The Bihar poll outcome has come as a big disappointment for the BJP whose efforts to rake up extraneous issues like beef-eating and Pakistan, which were not considered germane by a politically conscious electorate, led to a drubbing that the party leadership least expected. Analysts said the results were without doubt a personal defeat for Narendra Modi, who staked a lot in the campaign, was its most visible face and addressed more rallies than any other prime minister in a state election.
The BJP, which announced “development” as its main plank, kept changing its election pitch apparently realising that the Grand Alliance of Janata Dal-United, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress was putting up a well-knit cohesive fight and giving it a run for its money.
In came acute sarcasm on remarks of RJD leader Lalu Prasad on beef eating. In the fifth and last phase, the BJP inserted advertisements in local dailies about Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s silence on remarks on beef eating in an apparent effort at polarisation. In a damning indictment of the party’s campaign at what was seen as “communal polarization”, the Election Commission had to step in to stop release of more such advertisements.
Some of Modi’s remarks were seen as aimed at evoking loyalties of caste and community. He talked of Lalu Prasad not honouring tradition of Yaduvanshis and accused the Grand Alliance leaders of attempts to give away part of reservation quota on religious lines — an allusion to Muslims.
Modi struck some false notes in his campaign addressing more than 25 well-attended rallies. His repeated talk of power shortage in Bihar found few takers as delivery of electricity had vastly improved in Bihar in the 10 years that Nitish Kumar had been chief minister.
Modi’s talk of “Darbhanga module” in his last election speech and his poser whether people wanted “a government in Patna that protects terrorists” raised many eyebrows.
BJP president Amit Shah, who also addressed a large number of rallies, did his bit in stoking controversy and said that if BJP loses in Bihar, “crackers will go off in Pakistan”.
Modi and Amit Shah’s repeated references to “jungle raj” had few takers for which Lalu Prasad had a riposte Sunday when he said “if Bihar has jungle raj, we are today all kings in that jungle”.
The election verdict, in which the BJP is poised to finish third behind JD-U and RJD, is likely to have ramifications both for Modi and Amit Shah with dissenters, who had chosen so far to remain silent, expected to raise their pitch in the coming days.
Modi had announced a Rs.1.25 lakh crore package for Bihar prior to the polls but failed to convince people on his promises of development.
Vijay Pratap, national convenor of Socialist Front, a socialist organisation which is not into electoral politics, said the electoral verdict was “personal defeat of faces of Modi which are divisive”.
He said Modi has many faces with one face talking of development, another of “sabka saath, saabka vikas” and other faces being divisive.
“This is defeat of his style, his amoral politics where he lost connection between means and ends,” Pratap, who is also involved with South Asian Dialogues on Electoral Democracy, told IANS.
“He used his divisive face in this election which is very sad for democracy,” he said, noting that the BJP’s insertion of advertisement on cows in the last phase of the five-phased assembly polls had sought to “distort public discourse”.
Pratap said there was an attempt to catalyze communal and caste polarisation.
Referring to Modi announcing the development package, he said “the way he announced it was an insult to the people of Bihar”.
Pratap said Modi had addressed the largest number of rallies by a prime minister in a state election and no prime minister had “shown such partisanship” but it will take some time to prick the “Modi bubble”.
“Opposition parties will have to put their heads together in polls in Punjab, Uttar Prdesh and West Bengal,” he said.
Veteran journalist and political commentator Kuldip Nayar said the “magic of Modi has faded”.
“He put his reputation at stake by addressing so many rallies. His magic will wane within the party also,” he said.
Nayar said there was an indirect effort at polarisation by the BJP in the Bihar polls and it remains to be seen if the party learns its lessons.
Political analyst and senior journalist S. Nihal Singh said the verdict was certainly a personal defeat for Modi.
“After all, he was the chief campaigner of his party,” Nihal Singh told IANS.
BJP’s campaign posters also centred around Modi and Amit Shah with marginal representation of local leaders.
Nihal Singh said advertisement in newspaper pertaining to the cow and eating of beef and Shah’s remarks about crackers bursting in Pakistan were attempts at polarisation.
He said BJP’s earlier formula of Modi being the face of the election campaign did not click.
“The Modi wave has waned,” he said, adding that there was disappointment among the people on development promises also as Modi had promised a lot ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
He also said there was a healthy convention earlier of the prime minister not getting too much involved in state elections.