Modi-wave & Bihar Polls

If headlines and media reports about the so-called “Modi-wave” not having the desired impact on Bihar assembly elections are believed then winning this state’s polls does not seem to be an easy task for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). At the face of it, this does not seem as surprising as the Modi-wave’s dismal defeat in Delhi assembly polls. From then on, the writing on the wall seemed fairly clear that the Modi-wave cannot be expected to impact the  political judgment of voters. It may be recalled, ahead of Delhi polls an attempt was made by several elements linked with the saffron brigade to communalize the atmosphere in several parts of the capital city. The extremist elements’ apparent aim was to polarise the Hindu vote in favour of BJP. This move failed miserably in the face of the secular ethos of the Delhi voters.

Definitely, a Modi-wave contributed to BJP winning the Lok Sabha polls. But it may be noted that that wave gained political and electoral importance on the ground of the secular mask donned and displayed by Modi. That mask lost its appeal against the electoral judgment exercised by voters in Delhi assembly polls. The Delhi voters refused to be blinded by its cosmetic nature against the political reality staring at them, that is the communal drive engineered by elements linked with the saffron brigade. This also implies that from the beginning Modi-wave’s appeal was measured by the secular card of Indian voters. The appeal can be expected to yield favourable political results primarily if the voters choose to accept its secular credentials. The voters’ decision may be assumed to be guided by the socio-political importance gained by communal factors linked with Modi’s political background. The average Indian voter is in no mood to let his secular inclination be overshadowed by the communal card played by these elements.

Against this backdrop, if Modi-wave is not having the impact desired by BJP on Bihari voters, it also implies that around 17 months in power have not at all helped Modi improve his political image and appeal. Rather, the reverse appears to have happened. The Bihari voter is apparently not oblivious of heinous communal crimes being periodically committed by elements linked with the saffron brigade. This includes the Dadri and other lynching incidents. The atrocious manner in which some elements have virtually ignored the law and order system of the country cannot be sidelined. What is pathetic is the ease with which they seem to have taken this system in their own hands.

It will not be surprising if the Bihari voters’ electoral decision, for or against BJP, is considerably influenced by their reaction to the Dadri case and other such incidents. Even if only the Muslim vote of Bihar is influenced by these factors, that may also play a decisive role in the election results. The Muslim vote is roughly 16 percent of the Bihar vote.

BJP’s apprehension about Bihar voters not favouring Modi can be partly judged by party leaders changing their strategy mid-way through the electoral process. Earlier they gave primary emphasis to the Modi-wave. But when it seemed to have little or no influence on voters, they decided to change this strategy mid-way. This was marked by a sudden change in the party slogans carried on posters and other hoardings. The emphasis on need for change of government, need for Modi government was replaced by slogans calling out for change of Bihar. Besides, BJP started giving a lot more importance to local politicians. However, BJP still refrained from putting forward any person as its chief ministerial candidate. There may be several reasons for this. BJP was certainly devoid of any strong local candidate in the fray. Besides, giving importance to one bore the risk of angering others. However, it is well know that in assembly elections, voters prefer giving greater importance to local politicians than to outsiders. The Bihari voters may not thus be very comfortable with BJP’s electoral campaign in their state being primarily taken care of by two non-Biharis, Modi and Amit Shah.

Notwithstanding the importance given in Bihari polls to caste and class factors, the Modi wave’s appeal may also be limited by the Central government’s failure to check inflation. Herein, the spiralling prices of pulses stand out. Modi wave’s emphasis on development, etc can carry little appeal for a voter whose primary concern is securing a meal within his budget. Inflation also throws out the steam of the claims and promises once mad by Modi of his government bringing in better/good days.

Critics and analysts have taken a note of the first two phases of Bihar elections being marked by a high percentage of women voters. It was 59.5 percent in the first phase and 57.5 percent in the second. The general view is that women voters are expected to favour Nitish Kumar. This is primarily because Nitish is known for several crucial steps he has taken for the progress of women. These include distribution of free bicycles among them. Their political attitude favouring Nitish may play a crucial role in deflating the importance of the Modi wave during the remaining phases of the Bihar elections.   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 November 2015 on page no. 11

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