Kumar in the last couple of weeks, which suggests all is not well for Janata Parivar.
On the other hand, PM Narendra Modi is all set to change the momentum in favor of NDA. His last two rallies in Muzaffarpur and Gaya has left Nitish Kumar in big trouble.
If you remember the early days of Sachin Tendulkar’s opening batting in One-day matches, he used to kill the confidence of the opponent in the very first few overs, and then dominate the game.
Taking benefit of Nitish’s visceral animosity towards him, the big thing Modi managed to do through the Muzzafarpur rally was to inflict a psychological blow on Nitish’s campaign confidence. Nitish is still stuck in finding an appropriate response.
It leaves me clueless, wondering who suggested Nitish Kumar to write a public letter to Modi on his DNA remark. Most likely it came in the wake of signals from Nitish’s campaign managers that he is slipping.
Nitish was given a warning that none of his ‘Vikas Card’ and ‘Caste Matrix’ is working. It was an attempt to fire up the faltering Nitish campaign that was lifted straight from 2007 Gujarati Asmita strategy. The intention was to ignite the so called Bihari pride in the same way Modi turned tables on Sonia in the 2007 Gujarat elections.
Not surprisingly, the BJP responded with a scathing charge that “arrogance, betrayal, conspiracy and deceit” are the ABCD of Nitish Kumar’s politics. They accused him of shamelessly distorting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words for petty political gains, and it backfired on Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar’s desperation did not end there.
Despite all the ‘so called secular’ parties in an alliance, Nitish tabled the NN Singh Commission’s Report on Bhagalpur riots after 25 years in the assembly.
Nitish must thank the Congress-friendly mainstream media that opted to be silent on it.
The Report indicts the then Congress Government and it was during Lalu Yadav’s rule that the rioters were acquitted. It was a huge tactical mistake and has every potential to backfire since there was no justice and rehabilitation for survivors in 25 years of RJD/JDU rule.
Janata Parivar junior partner, Lalu Yadav has more reasons to worry. He is not scared of Modi or BJP or Nitish, but NOTA. Many diehard Yadav supporters have warned RJD cadre that they would rather choose NOTA over voting for the secular alliance.
Nitish is also aware of these developments and is in constant thought of dumping RJD, which has now become a bone stuck in his neck. No wonder there was not a single poster of the Janata Parivar that features Lalu Yadav: it all begins and ends with Nitish.
On every social forum and door to door campaign, people are asking JDU volunteers, “Why did you ally with Lalu Yadav”? It is shifting a lot of progressive voters across all ages and castes towards the NDA. But it is the chunk of Muslim votes that is holding them together for now.
There is still confusion in seat sharing between Janata Parivar constituents. While an ETV news report says that the JDU would contest all 115 seats it won last time, JDU state President, Bhasisht Narayan confirms that the JDU-RJD alliance would contest 105 seats each with a few adjustments to it. I am surprised Nitish Kumar is not even contesting half of the total number of seats.
The less we talk about the Congress the better. The Congress rejected the 30-seats offer of JDU-RJD and threatened to go all alone if at least 50 seats were not given.
That is fine but finding 243 candidates agreeing to contest on Congress ticket would be a tough task in Bihar. We can be sure to witness how the coalition partners and the people of Bihar will show Sonia-Rahul their rightful place.
Wary of a resurgent BJP, Nitish is trying to woo the CPI to join his ‘Mahagatbandhan’ and offered them six seats to contest. It would be interesting to see if the CPI breaks ranks with other Left parties.
More trouble is headed towards the Janata Parivar through surveys and opinion polls. IBTL, which has a decent record of predicting electoral outcomes, puts the NDA slightly ahead of Parivar with a seat projection of NDA – 119, RJS – 117 and others 7. Another opinion conducted in early August gives NDA-120 Janata Parivar-110 Left+Others-13 suggesting that the NDA is heading towards a clear majority.
It is surprising that the usually anti-BJP media has started to concede Bihar.
In the Indian News Bihar survey, 65 percent voters say law and order has worsened after Nitish and Lalu came together, and 59 percent say the Modi magic will work in this election.
The recent incident of the murder of the BJP councilor, Avinash Kumar in broad daylight will further fuel this belief. Going by these predictions, it seems an anti-Nitish wave is building up, and the JDU is on its way out of power in Bihar. But it is still too early to predict.
In another development, despite strong resentment against Prashant Kishore in the JDU camp itself, Nitish is backing him because he depends on him heavily.
But none of Prashant Kishore’s copy-pasted slogans with the life-sized posters showing Nitish’s face is working anymore. Badh Chala Bihar, Phir Ek Baar Nitish Kumar or Bihar Me Bahaar Ho, Nitish Kumar Ho or the latest one in the series, Jhanse Me Na Aaenge, Nitish Ko Jitayenge are all the IPAC’s handiwork. Other activities include Parcha-Pe-Charcha and Ghar-Ghar-Dastak, where the JDU leadership interacts with the electorate.
