8 mistakes BJP will regret even if it wins Bihar polls

Dadri was too far away from Bihar but Lalu brought that home. The BJP took the bait and, instead of ignoring, reacted to them.

 |  5-minute read |   03-11-2015
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The long-drawn five-phase Bihar elections would finally be coming to an end in a couple of days. When the ballots will be counted on November 8, it will be double Diwali for the winner. Nothing succeeds like success, and when the campaign goes beyond the excess, there is a lot more at stake than just an election. If the BJP wins, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah will get stronger. If it loses, it will have itself to blame because of these eight things that could have been different:

1. Feedback faux pas

At least on two occasions, when Modi, in his style, asked the audience: "Bijli mili kya?", the answer was a resounding, "yes". Of course, villages get no more than four hours of electricity; but for people who hadn’t seen power lines in their lives, it’s a giant step.

The same goes for roads. "Sadak aayi kya?" asked Modi. The smoothness of what was once the worst roads of the country has been talked about enough in the media. What was the point of roads, bijli and paani (which isn’t even an issue in Bihar)? Instead of aiming to fulfil the aspirations of the people, the campaign remained stuck with the three basic amenities, denied to most in Bihar under Lalu Prasad, and brought to them by Nitish Kumar. The credit goes to Nitish and the BJP. But the BJP, in its rush to crush Nitish, abandoned the credit it could claim for the good things it contributed to the state along with Nitish. It was keen to paint Lalu-Nitish as "bade bhai-chhote bhai", Biharis, however, see Nitish differently. They believe Lalu is a liability. The BJP’s strategy to put the youth in a box hasn’t pleased them, and the word on the street is that even the BJP supporters aren't happy. Because two years ago, Nitish was their poster boy.

2. Bhagwat and the damage done

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat threw a spanner in the smooth campaign of the BJP by advocating a review of the reservation policy, arguing that it has been used to meet political ends. It was a trial balloon. The BJP needed to prick that right away but it waited to understand the public sentiment. It wasn’t quick to understand that a large part of its prospective voters benefited from the policy. It did react, but two phases had already gone by. Ahead of the third, the prime minister rejected all doubts and said he would put his life on the line to protect the quota. By then, the damage was done.

3. Baahri above Bihari

Not declaring the chief ministerial candidate was a strategy, and strategies do go wrong. Bihar chief minister Nitish sought to corner the NDA over the "Baahri versus Bihari” issue, saying the state will be ruled by outsiders if the BJP won. The BJP did a course correction by putting up Bihar leaders on its campaign hoardings. But the overriding image remained that of Modi and Shah together, in the same size and proportion. The outsider label doesn’t stick with Modi. He is the prime minister of India after all. But the image of Shah was easy for the Opposition to magnify, and enough to sow the seeds of doubt in the mind of the voters. The 2014 magic was Modi’s to claim.

4. Falling in the beef trap

The prime minister had launched the election rallies focusing generally on development and governance as the main planks. This rattled the rivals owing to the dismal record of Lalu's RJD on this front. Hence, they laid a trap for the BJP by provoking it on issues like beef ban and cow slaughter after the murder in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri. Dadri was too far away from Bihar, but Lalu brought the issue home. The BJP took the bait and, instead of ignoring it, reacted and the actual issues of Bihar and the shortcomings of the Mahagathbandhan were lost in the din. 

5. D for dal, not development

The dal crisis was mismanaged by the Centre. The absence of quick and pre-emptive action was complicated by inadequate explanation. None of its leaders could convince the voters that relief was on its way and the government was working to bring down the prices. The prices came down eventually, but by then, four phases of polling were over. An overpriced dal outdid the general decline in inflation rate.

6. Shotgun Murugans

The BJP struck deals with Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi. It walked an extra mile to keep all the three in good humour in the seat-sharing arrangement. However, the party showed no such grace in dealing with its own. At least two Lok Sabha MPs from Bihar - Shatrughan Sinha and RK Singh - aired their grievances in public, giving the impression that the BJP stands as a divided family.

Sinha, a crowd puller, was not given an opportunity to campaign in even one of the 1,800 meetings that the BJP organised. And while they remain in the party, their conspicuous absence hasn't helped.

7. Abandoning the hit formula

Modi had maintained consistency while campaigning during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He had stuck to the development and governance planks and revolved his campaign around them. But this time around, he seemed to be jumping from one issue to another. It began with DNA, and went on to BIMARU, beef ban, jantar-mantar, reservation and so on. He was building his campaign narrative after every phase. The fluidity may have helped in keeping it interesting but it also symbolised inconsistency and opportunism.

8. Nitish Babu

The BJP does not seem to have learnt from the humiliating defeat it suffered in the February 2015 Delhi elections. The people of Delhi, a big number of them Biharis, rejected the personal attacks on Arvind Kejriwal. The more the BJP singled out Kejriwal, the more votes it lost. Though Nitish is no Kejriwal, he still is popular in Bihar for two qualities mainly - for being a pro-development man (which earned him the epithet of "Sushasan Babu") and being honest. Nitish's alliance partner Lalu is, of course, just the opposite. Instead of keeping the attack focused on Lalu, the BJP sought to take on Nitish directly. This despite the fact that survey after survey had suggested that Nitish was a far popular leader. This made the BJP miss the wood for the trees. 

Writer

Kumar Shakti Shekhar Kumar Shakti Shekhar @shaktishekhar

Delhi-based journalist with more than 20 years of experience in reporting for print, TV & digital media.

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