Updated: October 22, 2015 2:13:43 pm
As Bihar entered the second phase of polling today, there was a sense of disquiet within the BJP leadership.
Party sources said its state machinery has not been able to sustain the momentum created by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies and is forced to rely on local leaders, largely from the upper castes. This is why, they said, the party decided to postpone three rallies by Modi today to October 25, 26 and 27 — closer to the date of polling.
“This could help in keeping the PM’s message fresh in the voters’ minds when they go to polling booths,” said a leader. “The PM’s speeches lift the NDA’s campaign. The crowd reaction is also very good. But in some places it does not get transferred into votes. The message of development in his speeches could get overshadowed by caste divisions.”
Although some leaders feel that the PM should not be “exposed too much” and not “take full responsibility” in a close contest, the party is wary of relying on local leaders. It feels that allowing them to dominate the poll scene would antagonise other caste groups in their respective constituencies.
Apart from the anti-incumbency factor against some of its sitting legislators, voters from the backward communities in some constituencies have still not accepted the BJP leaders. For instance, Rambabu Paswan in Mahwal village said they “prefer to struggle under their own community leaders as no party makes a difference to their lives”.
The fear of erosion in its social support base was one of the reasons for the BJP’s reluctance to announce a chief ministerial candidate. Of the 160 candidates fielded by the party, 65 belong to upper castes who constitute 14-15 per cent of the total voters in Bihar. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 78 per cent of upper caste voters had decided in favour of the Modi-led NDA.
But BJP leaders insist that their state leadership is a mix of various caste representatives. Also, the party is expecting votes from the upper caste-extreme backward-Dalit combination and hopes that its partnership with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM would make its social support base comprehensive.
However, some leaders have expressed the fear that a possible consolidation of backward castes behind the JD(U)-RJD-Congress “maha ghatbandhan” (grand alliance) has cast a shadow over BJP’s prospects. There’s also a sense that an overwhelming number of Muslims could rally behind the rival alliance.
Unlike in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when a section of Muslims voted for BJP candidates, the recent controversies, such as the killing in Dadri over rumours of cow slaughter, have forced the BJP leadership to exclude the minority from its targeted vote base. The consolidation of backward castes and Muslim votes will be bad news for the party, admitted some party leaders.
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