IN ALL OUT EFFORT TO CONSOLIDATE VOTE BANK
NEW DELHI: The RSS–BJP have changed their strategy in the last three phases of the Bihar elections, moving away from development to an unabashed appeal on communal lines to supplement the efforts of the cadres in the 150 odd Assembly constituencies that have, and are voting between October 28 to November 5. The votes will be counted on November 8.
The aggressive Yadav vote in the first two phases had taken the BJP by surprise, with the development card being played by Prime Minister Narendra Modi falling flat when compared to the development effected in the state by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In fact PM Modi’s appeals with the offer of financial aid was blunted effectively by a strong campaign by Kumar and his alliance partner Lalu Yadav, who mocked the promises with specific instances drawn from similar promises made by the Prime Minister during the Lok Sabha campaign.
The RSS that has been working in the districts has now intensified efforts and reports from the state point towards a new infusion of cadres into the Assembly segments where the Hindutva card is being played with abandon, particularly in enticing the sizeable population of Mahadalits and the extremely backward vote that has been amenable to the campaign. The fact that the last round of polling also covers the Muslim dominated Seemanchal belt is an added factor, with the BJP campaign also harping on the anti-Bangladesh infiltration sentiment in these border districts in particular.
It is against this background that the all out pitch by the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah has to be understood. Clearly the message from the first two rounds of polling was taken by the BJP as a signal to drop the muted language for a more loudspeaker approach to entice the Dalits and the EBC’s to the BJP on the issue of what is being worked upon as Hindutva linked development that had, interestingly been rejected by the assertive grand alliance vote in the first two phases of polling.
PM Modi in Buxar for instance gave a new twist to the reservations issue, bu turning it from a forward-backward bone of contention into a backward versus Muslim confrontation. “They are conspiring to take away five per cent of the quota from Dalits, Mahadalits, Backwards and Extremely Backwards to give it away to another community,” was not a random statement but part of the calibrated effort underway to bring the backward and Dalit vote into the Hindutva fold by creating new fears, and making new promises.
The Prime Minister termed this as a “paap ki yojna” or “conspiracy of sin,” and accused Lalu Yadav who is not popular with the extremely backward castes and Nitish Kumar for allying to take away the reservation benefits from them. And then the PM assured the targeted vote bank, “Modi will defend your right to reservation with his life. We will not allow anyone to take your reservation and give it away to another community.”
Of course the Chief Minister hit back with, “PM Modi has shifted from pro-development to caste profile.” And Lalu Yadav in a tweet attacked the PM with, “the language of respected Modiji shows his desperation… also shows how badly the BJP is doing. The consolidation of the poor has made the BJP desperate, upset and restless.”
But the fact is that the BJP and the RSS on the ground is working hard to give teeth to what PM Modi said at the rally, and according to reports from the state are meeting with far more success than they did in the first two rounds. The Dalits, the extremely backward castes who had voted for Nitish Kumar in the last Assembly polls are now straining at the leash as it were, that could snap them back into the grand alliance fold or break to ensure they move to the BJP. It is a divided vote certainly, but with the extent of division making the difference for either of the two political combinations in direct confrontation with each other in Bihar.
BJP president Amit Shah played to the same tune when he brought the communal campaign further on track by bringing in Pakistan. As a Congress candidate said, “on the ground the campaign is as always trying to link the Muslims with Pakistan.” And so Shah sought to further reinforce the linkages with, “if by any chance the BJP is defeated in these elections, crackers will be burst in celebration in Pakistan.”
Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan attacked Shah with, “this is the old practice of the BJP. It practiced this in Gujarat as well. It always wants to play this communal card to win elections. Questioning the mandate of elections, it is dividing Bihar.”
High percentage of polling in Bihar is being seen as support for the BJP but this is not necessarily the case according to observers in Patna. The voters for both sides have been well mobilised, and this is being reflected in the percentage that is expected to be above 50 per cent in all phases. Women have been fairly supportive of Nitish Kumar, but then in the villages the woman vote is largely influenced by the male head of the household. While former chief minister of Bihar Jitan Ram Manjhi has made a slight difference in some pockets in favour of the BJP, as Pappu Yadav is also expected to do in the last phases of polling Asaduddin Owaisi has been rejected almost entirely by the Muslim vote. Owaisi has been focusing on Seemanchal in a bid to break the minority vote from the grand alliance, an effort that would have helped the BJP, but he has emerged as a non-factor in these elections. The Muslim youth have turned out in large numbers to listen to him, but the decision has been taken to vote for the grand alliance. It remains to be seen, however, Owaisi’s volatile speeches have helped the BJP consolidate the vote on religious lines.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been well aware of the efforts by the BJP to polarise the voters. Sources said that he has been campaigning extensively as well to counter the communal propaganda, and has kept his administration on high alert to ensure that no untoward incident takes place. His party members are openly worried about the attempts to communalise the elections, with the RSS cadres flooding the districts with what a senior leader described as a “venomous campaign.” Kumar said he is not addressing large rallies but moving from constituency to constituency in a bid to cover entire Bihar as it goes to the polls. Interestingly, the Muslims have stayed out of the spotlights, keeping a low profile and making it very clear that they will vote for the issues that concern all of Bihar and not any religious grouping.