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Bihar Polls: A clash of major personalities

Bihar Polls: A clash of major personalities
The poll bugle has been sounded in Bihar and the players are getting ready for war. The October Assembly polls will be a direct contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. This time it is a clash of personalities and not a much-needed debate on issues. Unlike Delhi, when the BJP was shying away from a fight between Kejriwal versus Modi, there is no such hesitance in Bihar. Both camps are trying to sell the ‘Brand Modi’ versus ‘Brand Nitish.’ The Prime Minister will also take on RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav. All three are great orators and the fight between them will be a clash of the titans.

There is no doubt that Bihar is crucial for all players - big and small. For the ruling JD (U) and the RJD, it is a do- or- die battle for their survival. The ensuing Assembly polls will be Lalu’s last chance to regain lost ground.

Muslims, who have traditionally had a soft spot for Lalu Prasad Yadav, were credited with creating a social revolution that enabled the RJD chief to rule the state for 15 years and occupy the main oppositional space thereafter.

As for the BJP, which had made considerable gains in the Hindi heartland in the 2014 polls, it is crucial to prove that the Modi magic still works and that the humiliating loss in Delhi early this year were just an aberration. If the BJP loses Bihar, the odds will be against it in other states that will go to the polls next <g data-gr-id="120">year</g> such as West Bengal, Tamil <g data-gr-id="121">Nadu</g> and Uttar Pradesh. In the event of a defeat, experts may claim that the Modi wave has already peaked.

The two sides have chalked out their battle strategy. The central theme of the BJP is the ‘good governance’ of Modi and ‘Shushasan of Nitish Kumar’ making the development planks primary. Caste is invoked for village <g data-gr-id="130">chaupal</g> level meetings. Learning a lesson from Kiran Bedi’s projection as CM candidate in Delhi, the BJP has tactically decided not to project any chief ministerial face. While Sushil Modi is a front- runner, going by the complex alliance of the Dalits, <g data-gr-id="132">OBCs</g> and upper castes, the BJP leadership has decided that projection of a chief ministerial candidate would disturb the social equation. Above all, there is not a single local BJP leader who could match the stature of Nitish Kumar. Therefore, it has to be a Nitish versus Modi fight. 

The chief minister wants to run a campaign based on Bihari pride and his development record. There is no doubt that the campaign is going to be ugly and personal. For instance, Nitish is trying to turn Modi’s assault against him as an assault on Bihari pride “The Prime Minister said there is a problem in my DNA. I’m a son of Bihar, so it is the same DNA as the people of Bihar... I leave it to the people of Bihar as to how they judge a person who maligns their DNA,” he tweeted.

The chief minister is busy creating ‘Brand Nitish’ trying to pull a Modi on Modi.  Ironically Nitish is riding a high-tech poll campaign on social media while at the same time calling the Modi government a Twitter government. Coining attractive slogans, the chief minister has launched “<g data-gr-id="123">Badh</g> Chala Bihar”, “<g data-gr-id="124">Parcha</g> par <g data-gr-id="125">Charcha</g>” and “Har Ghar Dastak” campaign seeking “Phir Ek Bar Nitish Kumar”.

The BJP is banking on four or five factors. The first is to scare the public against Lalu’s potential jungle raj. The second is to send a clear cut message about Nitish Kumar’s opportunistic alliance with the RJD. The third is that the Yadavs and Muslims, who comprise one-third of the electorate, might steadfastly remain with the JD (U) combine. For the BJP, this is why dividing the votes of the alliance is imperative. Former Bihar chief minister <g data-gr-id="126">Jitin</g> Ram Manjhi is important for the BJP to wean away the Maha Dalit votes. Fourthly, the BJP is also hoping that the alliance might not work and the infighting, especially at the time of ticket distribution, will help its cause. Above all, Modi has also promised a mega package of more than Rs 50,000 crores for Bihar to lure voters.  

As of now, the arithmetic seems to be in favor of the JD (U) combine as it has a 52 per cent votes in exit polls while the NDA is lagging behind. The BJP is banking on Modi’s chemistry with the youth.
As the recent Nielsen survey showed, the NDA alliance is 11 percent behind the JD (U) combine but there are at least two months to go before the polls and such a gap can be bridged.  The fight is close and therefore pollsters believe that even a <g data-gr-id="115">hungs</g> Assembly cannot be ruled out. IPA
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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