Bihar Elections: When advice stops working

For the BJP and PM Narendra Modi the Bihar elections is the biggest test post its spectacular win in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

When Prashant Kishore switched sides and joined Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to handle the election campaign of the Janta Dal (United) for the upcoming crucial assembly elections, it was seen as a coup of sorts.

Kishore is considered to be the brain behind Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a motley group of professionals that was credited with building Narendra Modi’s campaign along the lines of US presidential elections. His idea to project an individual rather than the BJP as a party proved magical in the Lok Sabha polls. Through his well crafted campaign he was able to project Modi as the solution to all the problems that the country faced. Expectedly, Modi tailored his speeches along those lines by ‘I’ replacing the ‘we’. Through this clever shift in focus, BJP and its leadership was reduced to doing nothing more than work towards enlarging Modi’s influence. The message that came out from this campaign was clear: That here we have a strong leader who has the courage to take bold decisions concerning not just on domestic matters, but also pertaining to foreign policy and security issues. To reiterate he was presented as a one stop shop for every solution from generating massive employment opportunities, to involving citizens in matters of policy making. All these promises were sold through TV, Radio, communication vans, and even 3d holograms. The BJP’s victory was massive and this in way created a new paradigm for aspiring leaders to replicate.

Modi’s victory created self doubt in the Janata parivar about their ability to  stand up to the saffron surge in the coming Bihar elections. Hence, JD(U),  RJD and the Congress were forced to forge an alliance. The incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar got Kishore on his side hoping that the same kind of campaign will work for him in the Assembly elections.  However, political pundits believe that Kishore’s strategy may not work in Bihar. They say Assembly elections are a totally different ball game and the concerns of the electorate are mainly confined to the local issues, their caste preferences and the social alliances a political outfit is able to forge. “Kishore started off the campaign with carpet bombing Nitish’s good credentials. This may prove to be counter-productive considering the party is going into the elections with a fragile alliance with other political parties,” says an advisor to Nitish Kumar. The ‘badh chala’ campaign by the Bihar government, a PR exercise to advertise the work done by the government was stayed by the Patna High Court, which was seen to be in contravention to the Supreme Court judgement which directed the state government against using the photos of the chief minister in any publicity drive. Interestingly, the campaign also featured around 400 vans similar to what BJP had done in the last Lok Sabha elections.  

Kumar’s aide who helped in the last elections which the JD(U) lost badly to the BJP, says that aping Modi’s campaign mindlessly without realising the realities on the ground will not yield anything for the JD(U). “Nitish seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Lok Sabha elections were not just won because of Kishore or the CAG. It was the RSS which worked hard on the ground. Nitish doesn’t have an RSS to back him,” he points out.  

He also pointed out that the way BJP and RSS affiliated outfits fomented communal tensions by engaging in divisive campaigns like Love Jihad. Nitish Kumar, obviously, cannot afford to do that.     

Kishore, who has lodged himself at the Chief Minister’s residence in Patna, has taken over the mantle as his political advisor. “When he was with Modi, he was just a campaign manager. Nitish is now so enamored of him that he listens to him on even sensitive political matters,” claimed this former aide. Kishore wanted the JD(U) to go alone in the elections, an advise which was turned down after pressure mounted to contest elections with a strong alliance to counter Hindu consolidation in favour of the BJP.

Meanwhile, Kishore is not Nitish’s only worry. The alliance with the RJD and the Congress is heavily dependent on the caste equations. There are apprehensions that the ‘Yadav’ votebank of Lalu may not be too comfortable with voting for the JD(U) candidates. “As of now only the Muslims stand firmly behind this alliance. Even their support may wither if someone like Asaduddin Owaisi’s MIM were to enter the fray,” asserts this advisor. Owaisi had addressed a well attended rally in Kishanganj, a Muslim dominated constituency on August 16. “The success of the alliance also depends on how the two big regional parties are able to work together and not try to sabotage each other,” he says. “Even Nitish’s sharp barbs after the Bihari DNA comment by Modi have not been able to incite Bihari sub-nationalism as was being expected.” According to him,  it looks like ‘advantage BJP’, but things could change rapidly.  He feels that Modi has peaked too early. And he has nothing more to offer after the special package which was nothing but a lump sum of the all the ongoing and proposed schemes in Bihar. It all depends on how the alliance is able to counter the campaign.  

For the BJP and PM Narendra Modi the Bihar elections is the biggest test post its spectacular win in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. It is not just a test for Modi’s popularity as the leader of the ‘Hindutva’ driven aspirational class, but he will also try to use these polls to tell his disgruntled partymen that their future is safe under him despite an embarrassing loss in the Delhi elections.