Nothing can wait when it comes to politics, especially for the BJP. The Bihar assembly term is coming to an end and the state is readying for election sometime in October-November. And the BJP is preparing full throttle, even as the county is reeling under the coronavirus pandemic with no foreseeable end.
So, no one was surprised when Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the valour of Bihari soldiers who fought the Chinese in eastern Ladakh. Although the unit that bore the brunt of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was from the 16 Bihar Regiment, most of the soldiers were not from Bihar. But Modi chose to say: “Today when I am speaking to people of Bihar, I will say the valour was of Bihar Regiment, every Bihari is proud of it.”
On the same day, Narendra Modi inaugurated a special scheme called ‘Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan’ to empower and provide jobs to migrant workers and rural citizens. This scheme was inaugurated in Bihar, the state worst affected by the workers’ crisis after the nationwide lockdown. In Bihar, as many as 32 districts will be covered out of 38 under this scheme, whereas in the largest state of Uttar Pradesh, only 31 districts out of 75 will be covered.
It’s interesting that this scheme is for 125 days only. So, the term of the scheme will end sometime in late October.
On 7 June, Home Minister Amit Shah addressed a virtual Jan Samvad rally. The BJP made arrangements to relay it to 72,000 booth-level gatherings. Such virtual rallies were held for all states to celebrate the completion of six years of the Narendra Modi government. Bihar Jan Samvad rally was the first such rally. Unmistakably, Bihar is the flavour of the season for the BJP now because the assembly election will be a test of the popularity of Narendra Modi and his handling of China and the Covid crisis.
Election machinery in play
The BJP is fighting the Bihar election to maintain the status quo and has decided to go to poll with Nitish Kumar as chief ministerial candidate. The Bihar government is run by the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party-Lok Janshakti Party combine since 26 July 2017.
Stakes are too high in Bihar. So, the BJP is ramping up its election machinery and has reconstituted its state executive body. It has included as many as 358 members in this body to represent all important leaders and social groups.
At the same time, its partner JD(U) is chipping in from another front. Five MLCs of the Rashtriya Janata Dal have already jumped ship to Nitish Kumar’s party this month.
At the social front, the Modi government is planning to increase the creamy layer income limit for the Other Backward Classes (OBC) from Rs 8 lakh per annum to Rs 12 lakh per annum. This will be done to placate the powerful OBC lobby just before the polls. Union government has also put the Rohini Commission report on hold and has given it another extension. This commission was constituted to suggest ways to sub-catagorise OBCs at the central level.
At this juncture, we can say that it is advantage NDA in Bihar, not in terms of who is going to win, but in terms of election campaigning and gearing up for the polls.
In Bihar, despite the not-so-extraordinary performance of Nitish Kumar in all fronts, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not in panic mode. Many observers would have noted the endless streams of hapless Bihari workers returning to their home state and thought that they would be angry with the apathy of Bihar government, but the NDA has a plan to win them back. There is a five-pronged strategy for the Bihar election.
1. The Bihar government is going to transfer a small amount of cash in the bank accounts of poor families. At the same time, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar scheme will be used to give temporary jobs to returnee workers. The NDA is hoping that the workers’ crisis can be turned into an opportunity. NDA is focusing on patronage politics to get electoral dividends.
2. The NDA will try to consolidate the support of the upper castes, who, in any case, support the BJP. This support, in turn, will translate into support from the opinion makers, Twitterati and most media persons. This will create the right kind of noise for the NDA.
3. More defections will take place in the secular front partners so these other parties have to dedicate a part of their energy to save their own house.
4. The NDA is also depending heavily on the well-oiled election machinery of the BJP-RSS, which has delivered many victories in the past.
5. Lalu Yadav will probably remain in jail while the NDA prepares for the election. His release, even on furlough or parole, can be disastrous for the NDA because he has the unique ability to galvanise secular-lower caste votes.
But for now, it’s advantage NDA, as far as politicking is concerned.
The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.