Bihar Elections: It’s make or break for BJP in the fourth round

BJP gears up for the 4th phase of Bihar Polls

BJP gears up for the 4th phase of Bihar Polls

The fourth round of elections covering 7 districts is due on Sunday, 1 November 2015, and will decide the fate of 55 candidates. But this round goes beyond just 55 candidates. This is the last round as far as BJP is concerned as it is expected to do well in these seven districts. The fourth round will cover West Champaran, East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Muzzafarpur, Gopalganj and Siwan.

The fifth and last round on 5 November 2015 is expected to favour Mahagathbandhan and therefore it is a do-or-die situation for the BJP this Sunday.

So, has the BJP strategy worked so far? Given the complex nature of politics in Bihar, it is difficult to read the headwinds, but going by public statements of leaders of both alliances, it would seem to be a decisive sweep for either side. Neither side is willing to admit that there could be a possibility of a close result that could lead to a hung parliament as an undesirable but real option.

BJP started off the campaigning in Bihar on a note of confidence based on a reading that people wanted ‘development’ and by extension wanted a change in government. It was this reading that made Team Amit Shah go all out in full force to drive home the advantage of a positive sentiment.  And ‘development’ was the central agenda.

If the party high command truly believed that people wanted ‘change’ and therefore ‘development’, then the BJP should have continued its strategy of focusing on its ‘development’ agenda and not worry on the Mahagathbandhan strategy or accusations. However, as the first round of elections drew closer, controversial events like Dadri, beef, caste, and public utterances of its leaders and of other fringe elements, pushing the Hindutva agenda, soon overtook the ‘development’ agenda. And now the BJP finds itself caught in a web of its own making. A timely and decisive intervention by the PM could have nipped the issue in the bud and given back the upper hand to BJP, but that didn’t happen and as a result, the Mahagathbandhan took full advantage to take back the initiative.

In all the state elections won by the BJP after the general elections in 2014, the central theme was always ‘hope’ on the back of ‘development’, and Narendra Modi was the man seen to be the only one that could deliver. A lot of water has flowed since then. Delhi was a wakeup call for the BJP as the Modi ‘wave’ officially ended.

Bihar presented a new opportunity to rejuvenate both the party and the PM’s reputation as an electoral trump card, and to the party’s credit, Team Amit Shah did start off in the right earnest and it seemed to be working. Going by the party leader’s statements, it seems BJP is all set to form its government in Bihar. Now, if that were true, then what prompted the BJP to try and continue to focus on all other issues, including opposition bashing, rather than focus on its own agenda of ‘development’. Recent poll speeches by party leaders, including the PM, have focused undue attention on Nitish and Lalu, and less on its development message, thus pointing to the fact that perhaps all is not well with the campaign.

For the first time, in a speech in Raxaul on the 29 October 2015, Amit Shah made a controversial remark wherein he said that were the BJP to lose in Bihar, it would be Pakistan that would celebrate by bursting crackers. So, if the BJP was on a strong wicket as claimed by all within the party, what was the need or relevance to invoke Pakistan and stoke further controversy?

The recent spate of awards being returned by the eminent persons from across the country has only added to the BJP’s growing problem of perception. While it may not have a dramatic impact on its chances in the remaining two rounds in Bihar, it will certainly add to a growing perception amongst the more vulnerable sections, on the possibility of a Hindutva agenda overtaking the ‘development’ agenda in Bihar, if NDA were to form the next government.

BJP has the advantage of dominating during the 2010 assembly elections and the 2014 general elections. With that footprint, if BJP were to lose these elections, it would not be because Mahagathbandhan won but because BJP lost it for themselves.

Is anti-incumbency catching up with the JD(U)?

Without doubt, Nitish Kumar remains the first choice for the CM’s post in Bihar and has wide support at the grass root level, cutting across caste lines. In all opinion poll surveys completed so far, Nitish Kumar has come out as the clear favourite with no real challenge to him. However, it’s equally true that there is a certain amount of anti-incumbency at play within certain sections of people and in certain pockets of Bihar.

While Nitish Kumar may be popular at a broader level, development has been slow to reach many pockets where nothing much has changed. Take Raghopur, a town which lies about 30 km outside of Patna on the river bank. The local people are mostly from the Yadav community which is a RJD stronghold. This is where Lalu’s son is standing from and where Lalu made his controversial speech on the war between ‘forwards and backwards’.

The people have been suffering due to state neglect and face a major problem traveling between the two river banks. Today, there is a rickety semi-broken down temporary pontoon bridge that is not usable during monsoons. For years, the locals have been demanding the government build a permanent bridge but no action was taken. Only a few months back, with an eye on elections, the Nitish Kumar government sanctioned a bridge but when it will get completed is anyone’s guess.

Example like these are all over Bihar and is the main reason why in some rallies, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav have had to face the ire of angry people protesting government neglect. Here, mere ‘caste’ affiliation does not cut the ice, people want development. It is this anti-incumbency in certain pockets that may mar Mahagathbandhan’s chances of forming the next government.