The ruling coalition in Bihar may be contesting the Assembly elections next month under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of JD(U), the bigger alliance partner in the state, but the stakes seem to be higher for the BJP.
At least three BJP leaders admitted that winning Bihar, where the party fared miserably in 2015 following an impressive performance in 2014 Lok Sabha elections – the JD(U) then was part of the Opposition Grand Alliance – is “politically crucial” for the party’s “immediate future, and in the long run.”
A victory will be important for the party not only to counter the Opposition’s campaign against the farm-related Bills, which has seen protests by farmers in different parts of the country, and go ahead with the reform agenda, but also to prove that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is intact.
Like in states it had won after the 2015 defeat in Bihar – be it big ones such as Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat or a much smaller Tripura – the BJP is banking heavily on Modi’s credibility and acceptance in Bihar, too, amid a deepening pandemic crisis, rising joblessness, slowing economy, and escalating tension with China along the LAC.
Wooing rural voters with central schemes
The BJP’s strategy would be to maintain its base among the urban population and the forward castes, and woo rural voters—whom the party failed to win over in the 2015 Bihar polls—with welfare schemes. A series of development projects for the state, worth Rs 16,000 cr, launched recently by PM Narendra Modi, is set to be publicised aggressively.
After its 2015 Bihar defeat, BJP had lost elections in several states: Delhi, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Kerala, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. While BJP could not form a government in Maharahstra despite being the single largest party, it has since broken the ruling party or coalitions to regain power in Bihar, MP, and Karnataka.
But ahead of the three-phase polls in Bihar starting October 28, the party faces multiple challenges.
The first hurdle for BJP would be ticket distribution among allies, keeping the NDA together. With LJP already having problems with JD(U), the BJP leadership will have to use its political management skills for seat distribution among the warring partners while keeping at bay pressure from its own cadres to increase the share of tickets for party’s candidates. Sources in BJP indicated that the party wants JD(U) to agree to contest on an equal number of seats.
Former BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah had initiated talks with JD(U), which the incumbent party chief, J P Nadda, has joined. Party leaders claimed Shah’s absence from public places, due to his health issues, will not affect the talks.
Although the ruling NDA appears to have an edge over the Opposition, which still looks disoriented, BJP insiders admitted that the anti-incumbency factor cannot be ignored completely. “There is a fatigue among people against Nitish Kumar. A section of the electorate, including BJP cadres, feels that there needs to be a change. There are also concerns about JD(U)’s future,” a BJP MP from Bihar said.
In order to overcome it, the BJP is trying to superimpose the Modi government’s initiatives over the Nitish government’s performance in the state. The party is set to launch a programme to mobilise households that have benefitted from Central schemes. The programme, likely to be called ‘Modi ka Paisa’, is aimed at cashing in on goodwill such schemes have created among the rural population.
Two other issues that is set to play a significant role in BJP’s strategy would be the deaths of actor Sushant Singh Rajput and former Union minister and RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. While Nitish and Deputy CM Sushil Modi of BJP have made Sushant’s death an emotive issue – the late actor came from Bihar – Singh had announced his resignation from RJD three days before his death, after writing a letter to RJD chief Lalu Prasad that was very criticial of his former party.
Singh had also had a series of communications with Nitish regarding development of the state, which found a reference in Prime Minister Modi’s speech last week.
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