New Delhi: Bihar voters feel weary of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar due to his 15-year-long stint, but in contrast to his declining importance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is still intact.
This was a part of an assessment made by BJP leaders who were sent to various districts between 25 and 28 August to sense the mood of the people before finalising candidates ahead of the assembly polls.
The leaders, called assembly observers, also said that Nitish Kumar has to attack RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav more aggressively for a smooth-sailing NDA win in the elections.
The BJP sent 90 observers, who were the party’s general secretaries, MLCs and vice-presidents, to make an assessment about BJP’s probable candidates and their winnability prospects. These observers were asked to collect information from those constituencies that are not just represented by the BJP, but also by its allies JD(U) and LJP.
These observers met with mandal and booth-level workers besides various sections of political workers during their 4-day stay in different districts, said BJP leaders.
After the assessment, the observers held meetings with central and state BJP leaders, including party’s Bihar in-charge Bhupendra Yadav and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, and shared their feedback.
“There are various feedback mechanisms in the party starting from booth pramukh (head) to district presidents, vistaraks (full-time workers) and assembly in-charges,” said a BJP leader, an observer for Banka district.
“We went to different districts to assess the situation of our probable candidates and alliance candidates, to map anti-incumbency against any alliance candidates and to sense the overall mood of the people. We were told to spend one night in the districts to meet various cross-sections of people to gauge their mood.”
Nitish facing people’s fatigue but Modi popularity intact
BJP leaders, who visited various districts, told the party’s central leaders that there is fatigue among people about Nitish Kumar’s leadership, and that Covid-19 and floods have added to the fatigue.
The above-mentioned BJP leader said: “Nitish should be more aggressive in attacking the RJD. The PM’s popularity has, however, not dented, but the BJP will have to do more footwork for its alliance’s win.”
The party observers claimed there is a positive political environment for the BJP irrespective of the constituencies.
“There was initial resentment against the non-availability of Covid testing kits and other facilities, but now it has subsided,” said the leader.
Another observer told ThePrint: “People said Modi ji has implemented lockdown to save us, he has provided trains for us to return, he sent food grains. But government officials did not let all that reach us.
“When asked about the chief minister, there was lack of enthusiasm about Nitish Kumar, though they said that in the last two months, Nitish ji has made efforts to help them, but ultimately they said there is no option (but) to vote (JDU) if the BJP is not fighting on their seats,” he added.
A third leader, who visited five constituencies, said upper castes don’t want to vote for Kumar, but for PM Modi.
“Among the backward caste, Nitish has not lost faith despite his 15 years of rule. But it will be a challenge for the BJP to transfer the votes of the upper castes to the JD(U) because if they don’t come out to vote, this can damage our prospects. We have given this feedback to the central leadership but once PM Modi starts campaigning, the situation will normalise,” he added.
People will vote for Nitish in absence of an alternative
The second observer told ThePrint that there’s no doubt that Kumar is the tallest leader in Bihar, but his biggest strength this time is not his own governance, but “his alliance with Modi and absence of Lalu”.
“Although Lalu’s presence helps in cross-polarisation, this time Nitish needs BJP more because of his failing popularity and people will ultimately vote for Nitish, not for him, but in the absence of a strong leader,” he added.
A BJP district president said babus were running the government in the last five years.
“Even BDOs, SDMs did not listen to the MLAs. This model works only when governance is corruption free and delivery is full-proof, but that is not the case this time, unlike Kumar’s previous term,” he said.
“Fatigue was not in leadership but in governance, despite his (Kumar’s) best efforts. People are these days aspirational. After better law and order, road connectivity, they want jobs, industry and better education. These are the factors, which will be crucial in his election,” the leader said.
Talking about the RJD, a BJP vice-president said the party’s grip in Muslim-Yadav constituencies is still intact despite Lalu’s absence.
The RJD chief is currently serving a jail term in Ranchi in connection with the fodder scam.
“In many pockets, people are also sympathising with Lalu, but when people go to vote, they will vote Nitish in the absence of an alternative,” he claimed.
“NDA will sail through and it is certain that Modi’s goodwill will help Nitish this time. BJP will have to do more footwork. If we would have fought the elections independently, we would have been in a much better position but the leadership has instructed us to ensure victory for all NDA candidates,” added the party vice-president.
Onus is on BJP workers
While addressing the Bihar BJP state executive meeting on 23 August, party national president J.P. Nadda told workers that the onus is on the BJP workers to ensure victory for all the alliance candidates. Later, he reiterated the same appeal during Bihar BJP MPs’ meeting held on 29 August.
Sensing a growing dissent against Kumar among BJP workers, Deputy CM Modi sought to cool down BJP workers last week, saying that no party in Bihar is in a position to form a government alone and there should not be any misconception about it, and that “alliance is the state’s reality”.
Sources said the BJP has shared the assessment with the JD(U) leadership too and it was one of the reasons why Kumar held his first mega virtual rally Monday during which he launched a no-holds-barred attack on Lalu’s 15 years of ‘Jungle Raj’.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.