Let us make the space we share better and bring the change we desire. Author is Indian Muslim, a Public Figure, Social Activist, Blogger and Media Personality. On mission to build a givers world rather than takers.
PATNA: The BJP had to face multiple questions today at party chief Amit Shah’s press conference in Patna on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s absence from campaigning in Bihar for more than 10 days. The period – October 16 to 25 – will lead up to the crucial third phase of the assembly elections.
The anti-BJP coalition — Janata Dal United and the Rashtriya Janata Dal — has been claiming that the BJP’s poor performance in the first two phases of elections is the reason for PM Modi’s absence from the frontlines.
“The BJP has been deflated. They are bringing Hema Malini now, as if she will get victory for them,” said RJD Chief Lalu Prasad today. The lawmaker from Mathura has been campaigning in Bihar for some time.
Mr Prasad’s son and the party’s candidate from Raghopur, Tejaswi Yadav, said, “The BJP is trying to decide whom they should pin the loss on.”
Some BJP insiders too, have been raising questions, including dissenter Shatrughan Sinha, who tweeted two days ago:
At the press meet, Mr Shah sounded irked: “Sometimes I don’t understand what your agenda is. Not one question here is on Bihar’s development. Why are you not asking me questions on bijli-paani?”
“The leader of the election campaign comes only at the end,” he added, dismissing reports of a setback. “There is a big gap in the elections, there are so many festivals, no rallies have been curtailed.”
Party sources said while earlier, PM Modi was to address 20 rallies, the figure has been increased to 22; 13 rallies will be held after October 25.
But in the same festive season, Mr Prasad and his ally and chief minister Nitish Kumar will address as many as 50 meetings, taking a break only on Dusshera.
On the ground, BJP candidates like youth leader Nitin Naveen said big rallies make a difference, but they will manage to get votes anyway. “The big leaders charge the workers and leaders alike… but I will use Modiji’s name and ask for votes and it won’t make a difference,” said the candidate from Pataliputra.
The fault lines are already showing after the completion of the two of the five phases of polling in Bihar. Among the masses and the political classes, the biggest question in the midst of the crucial state assembly election is this: has the electoral tussle between Narendra Modi’s National Democratic Alliance and Nitish Kumar’s Mahajot become a contest between the backward and forward castes?
The wedge was apparent on October 16, the day of the second phase of balloting, in the Bharatiya Janta Party’s election war room in Patna as Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan flared up at the senior coalition partner.
According to a BJP leader at the scene, an incensed Paswan blamed the saffron party’s central leadership for creating a mess by ignoring the National Democratic Alliance’s backward and local faces during the campaign. At the same time, he referred to the loss of support among the backward and Dalit voters due to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks favouring a review of the country’s reservation policy.
“Almost the entire local leadership of the BJP was present in the war room, but no one tried to counter Paswanji,” the BJP leader said. “He was worried over Bhagawatji’s remarks as well as the weaknesses in our campaign strategy. We are equally concerned about these developments but it is too early to say that there is polarisation of backward castes, Dalits and minorities on the ground.”
Leaders of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, another member of the BJP-led NDA, confirmed the unhappiness the BJP’s overall campaign strategy and its big-brother attitude in ticket distribution. “The message that went out has given our opponents an opportunity to instil fear in the minds of voters of backward castes,” an RLSP leader said.
The panic in the National Democratic Alliance is not without basis.
In the Lok Sabha elections last year, the NDA performed unexpectedly well, thanks to the ballots of the backward castes.
A large section of the Other Backward Classes, including the majority of Kushwahas (the core vote base of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party) and a big chunk of Yadavs (the core voters of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal), reportedly shifted to the NDA in 2014. Support for the saffron party’s alliance also came from some extremely backward classes (the lower strata of the OBCs). Furthermore, among Dalits, the Paswans voted en bloc for the NDA in the general election.
Those cracks in the backward castes seems to have nearly disappeared in the period of over a year, with the majority of them appearing to prefer Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led Mahajot in the assembly election. Almost as a counterpoise, most of the upper caste voters are aggressively backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA.
On the ground, the caste fault lines has stoked debates and speculation among the ordinary voters. The divide on the issue of political preference is so widespread that it minimises the chances of finding a voter from a backward caste pledging support to the NDA or one from an upper caste swearing to go against Modi. This was true throughout this reporter’s travels through the districts of Samastipur, Begusarai, Jehanabad, Gaya, Barh, Mokama, Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Supaul.
In terms of numbers, this divide does not auger well for Modi. Upper castes – Brahmin, Bhumihar, Kayastha and Rajput – constitute a mere 16% of the state’s total population. The rest is made up by Dalits, minorities and backward castes.
Of course, there are exceptions in political loyalties, but they are generally on predictable lines. Most pro-Modi voices among Dalits belong to Paswan caste, the Lok Janshakti Party’s core vote base that constitutes about 4% of the total population. The Musahar caste, to which BJP ally Jitan Ram Manjhi belongs, and the Kushwaha or Koeri caste, the voter base of the RLSP, form just 2% and 4% of the population, respectively. And even among Musahars and Kushwahas, Nitish Kumar appears to be a bigger attraction than Modi.
“Part of the reason why Kushwahas and other backward castes are not totally with us is insecurity caused by Bhagwat’s remarks on reviewing reservation,” said the RLSP leader. “Even the distribution of tickets, which was done at the behest of the BJP leadership, was very lopsided, and it gave a very big share to the upper castes. This does not seem to have gone down well among our supporters.”