November 08, 2015

India: Who Failed in the Bihar 2015 Election? Narendra Modi or Amit Shah (Seema Mustafa in The Citizen)

The Citizen

SEEMA MUSTAFA. Sunday, November 8, 2015

Photograph in circulation on the social media

NEW DELHI: It was a campaign spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah. And if anyone had doubts, these were cleared the moment one drove into Patna and was confronted with huge hoardings carrying only the photographs of PM Modi and Shah. Not another leader from the BJP, national or local, shared the glory of the campaign represented by these overpowering billboards.

Shah sat and strategised the campaign. PM Modi supported with a series of campaign meetings that put even local BJP candidates to shame. As the voters themselves observed during the campaign not once but several times to The Citizen, the Prime Minister was campaigning like a local candidate. And both had made it clear to the local BJP that they were in charge, and knew best.

Money poured in, as did the communalism. It was visible to the villager although not so to the media. Efforts to consolidate the Hindu vote were intense, as RSS cadres poured in from different states, to acquaint the Biharis with their version of ‘nationalism.’ The first effort was to bring all youth, Dalits, Mahadalits, extreme backwards on to the side of the forward castes isolating the Muslims, and some sections of the older generations.

Before the first phase it was clear to the BJP that this campaign had not worked. And clear to the reporter who cared to listen that the voters had by and large seen through the divisiveness, and given the popularity of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were inclined not to allow the social justice vote to be tampered with. The Yadavs had moved behind Lalu Yadav, partly because of their loyalties to him and partly because of the popularity of the chief minister himself.

After the first two rounds of polling, and the feedback that this had favoured the grand alliance the first response from the BJP ground was to put some distance between the PM and the elections. But this was then revised, for an all out onslaught where the PM joined the RSS cadres by openly targeted the backward and Dalit vote, and pitting this against the Muslim with the argument that the grand alliance would take away the reservation quota from the first and give it to the second. This did not work clearly, as both Kumar and Lalu Yadav were able to counter it effectively on the ground. The beef controversy that the BJP tried to raise in the villages of Bihar was also rejected snd rebuffed by the voters.

Prime Minister Modi lost the appeal he had undoubtedly had during the Lok Sabha elections for two basic reasons. His failure to fulfil promises has disenchanted the Bihar youth and the voters, with this pouring out in every conversation. “We sold a goat to open a bank account and where are we now” was an oft heard refrain in the villages. He is widely perceived as a man who does not deliver and the criticism against him was intense and personalised. Several voters were very critical of his campaign speeches, questioning his references to their leaders and the state. His attack on Lalu Yadav and jungle raj worked against him, with the voters openly asking this writer “where is the jungle raj here, it is in Delhi, it is in Gujarat, we are all fine here.”

The second reason has been his language that clearly evoked a strong adverse response in the villages. Several voters spoke of this to The Citizen, wondering at the Prime Ministers choice of words. “He speaks so badly, how can he speak like this?” they asked, shaking their heads in implied criticism.PM Modi, particularly during the last three phases surpassed himself in language and allegations.

Shah reportedly poured in money into the campaign, and while this propaganda had penetrated the villages, it attracted flak all across. Somehow the monied parties are no longer favoured, with the voter cynical and critical of money power as he/she is of broken promises. Patna in particular was full of rumours of various newspapers and journalists having been lured by the BJP with money, advertisements et al. Shah was particularly popular with many of the scribes, allowing them easy access, and meeting with many frequently.

The decision not to name a chief minister candidate was perhaps wise, though not seen as such in Delhi, as the state BJP and its allies have been quarrelling throughout on this issue. The allies have been particularly worried about the equations, more so as the expectations of a big victory started meeting the dust after the first two phases were over.

In Delhi, however, the mega campaign being run by Shah continued to pay off even till counting day. Even as the voters continued to shun the communal campaign, the media and political leaders in Delhi continued to insist that this was paying off in favour of the BJP. This was evident in the analysis in the first hour of counting of votes by some ‘experts’ in television studios, who insisted that the Yadav youth had voted for the BJP; that a polarisation in favour of the BJP had taken place in the Muslim dominated constituencies; and that the mahagathbandan constituents had been unable to transfer their vote from one to the other. All three assumptions were completely false, as the results finally proved.The voters in Bihar had punctured these claims by the BJP early on in the election, but again the tragedy was that no one was listening to them, having been deafened and seduced by the Modi-Shah propaganda.

How this now plays out for the Prime Minister and the BJP president within, is the space to be watched very very closely. More so as the BJP state leadership is already distancing itself from Amit Shah, with the murmurings of ‘poor choice of candidates’, ‘arrogance’, ‘ignorant outsider’ during the campaign from the BJP camp already acquiring shriller decibels.