Bihar will go to the polls by October, but the BJP does not appear to have gotten its act right as yet. Even if we were to dismiss Upendra Kushwaha’s claims for the Chief Minister’s post as mere posturing, the BJP has only itself to blame for it. The BJP does not seem to have realised that the leadership vacuum was created by its own ambivalence in naming the general who will lead the battle for Bihar.
The other side has a clear chief ministerial candidate, with Lalu Prasad willing to gulp down the “poison” of having Nitish Kumar as leader of the Janata Dal (U)-RJD-Congress grouping. That coalition of convenience may have trouble over seat sharing and caste and communal representation, but there is no doubt who their CM candidate is and what he stands for: governance and “secularism”.
The BJP, which swept Bihar in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by riding the crest of the Modi wave against a divided opposition, had a clear value proposition then: it left caste behind and talked development. Even as Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad were blabbering on about communalism, Narendra Modi talked development and stole Nitish’s earlier calling card of governance.
In October, Nitish Kumar will have a tough time reclaiming his governance card having tied up with a convicted fodder scan criminal like Lalu Prasad. The field is open for the BJP to wrest this issue from Nitish. What it needs is a leader who can carry this claim credibly.
It is, therefore, surprising why the BJP should now be pussyfooting around caste combinations and fighting shy of announcing a leader who is clearly the tallest in Bihar – Sushil Modi.
As a party that has traditionally relied on the upper castes to give it voting muscle, the BJP seems to be in some doubt about whether the projection of Sushil Modi – a bania – will damage its chances with the upper castes. This is rubbish. If Narendra Modi could gather the upper caste vote despite being someone from the OBC stable, one wonders why the BJP in Bihar thinks Sushil Modi’s projection is a risk. It is one thing to ensure no caste goes unrepresented in the ticket distribution, quite another to believe that announcing Sushil Modi’s leadership is some kind of handicap. In fact, by keeping this uncertain it will handicap Sushil Modi’s commitment when everyone knows in the end the party will have to name him CM if it wins Bihar.
The Bihar battle will be a tough one for the BJP-LJP-Rsashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) coalition – especially given the arithmetic of caste and communal politics. The BJP will surely have to forsake the bulk of the minority vote, and will have to ensure the rest of the communities either vote for it or abandon all caste logic.
The only way the BJP can neutralise the caste-community arithmetic advantage that the Nitish-Lalu-Congress combine currently seems to enjoy is by transcending this electoral trap. This calls for a return to the 2014 strategy of talking development and relegating caste to the fringes.
Also, party chief Amit Shah needs to realise that what worked in Haryana, Jharkhand and Maharashtra may not work in Bihar. The party did not project any CM candidate since it did not have any obvious choice and the second-rung claimants were many. Moreover, the Modi wave of May 2014 had still not receded. In Bihar, the BJP has a leader and there is no Modi tailwind driving voters to it. It has to win by offering a vision and leadership.
The only way the BJP can make this happen is by formally having a leader who is not seen as pandering to caste arithmetic alone.
It is very clear who this leader should be. Sushil Modi has the stature and administrative experience to pull it off. Moreover, he does not carry the anti-minority baggage of the BJP’s other Bihari leaders like Giriraj Kishore or other upper caste leaders. Muslims may be in in hurry to vote for the BJP, but Sushil Modi will at least help the party transcend its narrow caste moorings and anti-minority posture.
Amit Shah and Narendra Modi should lose no time in declaring the leadership issue as closed. They should stop listening to the casteist leaders and acknowledge the one man who stands head and shoulders above the rest. Making the decision now is better than making it later as the party will have time to quell any dissidence, if it happens. This is exactly what it faced in Delhi in February when it suddenly parachuted Kiran Bedi into the leadership – and got wiped out. The problem was not Bedi’s induction per se, but the lack of time to let her grow into her role and for the party to accept it.
In Bihar, the BJP cannot afford to repeat Delhi. There is no way the party should get into the fight without a local leader.
Courtesy: First Post