March 26, 2023

The Bihar

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No more Modi wave? BJP may find it difficult to take on Nitish in Bihar

5 min read

Patna: Over the last few weeks, politics in election-bound Bihar has taken an interesting turn. One moment, it appears that the BJP is at an advantage, the next as if the party is far from sweeping that state.

The BJP under Narendra Modi has never appeared to be under as much pressure as it is now. Even as the party faces the challenge to prove that Modi’s popularity has not yet subsided, the BJP finds it hard to tackle certain issues which if not settled amicably could harm NDA’s poll prospects. The challenges have already grown bigger with the ‘secular alliance’ comprising RJD, JD-U, Congress and NCP announcing Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate of the alliance. The BJP is still undecided.

In a way, the Janata Parivar’s announcement has put pressure on the BJP to name its CM candidate as well to take on Nitish but the party, already plagued with infighting, does not want to fall into that ‘trap’. The reason is obvious. There are too many aspirants for the CM’s post—not only within the BJP but also in its allies. For the BJP, this could lead to serious infighting among leaders, damaging the party’s poll prospects as was seen in the case of New Delhi where the BJP declared Kiran Bedi as its CM candidate. The idea is thus fraught with serious risks.

However, the issue of leadership remains a major problem for the BJP. The prime worry within the saffron camp is that it does not have a leader to match the stature of Nitish. The lone prominent face with the state BJP is Sushil Kumar Modi, former deputy chief minister but a large section does not support him after he backed Nitish during the battle for Prime Ministership ahead of the LS polls.

A dominant section within the BJP wants someone from the Bhumihar community to be projected as the CM candidate. Former minister CP Thakur remains an obvious choice but the problem with the BJP is that if its tries to go with him, the OBC and Dalit voters may turn against the party. Efforts are on to lure the Yadav and Dalit voters who feel disenchanted and are currently isolated after Lalu accepted Nitish’s leadership and Jitan Ram Manjhi was unceremoniously removed as the CM by the JD-U.

It’s strange that the BJP is caught in a battle will the man whom it groomed and banked on for 15 years. The saffron group first placed its bet on Nitish during the 2000 elections when it handed over the throne of Bihar to him despite the fact that the BJP had more legislators than the JD-U at that time. The BJP had won 67 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly against the JD-U which won just 21 seats—two seats less than the Congress. Although the Nitish Kumar government lasted for a week, the BJP got a leader who could be a perfect match for Lalu Prasad. The BJP’s initial plan to counter Lalu’s politics—a backward against a backward—later became a “liability” for the Hindutva party. The BJP obviously had in its mind the brand value of Nitish who was a no nonsense leader and would discuss only serious matters.

In the next elections, the BJP aggressively pitched for Nitish, projecting him as the CM face of the NDA. Eventually, the NDA clinched power in the state after October/November 2005 elections, thus ending the 15 year-old “Jungle Raj” of Lalu-led RJD. Nitish obviously had emerged as the “giant killer” but in the last 2010 polls, he created history when the NDA under him got a massive three-fourth mandate—restricting the opposition to just 37 seats.

The BJP, though, claims it is not worried. “We are not the least bothered by the projection of Nitish. His projection was done under political compulsions as somebody claims to have supported him after “swallowing poison” but our CM’s face will be named by the party parliamentary board,” remarked state BJP president Mangal Pandey.

Former deputy chief minister Modi has a different interpretation of how the Nitish factor will not work. “Nitish got the BJP support to rid Bihar of Lalu’s ‘jungle raj’ but now he has gone in the latter’s company just to be in power. This is simply an opportunistic alliance which has lost the faith of the masses. What kind of good governance Nitish will be delivering sitting on the shoulder of Lalu and the Congress?” asked Modi.

The BJP, however, does admit that Bihar elections are crucial for the party. Why? For two reasons: The party wants to settle scores with Nitish who dumped BJP and threw it out of power midway although they had fought elections together, and second, it is in a place where two arch-rivals, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nitish will be face to face for the first time.

The second problem for the BJP is that the Modi wave is on the wane. In the last two elections, Modi’s charisma appeared to be fast on the decline. While the party somehow managed a majority in Jharkhand with the support of its allies, it put up a disastrous performance in Delhi where the BJP could win just three seats out of 70. This happened despite the fact that the party fielded an army of central ministers, MPs and thousands of RSS workers on the ground. If that was no enough, Modi himself led the charge.

There is also the possibility of Muslim voters completely dumping the BJP. In the last Lok Sabha polls, some Muslim votes had gone to the BJP but post the alliance between Lalu and Nitish, Muslim voters look more united than ever before. In all likelihood, a strong 16 percent of Muslim votes will go en-bock to the Janata Parivar. But a great relief for the BJP is that the Yadavs, who constitute about 15 percent of the state population, are annoyed with Lalu for accepting Nitish’s leadership and will, in all likelihood, switch over to the saffron camp. Also, a huge chunk of Dalit voters which comprise about 23 percent has now broken ties with the JD-U and will head towards the party where their leader Jitan Ram Manjhi goes.

Courtesy: First Post

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