The much-awaited results of the Bihar assembly elections are out and the JD(U)-RJD-Congress-led ‘Mahagathbandhan’ has swept Bihar in a landslide, following a bitterly fought electoral battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It was marked by a high-pitched campaign, from humour-laced ‘jumlabaazi ‘to’ jungle raj’ diatribe.
The grand alliance scored a landslide victory with a two-third majority to give Nitish Kumar a third term in power.
After the humiliating defeat in the Delhi assembly election, Modi had led the NDA charge by holding over 30 rallies while his Man Friday and BJP chief Amit Shah held 85-odd public meetings, asserting confidence that the BJP-led NDA would come to power and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar would give in his resignation on November 8. However, the rising intolerance row, the silence over core issues and diminishing faith in the Modi government has once again stopped BJP from gaining a foothold in one of the most prominent states of the country.
BJP’s defeat in the state, however, will reinvigorate the opposition ranks. It will also help Nitish Kumar acquire a key role in national politics once again.
Here is why BJP lost in Bihar assembly elections
No Development Agenda
This is the second major defeat for Narendra Modi since he came to power at the Centre 18 months ago. Like previously fought elections, even this electoral battle saw an amusing war of words. PM Modi rather than talking of development used acerbic wit and direct attacks to pin down Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav. From terming the Mahagathbandhan as ‘Mahasarthbandhan’ to branding the RJD as ‘Rojana Jungle Raj ka Dar’, Modi was never short of harsh words.
Though a month before the Election Commission declared the poll dates, Modi announced the whopping package of Rs 1 lakh 65 thousand crore, he spoke about development promising “bijli-paani-sadak” (electricity, road and water) and “kamai-padhai-dawai” (earning, education and medicines) only after the second phase. Modi tried to pitch development through a six-point agenda, but the issues raised by the prime minister were nothing but what Nitish Kumar had already announced in his August 2014 development plan known as the ‘vision document’. The prime minister had nothing new to offer to the citizens of Bihar apart from ‘tall promises’.
Rising intolerance and negative mood about BJP
Over the last few months, the intolerance row has rocked the country. Not just opposition parties, but people from all walks of life have come forward to raise their voice over rising intolerance. Eminent business personalities, writers, actors have joined the debate citing the Dadri lynching, murders of rationalist author MM Kalburgi and activist Govind Pansare. Business leaders like Infosys founder Narayana Murthy, Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and economist Lord Meghnad Desai have spoken about intolerance. Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan too joined the debate, while several historians, actors returned their national and state awards. This in turn actually meant many fence sitters who would have earlier voted for the saffron brigade based on their developmental claims this time around decided to switch loyalties.
Silence of Modi on core issues
Whether it was America’s Madison square or Canada’s Ricoh Coliseum – Modi may have been successful in pleasing the international community and the Indian diaspora across the world. But at home, he failed to satisfy the expectations of the people. What makes the US President Barack Obama different than the Prime Minister of world’s largest democracy is that he speaks when the nation wants to hear from him the most. Soon after the shooting in Oregon, Barack Obama not only addressed the nation through media but also answered their questions. Obama also invited the young Muslim boy who was wrongfully detained by his school to the White House. However, our Prime Minister has persistently remained silent on the core issues while addressing rallies or through his radio address. Unfortunately, he even failed to address issues through Twitter, where he usually expresses his ‘Maan Ki Baat’ in 140 characters. Whether it is the FTII row, Dadri lynching, Kalburgi’s death or ceasefire violations, Modi has preferred to remain quiet. The only time he spoke out was when his home state of Gujarat was under duress.
No Face – No CM Candidate
BJP didn’t have any strong face to counter the charisma and good faith enjoyed by Nitish Kumar. It wanted to win the elections based merely on the Modi magic but, like Delhi, the plan failed in the presence of a powerful regional satrap.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the ‘one man army’ when it came to the election campaign. The likes of Sushil Modi or Rajiv Pratap Rudy could have been projected, but BJP decided to play it safe to appease people from all castes. BJP’s slogans of ‘Abki baar Modi sarkaar’ were revised to ‘Badaliye sarkaar, badaliye Bihar’. However, the gamble clearly failed to do the trick.
‘Irresponsible’ statements by Party leaders
Somewhere, the Modi wave has also been hit by his own party men who have forgotten the agenda of development and are more interested in engaging in a war-of-words. There is no shortage of leaders in the party who leave no stone unturned to embarrass BJP even when the prime minister has asked them not to make controversial statements. On the day of the final phase of the voting, adding fuel to the fire, Yogi Adityanath compared Shah Rukh Khan with the 2008 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed. Union Minister Mahesh Sharma termed the Dadri lynching incident as an “accident” while Haryana CM Khattar had said that Muslims can live in India only if they give up eating beef. The controversial comments by many such leaders have surely not gone down well with the voters affecting the NDA’s agenda.
Bhagwat’s comment on review of the reservations systems
Amid the continuing Patel quota stir in Gujarat, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat pitched for a review of the reservation policy, contending it has been used for political ends and that aspirations of one section should not be met at the cost of others. Veteran actor and party leader Shatrughan Sinha too backed Bhagwat’s call, stating he should be taken seriously. However, rejecting Bhagwat’s views, Amit Shah added that he didn’t think the present reservation system in the country needed a review.
Bihar is a state which unfortunately still votes heavily based on caste considerations. The opposition, especially Lalu, latched on to Bhagwat’s comments and hammered home the message that the BJP wanted to deprive the backward castes of reservations. Nitish Kumar said that the BJP will change the Constitution once they get numbers in the Rajya Sabha. BJP’s hopes of getting a coalition of Mahadalits and EBCs together was dealt a mighty blow by Bhagwat and the party ended up paying for it.
Many of these factors are not only Bihar-specific and the party is likely to fare poorly in the future too, especially if it is unable to control its fringe. It is the time for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to actually walk the talk.
First Published on dnaindia.com