Has Mohan Bhagwat helped BJP's chances in Bihar?
After the RSS chief's controversial statement, it seems the Nitish-Lalu-led Mahagathbandhan will be the natural beneficiary of the caste divide.
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On September 21, weeks before the Bihar elections, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat gave an interview to Sangh's mouthpieces Organiser and Panchjanya. He called for a "social review" of the reservation policy. Later on, while the RSS issued a statement debunking allegations that the RSS chief had called for ending quota for backward communities, the BJP came out to say that it "respected 100 per cent the reservation rights of the SCs, STs and other backward castes".Mohan Bhagwat said RSS wanted a social review of the quota system.
He may have made this statement intending to have a soothing impact on Hardik Patel's reservation movement in Gujarat for the inclusion of Patels into the ambit of the quota system but it has had an effect on Bihar Assembly elections. Has he added fuel to the caste-ridden Bihari society, especially when it was undergoing through election? But is he politically so naive to not know that any such assertion would stir the hornet's nest in Bihar? Has this provided an opportunity to the Mahagathbandhan to rally OBC and Dalit votes behind them? Let's see how leaders were talking about development and caste before this controversial statement.
Date: September 1, 2015
Speaker: Prime Minister Narendra Modi
"For 25 years, the grand alliance constituents have tried hard to spread the poison of caste and communalism, but the fact that my package has forced them to offer another, a larger package, is good for Bihar… If both the NDA and UPA offer such packages, Bihar can only benefit and I am happy that it is me who forced them back to the actual discourse."Since Bhagwat's statement, BJP has been on a damage control mode in caste-ridden, poll-bound Bihar.
Date: June 10, 2015
Speaker: Chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar
"We made remarkable progress in the fields of education, health, energy, infrastructure and road sectors. Bihar's journey on the path of development has not only begun but has also attained good pace as it has achieved high growth rate year after year…The state used to be mocked everywhere. People used to say that casteism is in the DNA of the state."
These are the two faces of two alliances in Bihar Assembly elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the face of National Democratic Alliance, while Nitish Kumar is the face of the Mahagathbandhan. Both of them were vouching for their respective developmental planks and accusing others of being casteists. While the BJP's elections strategy is being micro managed by Amit Shah, it is Lalu Yadav of the RJD who has the biggest social base in the state. Both of them were talking about caste even before the RSS chief made this so-called controversial statement.
Date: July 10, 2015
Place: New Delhi
Speaker: Amit Shah, national president, BJP
"The BJP is the only party that gave the country the maximum number of chief ministers from the Other Backward Classes. The first OBC prime minister (Narendra Modi) to the country was also given by the Bharatiya Janata Party."
Date: August 30, 2015
Speaker: Lalu Yadav, national president RJD
"When the sons of two backward castes (Lalu and Nitish) have joined hands, they (BJP) are talking about the return of 'jungle raj'. But we have given voice to the poor. The BJP should remember that our reunion means not jungle raj-II but Mandal raj-II."Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad seem to have benefitted from RSS chief's stance on reservation.
So, while the "faces" of the two competing alliances were talking about development, on the other hand, even before electioneering has actually started in Bihar, Lalu Yadav and Amit Shah, the maners of on-the-ground pre-poll politics, were brazenly talking about caste. The statement by Mohan Bhagwat has simply made it sharper and more evident. Now, the focus seems to have shifted around this new polarity.
Let's see how the tone and the tenure have changed after Mohan Bhagwat made this statement.
Date: September 28, 2015
Place: Raghopur, Vaishali
Speaker: Lalu Yadav, national president, RJD
"Ye ladaai hai backward aur forward ki. Maine Mohan Bhagwat ko keh diya hai ki moochh mein dum hai to aarakshan khatam karo. Yeh tiranga nahin, bhagwa jhanda fahrana chaahta hai. (This is a battle between backward castes and forward castes. I have challenged [RSS chief] Mohan Bhagwat - he should scrap reservation if he has the guts. He wants to hoist the saffron flag, not the Tricolour). Raghopur is my place, I have started (my campaign) from this pious place by the Ganga. I want you Yaduvanshis (Yadavs) to ward off external threats. Yadav so jaaye to puaal, jaag jaaye to sher. Jaag jao. Yeh Mahabharat hai. (If Yadavs become inactive, they are only as good as [men of] straw, but if they awaken, they are lions. So wake up, this is the [war of the] Mahabharata)."
Date: September 29, 2015
Speaker: Giriraj Singh
"An upper caste cannot become the chief minister of Bihar; it is certain that if the BJP-led NDA comes to power, the next chief minister will be either from the OBCs or EBCs."
So far, the Mahagathbandhan was countering the issues raised by the BJP, i.e. the accusations over the "DNA of Nitish Kumar" and "jungle raj". Now they seem to be setting the agenda and the NDA is simply reacting to the public statements made by the grand alliance leaders. It is quite evident that after the statement by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, it's the JDU and the RJD, who are setting the agenda and the NDA is only following it up with vague responses.
Is this going to be the defining statement of this election? Will it polarise voters into backward and forward caste brackets? Will Mahagathbandhan be the natural beneficiary of this divide? Has the BJP/RSS failed to do proper damage control?
The answers will be known on November 8, but can it be said beyond doubt that it has changed the tone and tenor of the campaign in Bihar?