Modi Nitish
Prime Minister Modi remains the USP for BJP both at national and state level polls. Photo: ANI/Twitter

Modi 'phenomenon' on horizon as Bihar, bypoll trends give BJP an edge

As the outcome of the Bihar polls trickled in more as mere trends, and the 59 by-elections trends across 11 states appeared to show an edge for the BJP. PM Modi, it appears, is emerging as the BJP’s winning mascot not only in the national elections but also in the Assembly polls.

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The trends emerging from the counting of votes of the Bihar polls, along with that of by-elections to 59 seats in 11 states, show an edge for the BJP, suggesting that the party may be bucking the recent trend of losing Assembly elections.

Back to 2018 state polls

The BJP had lost the Assembly polls in all the three key Hindi-speaking states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – that were held hardly six months before the 2019 general election. Its worst setback came in Maharashtra soon after the BJP-led NDA returned to power at the Centre. It was said then that Prime Minister Narendra Modi can get his party the decisive votes only at the national level, not in states where local issues dominate.

This was amplified more in Rajsathan in late 2018 where a popular slogan was “Modi tujhse bair nahi, Vasundhara teri khair nahi (We do not have any enmity with you Modi, but Vasundhara, we will not spare you)”. Then incumbent BJP chief minister Vasundhara Raje was ousted. However, in the Lok Sabha polls six months later, the BJP took all 25 seats in the state.

Ditto in Madhya Pradesh, where in the state polls, the Congress won and ruled the state for 18 months before Jyotiraditya Scindia brought the Kamal Nath government down by switching over to the BJP with his supporter MLAs, triggering voting in 25 of the 28 seats in the state where byelections were held.

In Chhattisgarh, too, the BJP outsmarted the ruling Congress in the parliamentary polls with a rich haul of nine seats out of 11.

In Bihar, however, trends show the NDA will be riding on the BJP’s good show to victory. Given that the JD(U) has fared poorly, many would attribute the NDA’s victory to the goodwill Modi enjoys in the state

The vote count in Bihar has been slow due to a bigger number of counting locations than before necessitated by the COVID-19 safety measures. Bihar is the first state to vote amid the pandemic.

In 2015, Nitish was a part of the Grand Alliance which had the RJD and Congress in it. Then, the RJD was the biggest party in the 243-member Assembly with 73 seats followed by the JD-U (67) and BJP (53). Nitish returned to the NDA in 2017 and remained CM, making Tejashwi Yadav — his 2015 deputy — his prime adversary. In the 2015 polls, the BJP was the top vote getter, followed by the RJD and then the JD-U.

Also read:‘All’s well that ends well.’ Nitish Kumar says Bihar polls will be his last

The Modi phenomenon

Modi critics have attributed his electoral success to his Hindu versus Muslim politics. During the 2017 UP polls, political pundits made it seem like the entire election was about ‘Shamshan (cremation ground) versus Kabristan (graveyard).’

Also read: Over 1,100 candidates with criminal antecedents contested Bihar polls

Some argue that Modi represents the yearning for a strong Hindu leader who can safeguard majoritarian interests. Others take this argument further to say that Modi’s followers have  blind faith in him and, hence, ignore the actual performance of his government. Still others believe his popularity is the result of a well-oiled propaganda machinery that exaggerates his achievements and denigrates the opposition.

While these arguments may have some truth in them, three key factors appear to drive the Modi juggernaut. First is the that many voters see him as a strong leader. Second is that Modi and his party are able to sense and respond to the shifting expectations of voters better than rivals. Finally, improvements in last-mile delivery have ensured that more people believe that government programmes reach their intended beneficiaries.

The trends in Bihar also seem to suggest that voters believed that the BJP under Modi — and by extension the NDA — would be a better bet than a greenhorn like Tejashwi, helping the alliance overcome ant-incumbency despite a 15-year rule by partner JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar. While many had pitched the elections as a battle between Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav, the Bihar elections seem to have been a vote for the Modi-led BJP.

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