Bihar Polls Phase 3: Modi Turns The Tide For Nitish While Owaisi Set To Play Spoiler For RJD-Congress Alliance

Bihar Polls Phase 3: Modi Turns The Tide For Nitish While Owaisi Set To Play Spoiler For RJD-Congress AlliancePrime Minister Narendra Modi campaigning in Bihar (Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Tejashwi, who had tried hard to keep his father (Lalu Yadav) away from the focus of his campaign, suddenly found the electoral discourse shifting in that direction.

With the last phase of elections in Bihar slated for Saturday (7 November), Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have turned the tide in favour of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who had been battling anti-incumbency.

In the last few election rallies he addressed in Bihar, Modi sharpened his attacks on the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress , accusing the two allies of corruption, dynastic rule and lack of vision.

Modi also succeeded in shifting the focus, and the popular narrative, to the 15 years of ‘jungle raj’ in Bihar under RJD.

According to popular perception, Tejaswi Yadav had managed to spin a narrative that Nitish Kumar had failed to solve the acute unemployment problem in Bihar and had been apathetic to the plight of Bihari workers who returned to the state during the pandemic-induced lockdown.

Yadav’s promise of ten lakh jobs--never mind his silence on how he would create those jobs--also caught popular imagination and the young chief ministerial candidate who stood out in contrast to the greying Nitish Kumar started attracting huge crowds.

Kumar’s campaign sounded tired and, quite often, as a weak reaction to Yadav’s charges and rhetoric.

No matter how much the chief minister tried to bring the focus back on his development works and his sushasan (good governance), the campaign remained focused on unemployment and unfulfilled aspirations of the youth.

Nitish Kumar was failing to wrest the narrative from his youthful challenger, and it seemed that he was fast losing the perception battle. Kumar’s attempts to remind the electorate about the dark days of anarchy and lawlessness in Bihar under the RJD was also sounding frail.

That was when Modi, and also Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath Yogi, cranked up the campaign with frontal assaults on Tejashwi and his father Lalu Prasad Yadav, as well as the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

In the last few rallies, Modi went all out against the Yadavs and Gandhis, reminding the people of the jungle raj under Lalu Yadav and cautioning against a return to those bleak years.

Tejashwi, who had tried hard to keep his father (Lalu Yadav) away from the focus of his campaign, suddenly found the electoral discourse shifting in that direction.

Lalu Yadav’s (and later his wife Rabri Devi’s) days as chief minister were marked by murders, kidnappings, rapes, bloodshed, mayhem and lawlessness, corruption and extortion.

It was alleged that these criminal and illegal activities were patronised by Lalu Yadav, who is better known as the mastermind and the primary beneficiary of the multi-crore fodder scam. Lalu Yadav is undergoing a jail term for that scam.

Tejashwi, for obvious reasons, wanted to keep the electoral focus away from his father. So much so that he did not even put his parents’ photos on any campaign material.

But with Modi and Yogi going ballistic in their campaign speeches against Lalu Yadav’s jungle raj and corruption, and the many failings and weaknesses of Rahul Gandhi, the tide seemed to have turned against Tejashwi and the Mahagathbandhan.

The massive crowds at the rallies of Modi and Yogi should also provide comfort to the NDA camp. Nitish Kumar’s listless rallies had not been attracting crowds of late, and that led to a fair bit of gloom in the NDA.

Significantly, women and youngsters constituted a substantial portion of the massive crowds that thronged to the election rallies of Modi and Yogi.

The two BJP leaders told the enthusiastic crowds that only the NDA could deliver on its promises of jobs, development and security.

“They (Tejashwi and Rahul) will make tall promises, but will only take Bihar back to the dark days of lawlessness and corruption. Beware of them,” Modi said at a rally at Saharsa on Wednesday.

Modi also shifted the focus back to the good work done by Nitish Kumar in Bihar and the NDA government at the Centre in recent years.

The strong pitch of Modi in Delhi and Nitish in Patna acting as twin engines to propel Bihar down the path to progress and prosperity seems to have overshadowed Tejashwi’s campaign over the last ten days or so and blunted the anti-incumbency sentiments against Nitish Kumar.

The Owaisi Factor

The third and last phase of elections is being considered to be crucial and could be the decider of the outcome of the crucial polls.

That’s because the Mahagathbandhan is believed to have done well in the first phase of polls, to 71 seats, and the NDA performed marginally better than the Mahagathbandhan in the second phase of polls, to 94 seats.

The third phase of polls to 78 seats could, thus, well be the clincher. And it is here that Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) may act as a big spoiler for the Mahagathbandhan.

Of the 78 seats, 24 are in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region comprising the districts of Kishanganj, Araria, Purnia and Katihar bordering northern Bengal. Muslims are a deciding factor in at least 19 of these 24 seats.

Muslims have, traditionally, voted for the RJD and Congress. These two parties won 12 of the 19 seats in 2015.

But in October last year, the AIMIM tasted its first electoral victory in Bihar when it won the Kishanganj Assembly seat in a bypoll. The Congress had represented this seat for eight times in a row before that.

Since then, Owaisi and other AIMIM leaders have campaigned aggressively and have been able to win over a substantial section of the Muslim electorate.

If the Muslim vote gets divided between the AIMIM and the Mahagathbandhan, the NDA will be the obvious gainer.

This was seen in the Kishanganj bypolls last year when the Congress candidate (the mother of the sitting Congress MP from Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat) came a distant third after the BJP candidate who came a respectable second.

While the AIMIM’s Qamrul Hoda got 41.4 per cent of the votes polled, the BJP’s Sweety Singh got 35.4 per cent and the Congress’s Sayeeda Banu got only 14.8 per cent.

The AIMIM has made deep inroads in Seemanchal over the past two years, and this has emerged as a major cause for worry for the Mahagathbandhan.

If the RJD-Congress-led Mahagathbandhan fares poorly in this third phase of polls, the chances of the alliance unseating Nitish Kumar will be very bleak.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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