Last few weeks of developments have made the contest for Bihar extremely interesting with politicians using innovative ways of attacking their political opponents.
It all started with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s DNA jibe against his friend-turned-foe Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar at a rally in my native city, Muzaffarpur last month. Modi, soon after sharing the stage with Nitish in Patna, had launched a blistering attack against the Bihar CM accusing the latter of betraying his friend.
In his inimitable style the PM had said, “There seems to be some problem in his DNA because the DNA of democracy is not like that. In democracy, you give respect even to your political rivals.”
As expected, Nitish wasted no time in returning the ‘favour’ by attacking Modi claiming that, by questioning his DNA, the prime minister had, in a sense, questioned the DNA of entire Bihari population.
It was a deja vu moment for those who, had covered Delhi assembly elections earlier this year, when Modi’s party, the BJP, had caused huge embarrassment for itself by questioning the Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal’s gotra (caste). In one of its newspaper advertisements, the party had implied that Kejriwal’s ‘updravi gotra (disorderly caste)’ was responsible for his protesting nature.
The ad, which drew sharp criticism for BJP, had said, “O anarchist…crores of citizens of the country mark Republic Day as a national occasion and are proud of it. And your disorderly gotra was ready to disrupt this as well.”
Of course, Kejriwal and the entire might of AAP exploded demanding the BJP to apologise for abusing the ‘entire Aggrawal community.’ For many analysts, this gaffe sunk whatever was left with BJP’s dwindling poll prospects in Delhi, which, by then, had decisively swung in favour of AAP.
And this where, Nitish has a lot to learn from the AAP leader. Unlike Nitish, Kejriwal didn’t make gotra a campaign issue. He reacted to the BJP’s ad alright, but didn’t dwell on this issue forever as Nitish and his gang seem to be doing on the DNA jibe. On gotra, Kejriwal’s reactions even lacked the usual aggression that the AAP leader is known for. If anything, his reaction appeared to be indicative more of a hurt than anger.
Nitish’s team has gone full throttle in their campaign against Modi’s DNA jibe, even prompting a full-fledged ‘ShabdWaapsi (Withdraw the word)’ campaign. It appears that the JDU leader is spending his entire energy on finding faults in Modi’s speech than highlighting his own successes as two-term chief minister.
Not many would know that Kejriwal too was in danger of moving in this direction i.e. making the campaign for Delhi elections a Modi vs Kejriwal contest. But he had a clever course correction very early in the campaign and decided to highlight the issues affecting the electorate than focussing his energy against an individual.
And this was no ordinary individual. He was Narendra Modi, who had the pedigree of making mincemeat of volleys of personal attacks hurled at him by Congress leaders both in successive Gujarat elections and during the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.
On 7 November, 2014, Aam Aadmi Party’s official website carried a photo on its home page with a slogan ‘Modi for PM and Kejriwal for CM.’ A day or two ago, while talking to a TV journalist, Kejriwal too had implied something similar which could have been interpreted as if he had endorsed Modi’s work as prime minister.
These two developments left some in Delhi’s Muslim community stunned while they weighed their options for the upcoming assembly polls. A visibly concerned Kejriwal began to consult people he trusted the most seeking where he had gone wrong.
A friend advised him to immediately pull down the ‘Modi for PM, Kejriwal for CM’ banner from the AAP’s website adding that targetting Modi in the elections was a ‘bad idea’ which had potential for huge repercussions. Kejriwal listened to his friend patiently and agreed to ‘never get drawn’ into talking about Modi in any of his media interactions until the polls were over.
The ploy worked and Modi kept losing plot as the assembly elections drew nearer. The gotra gaffe, projection of an inexperienced Kiran Bedi as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate were the direct fallout of Kejriwal’s new strategy to simply not react to Modi or, if required, react proportionately.
Indians are emotional. A teary eyed person is more likely to get help than somebody with raging face. Underdogs and weak usually tend to establish emotional connect with Indians more easily than those being perceived as arrogant, loud and insulting to others.
Up until the Delhi elections, Modi had successfully projected himself as the victim. Testament to this was when the Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyyar poked fun at Modi’s self-claimed chai-wala background, the BJP leader displayed an amazing nimble-footedness to go to masses claiming how an ‘elitist’ Congress ‘detested’ the idea of a chaiwala becoming the prime minister of this country.
But in Delhi elections, it was Kejriwal, who the voters thought was being victimised, thereby delivering a crushing defeat for the BJP. And it was all because of how the AAP chief crafted a strategy around his Delhi campaign.
Whether Kejriwal siding with Nitish will have desirable results for the anti-Modi platform is a subject for separate discussion. But what’s glaringly obvious is that Nitish’s constant aggression against Modi has the potential to backfire.
There’s no denying the truth that Bihar has developed quite considerably under his leadership. Roads are looking a lot better, in some cases as good as the ones in England, crime rates have come down significantly, more and more villages and small towns now have electricity and, more importantly, he’s single-handedly managed to change the negative perception of Biharis both in India and abroad. The recent data on rapetrol released by the National Crime Records Bureau showed how three of the four states (MP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and UP) with most number of rapes were being ruled by the BJP. Bihar had ranked 11 among the 29 states.
And that’s precisely what he should be reminding his potential voters about while seeking their votes and not indulge in meaningless Bihari Asmita(pride). Nitish of 2015 appears more robotic than his organic campaign we all saw when he sought second term five years ago. That’s what happens when you give up your own political instinct and become slave to the instructions of your campaign manager, who in this is the same chap, Modi had hired to devise his election strategy during LS elections last year.
Vyapam, Lalitgate, Modi’s spectacular u-turns on several of his poll promises( Black Money, Corruption, OROP, relations with Pakistan, value of rupee etc) have given enough fodder for Nitish to sustain his entire election campaign. So, it baffles me why he’s wasting his energy on Shabdwapsi campaign and non-stop personal attacks against an individual.
Just to give Nitish an idea how futile his Shabdwapsi campaign is, I’m a Bihari and even I didn’t think Modi’s DNA jibe came as a personal insult to me. And I don’t have any affiliation with the saffron brigade.
I’ve just returned from driving across Bihar and things appeared quite positive for the Bihar chief minister and his alliance. I met scores of people, who had voted for BJP in last year’s general elections but looked determined to vote for Nitish in assembly polls because of the ‘development’ Bihar had seen udner his rule.
Nitish has now got a great friend in Kejriwal. One of the things he can learn from the AAP leader is his hands-on leadership and his engaging style of politics. Dare I say that most of what Nitish’s campaign team is doing right now is cosmetic and have very little connect value with the potential voters.
Rifat Jawaid is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jantakareporter.com