As someone very aptly tweeted: “Looks like its Modi vs. copying Modi’s past electoral strategies in Bihar”.
Nitish Kumar’s Badh Chala Bihar campaign has lost steam in just one month.
Before the Legislative Council elections, the BJP alleged a violation of the moral code of conduct and the EC had imposed a ban on the program. Once again, the High Court objected to the state leadership’s involvement in the Badh Chala Bihar campaign.
But the primary reason for its failure is understood to be government officials (through whom it was pushed) not believing in the re-election of the Nitish Government. In the ‘Har ghar dastak’ campaign, people are asking straight questions like “You promised us electricity where is it?”
It looks like Nitish’s campaign peaked very early and right now nothing is working in his favor, and this blitzkrieg campaign has hallmarks of disastrous ‘India Shining’ all over it.
The NDA campaign started very late but seems to have peaked at the right time.
Amit Shah has divided the state into four structural sectors. All four of Modi’s pre-poll public rallies are also being organized at the behest of this sector wise electoral management.
For the first time, the BJP has put in such a well-structured and coordinated effort. The BJP’s cutting-edge campaign technology has developed a reporting app to track the location of state leaders and campaign raths. The party is using drones, GPS, reporting apps in the campaign as Shah goes all out to wrest Bihar from Nitish.
The BJP is playing both safe and extra careful, seeking extensive ground level feedback on candidates and filtering out unwanted candidates, those who have no support base but just contacts with top leaders.
The NDA partners are looking like a cohesive group a big challenge for them in the past. Ram Vilas Paswan is a seasoned politician and has made it clear at the beginning that he is not going to be the CM candidate. Despite being infamous for all the wrong kinds of news, Jitan Ram Manjhi is also emerging as a tall leader of the Mahadalits, especially in the Magadh Region of Bihar.
Sensing the public response, the BJP has planned to accommodate a few more of Narendra Modi’s public rallies. The entire NDA worked as a team for almost a week in the run up to Narendra Modi’s Gaya Parivartan Rally, which turned out to be the real game-changer event.
If you wanted to see a wave changing into a tsunami, you should have been in Gaya on 9 August and witnessed the ‘Parivartan Rally’.
The local police and administration suggest that more than four lakh people were inside Gandhi Maidan, Gaya, and almost equal number outside. I never imagined that Narendra Modi is still so incredibly popular, and that it would be the biggest rally ever in Gaya despite being a Lalu Yadav stronghold and having strong Naxal warnings.
Seizing the moment, Narendra Modi changed gears and delivered a highly positive and unsparingly scathing speech and changed both the direction and momentum of the NDA’s campaign.
He started by mentioning the glorious past of Bihar and its present state, If one reads between the lines, he was suggesting that this once mighty Magadha Samrajya is today begging for special status.
He stressed on how intelligent Bihari youths are being forced to go outside for studies and jobs. Millions of youth aged between 17 and 20 struggle for merely 25000 engineering seats which compels five lakh plus students to migrate every year.
This time Modi had some special words reserved for Lalu Yadav and reminded his audience of the dark days of Jungle Raj of his rule. He destroyed Lalu Yadav by saying that “Jungle Raj Part 2 after the jail experience (of Lalu) will be more vicious than Part 1.”
He talked about Gaya’s tourism potential that is as big as the Taj Mahal of Agra, but the Bihar Government’s apathy to Infrastructure and Law and Order not letting it flourish.
Narendra Modi asked Biharis to elect a government that will work in harmony with the Central government for the state’s speedy development. He promised with a definite timeline, “It took ten years to pull Madhya Pradesh out of the BIMARU state (when a non-cooperating Government was at Center)” but that he will “pull out Bihar in five years.”
Almost every journalist is now conceding that Modi’s Gaya rally was a mammoth success and reflects Bihar’s mood: change.
As his record shows, Narendra Modi doesn’t respond to allegations, but sets the agenda and makes others respond to his.
Nitish Kumar who was left nervous after Modi’s Muzaffarpur rally, expectedly went berserk after Gaya. The same Nitish Kumar who extols the backwardness of Bihar as a plank to ask for Special Status has a problem with the BIMARU tag. He is so rattled that he had to resort to 2002 and Mandal. The more Nitish reacts to Modi rallies, the more he concedes ground.
Nitish Kumar is no longer confident of a win in Bihar.
Contrary to his earlier strategy, a hurried plan has been made to hold the first mega joint rally in Patna with allies on 29 August. Invites have been sent to Arvind Kejriwal and Shibu Soren.
The spectacle of Nitish holding hands with Sonia Gandhi, Lalu Yadav, and Sharad Pawar would be priceless. My understanding of Bihar’s mood says that it will put the final nail in Janata Parivar’s electoral coffin.
By the looks of it so far, it appears to be another wave election in Bihar. Whereas the Lalu-Nitish combine has the caste arithmetic with them, the momentum is clearly with NDA, and the Modi Wave would be enough to win the election.
The battle has truly begun now.