Once bitten, twice shy – this seems to be the condition of the BJP, world’s largest party in terms of primary membership, which is treading very cautiously in Bihar after having lost a series of assembly elections in key Indian states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi, in the last one year.
The assembly election in Bihar is due this October-November, and at stake is the BJP’s prestige to a great extent.
Among others, the Bihar polls will be the first to test the BJP’s popularity after the over two-month-long COVID-19 shutdown, enforced by the Modi government, that left millions of the poor jobless, and prompted the migrants to return home — quite many of them on foot, covering over a thousand kilometres under the fire-spitting sun.
The way the former BJP chief and Union home minister, Amit Shah, focused his speech over national and international issues while keeping aside the local matters, during his party’s first mega digital rally for Bihar on June 7, amply explains the BJP’s agenda for the upcoming assembly elections in the state.
For most part of his hour-long speech, Shah kept on highlighting the “achievements” of the Narendra Modi government’s performance over the past six years — from surgical strike to Ram temple. This means, though Nitish Kumar will be the NDA face for Bihar, elections would be fought over the “performance” of the Modi government!
What, however, surprised people the most was Shah’s special focus on three controversial issues — abrogation of Article 370, enactment of a law to criminalise triple talaq and the new citizenship act (CAA), which left the country in the grip of nationwide violent protests for several months.
The move does look surprising, given the fact that they proved disastrous for the BJP in the recent Delhi elections, which it lost very badly. Its tally reached a maximum of eight seats — a gain of five seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly — despite trying hard to create a communal divide by frequently raising the controversial issues and then involving all the top leaders — from Amit Shah to Prime Minister Narendra Modi — in the poll campaign.
“This is, in fact, an old strategy of the BJP: to skip the issues concerning the common men and hide its failures. They raise international issues during the national elections and turn to national issues during state polls. This way, they have been diverting the attention of the masses from the real issues and winning elections,” explained political expert DM Diwakar.
Experts further opine that the three controversial issues have the potential to polarise the voters along communal lines, and thus, tactfully sidestep the issue of migrant crisis during the nationwide lockdown.
According to an official report, more than two million migrant workers have returned home after losing their jobs due to the lockdown, whereas the unofficial figures stand at over four million. These people are now annoyed, stranded in their villages after job loss, and facing starvation as many of them don’t even have ration cards to get free food grains.
“So, the best way could be to extensively raise the controversial issues and divide the migrants along communal lines. That would serve their purpose,” said another expert, wishing anonymity.
Bihar, unlike Delhi, has a significant Muslim population, and this idea, if clicked, could get the NDA significant votes, as was seen in the last Lok Sabha elections when the NDA made a clean sweep, winning 39 of the total 40 parliamentary seats.
Reports quoting the state poll body said the return of the migrants in huge numbers could push up the number of voters roughly by about 20,000 to 25,000 in each assembly segment. This was the victory margin in the last assembly polls, and hence the presence of migrants could largely impact the upcoming elections. Apparently, this is the reason why the BJP is trying hard to divert their attention towards other issues and escape their wrath.
Yet another interesting point noticed during Shah’s speech was how the BJP unequivocally reposed its faith in the leadership of Nitish Kumar, though a major section of the party and even one of its Bihar-centric allies, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), are totally against fighting under the JD(U) chief.
Experts say that although the BJP managed to grab power in Bihar after losing elections to the three-party grand alliance, it is yet to recover from the shock of the humiliating defeat during the 2015 assembly polls. The 2015 defeat could be termed very humiliating, given the fact that PM Modi himself led the entire poll campaign.
Shah’s speech also reflected how the fear of RJD chief Lalu Prasad continues to haunt the BJP despite his complete absence from the political scenario for the past three years. The way Shah sought to remind the masses about Lalu’s regime, which his party has been projecting as “jungle raj”, explains how the BJP still fears him, despite being in power for the last 15 years, courtesy Nitish Kumar’s flip-flop.
Lalu had come to Nitish Kumar’s rescue during the worst phase of the latter’s political career, when the JD(U) was reduced to only two seats from 20 in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. During the Rajya Sabha elections that year, the JD(U) was on the verge of splitting. Had it not been due to the RJD’s support, the JD(U) government would have collapsed.
During 2015 assembly elections, Lalu threw his entire weight behind Nitish Kumar, helping him with his powerful Muslim-Yadav vote bank. Apparently that was the reason the Nitish-led grand alliance won the elections with a two-third majority, thus helping him avenge his defeat at the hand of arch-rival Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
But barely 20 months later, Nitish ditched Lalu and brought the BJP back to power from backdoor. However, it is now to be seen how Nitish Kumar proves helpful for the BJP this time.