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BJP in Bihar: Tough balancing between Hindutva and development

The BJP's nervousness is visible in the party leaders' statements. Leader after leader declares that the outcome of the Bihar elections will not be a referendum on the Modi-led govt at the Centre.

Written by Liz Mathew |
Updated: October 28, 2015 11:50:18 am
bihar elections, bihar polls, bihar election news, bihar bjp, bjp bihar, narendra modi, modi news, patna news, india news, Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during an election rally in Hajipur in Vaishali district of of Bihar. Oct. 25, 2015. (Source: AP)

The BJP’s poll calculations for Bihar have changed quite swiftly. Now it believes that its development plank has not worked because Nitish Kumar is a major challenge as a symbol of ‘vikas’ in Bihar and the party has failed to convince voters of their “development agenda”. So the party is struggling with various alternative caste formulae – upper castes with EBC + section of OBC or Upper Castes with MBC+ section of Dalits.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s caste-based quota remark harmed the BJP’s electoral prospects, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah along with other BJP leaders have been desperately trying to convey the message that the BJP favours the existing reservation policy. However, party leaders admit that the damage has been done.

Prime Minister Modi’s speeches, which were drawing lot of criticism for their personalised attacks, have seen him reiterate that he will not allow any change in the quota system. On Monday, the PM went to the extent of reminding people that as Gujarat CM he did not let the reservation criteria be changed.

Another reason for the shift in focus is the nature of the electorate. Although the BJP was confident of consolidation of the upper castes in its favour and its dominance in urban areas, latest reports suggest a slight erosion in the forward caste votes for the party. This seems to have made them a little nervous. The next two rounds of polling are in urban areas and the population mainly consists of Dalits and backward caste voters. The party believes that a consolidation along religious lines – Hindutva – can be the only binding force that can keep intact its vote bank especially because the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ relies heavily on the

Muslim-Yadav-OBC votes. PM Modi’s observation in his Monday and Tuesday campaign speeches that “they (the Grand Alliance) will take away five percent of your share for reservation on religious basis”, was part of this strategy.

BJP leaders admit that balancing Hindutva with development has been a tough task. While some feel that the recent controversial incidents/remarks might have helped to unite a section of voters who feel their religion is under threat, it may also have alienated the youth, the targeted support base of the BJP.

The BJP’s nervousness is visible in the party leaders’ statements. Leader after leader declares that the outcome of the Bihar elections will not be a referendum on the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.

Still, leaders feel that the large and enthusiastic crowds at Prime Minister’s rallies will translate into votes. Such massive rallies cannot be created by political resources, money or muscle power alone. Leaders say 90 per cent of the crowd has been the youth – and that’s what the BJP is banking on.

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