Ever since the rise of Narendra Modi on the national scene in 2013, everything good happening to the BJP has been attributed to his leadership and image. The BJP’s assembly election victories in Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand last year were proclaimed by many as having largely been due to the Modi factor. A victory in Bihar next month may again tempt many to conclude that it was nothing but Modi that tilted the scales in the NDA’s favour.
Data from Lokniti’s pre-poll survey, however, cautions us against jumping to such conclusions in the event the BJP wins a mandate to govern Bihar. Yes, Modi and his government are popular in Bihar, but so are Nitish Kumar and his government, and in fact, more so. Whereas the net satisfaction (proportion of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the Nitish government is +53, the net satisfaction with Modi’s government is slightly lower, at +50. Similarly while net satisfaction with Modi’s performance as prime minister is +54, that with Nitish’s performance as chief minister is much higher, at +63. This, after 10 years in power, is quite an achievement for Nitish. In terms of net likeability (proportion of likes minus dislikes) too, the Bihar chief minister is a shade ahead of the Prime Minister: +45 to +44. The point is that if Nitish were to end up losing the assembly election, it would not be because of Modi’s popularity but in spite of Modi.
Perhaps there is a reason why the Modi factor might not be all that crucial. As the country moves away from the early enthusiasm about the new government led by Modi, voters are bound to grow restless and critical on the question of achche din. Waiting for good times to come, voters would now begin to wonder where the good times are. As it so often happens, tall promises produce wide gaps between promise and performance. From moderate figures of disappointment over the performance at the time of last year’s assembly elections in Jharkhand, Haryana and Maharashtra, voters in Bihar seem to be much more disappointed that the achche din are, after all, nowhere in sight (see table, ‘Modi hasn’t yet brought achche din’). With nearly three out of five respondents sceptical about this, the BJP surely cannot easily bank only on Modi’s image as the winning factor in Bihar. This is not to deny, of course, that Modi continues to be popular.
Besides the favourable image of the prime minister, the BJP in Bihar has one more advantage — that of being the ruling party at the Centre. As this survey has noted, development is a major concern in the state, which is now aspiring to compensate for its development backlog. This consciousness about the urgent need to ensure development may push voters towards a party that is likely to bring resources from Delhi.
Lokniti’s pre-poll survey shows that a large majority of respondents tends to believe that it would be better for the development of the state to have the same party ruling in Patna as the one in Delhi (see table, ‘Good for state if govt same as in Centre’). The same question, when it was asked in Maharashtra and Haryana last year, had yielded a similar response. Modi’s announcement of a special package for Bihar should also be seen in the context of this Delhi factor. A resource package more than an image package may help the BJP win Bihar.