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15 September, 2015

Modi in campaign mode

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With Bihar, the second most populous state, going to the polls to elect a new Assembly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in campaign mode again.

Under the rules laid down for ensuring that the elections are free and fair, once the poll dates are finalised the Central and State governments cannot take any policy decisions which may influence the voters’ choice. Modi, therefore, flew to the state before the Election Commission announced the poll schedule and offered the state a bonanza of Rs 1,250 billion in the form of a special development package.

The state government had been asking for a special package, but when it came Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said Modi had merely repackaged development projects which had been announced earlier. Some of them were already under implementation for as long as six years while some others, like a new airport for the state capital, Patna, were yet to take off, he added.

He also pointed out that the package meant nothing as it lacks budgetary support.

The Bihar elections are important for Modi personally since Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), which was a constituent of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, had broken away from it in protest against the party’s decision to name him its prime ministerial candidate.

Modi devoted special attention to the state in his tempestuous Lok Sabha campaign and the NDA earned a rich reward. The BJP got 22 out of the state’s 40 seats and its allies, Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, picked up six seats and three seats respectively. The JD(U) got only two seats.

Following the debacle, Nitish Kumar resigned and installed Jiten Ram Manjhi as the chief minister. After a while he ousted Manjhi and became the chief minister again. Manjhi then floated his own party, Hindustani Awam Morcha, which the NDA happily accommodated as an ally.

The JD(U) has forged a Grand Alliance with former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress. The attempt to bring former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party into the alliance failed as he was not satisfied with the seats offered to the party.

According to early opinion polls, the NDA has a slight edge over the rival alliance at the moment. The final lineup of candidates was not known and the campaign was yet to pick up when the survey was conducted. The fight is still open. Nitish Kumar wants to come back to power.

In all the Hindi heartland states, the BJP had done exceedingly well in the Lok Sabha elections. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan its main opponent was the Congress. The BJP was in power in both the states. That explains the BJP’s good performance there.

In Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state, the Congress is not a major factor now. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party had overtaken both the Congress and the BJP in the state and reached a stage where they could come to power on their own. Yet, in the Lok Sabha poll, the BJP and its local ally took 73 of the state’s 80 seats, wiping out the BSP totally, and limiting the SP to five seats and the Congress to two seats respectively.

Voters often back different parties in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The Bihar elections will show if endorsement of Modi at the national level will translate into support for the BJP at the state level. It will also provide answer to the question whether Delhi state’s big rebuff to Modi and the BJP after their triumph in the parliamentary elections was just an aberration or an indication that the Modi magic was over.

The BJP will face a similar test when UP goes to the polls next year. Among the other states where Assembly elections are due next year are Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal, where historical factors have kept the Hindutva forces at bay. A good showing in Bihar and UP can boost the BJP’s chances in these states, especially among voters who tend to incline towards the winning side.

Judging by Modi’s performance so far, his strength lies in campaign skills, not in governance. In Parliament, the opposition has held up his plans to speed up work on development projects. He is yet to demonstrate the political sagacity to tackle the problem. His administration is pursuing, with single-minded devotion, vindictive measures against individuals and voluntary organisations seeking to uphold democratic values, viewing them as his real enemies.

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