Mohan Bhagwat derails BJP’s Bihar poll prospects
by Ashok B Sharma on 14 Nov 2015 5 Comments
Modi’s development benefits have not reached grassroots level:

Much is being said about the BJP’s debacle in the recent Bihar polls. Leaders are pointing accusing fingers at each other. Besides questioning Amit Shah’s leadership of the party, Modi-baiters are holding him responsible for his policies. Introspection is always necessary in politics. But the point to ponder is whether there can be a better replacement of Modi as Prime Minister at this juncture?

It was the Modi-Shah duo that was responsible for victory at the hustings in Haryana and Maharashtra after the record victory in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. It was for the first time that both Haryana and Maharashtra had Chief Ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party. No one questioned the Modi-Shah leadership then.

The situation has changed after the successive debacles in Delhi and Bihar. The results of the Bihar elections show that the party needs to expand and cultivate its base in a sustainable manner. In the 2010 Assembly polls, BJP increased its tally to 91 seats in partnership with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) which garnered 115 seats; the two formed the government in the 243-member house. The combination of upper castes, Kurmis and other OBCs and some Muslims worked for the BJP-JD(U). Lalu Yadav’s RJD had to content itself with only 22 seats; Congress with four. At the time, the BJP contested 102 seats, won 91 and lost deposits in 2 seats, while the JD(U) contested 141 seats, won 115, and lost deposit in one seat. Though the BJP contested lesser seats than the JD(U) it garnered 39.56% votes; the JD(U) managed 38.77% votes.

By the time of the general elections in 2014, the BJP-JD(U) alliance had broken and the BJP had to ally with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) which has a base among dalits and secured 21.78% votes. It also allied with breakaway factions of JD(U) such as Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) representing some backward castes. Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Lalu Yadav’s RJD contested the polls separately. The result was that BJP won 22 seats and its allies LJP 2 and BLSP 3, a handsome 27 of the total 40 seats. The RJD was reduced to 4 and JD(U) 2.

But the parliamentary election was a different ball game. The Modi wave was at its peak and parliamentary elections have a slightly different voting pattern from elections to the state assembly, where local issues and sectarian identity matters.

In the 2015 Assembly polls, the RJD, JD(U) and Congress formed a grand alliance, maha gathbandhan. The BJP allied with the LJP, RLSP and the breakaway faction of JD(U) represented by Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) which represents mahadalits.

Going by simple mathematical projections, one could rightly expect the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance to have an edge with 74.45% combined votes in the last assembly polls. The BJP and LJP together had 61.34% vote share. This showed that BJP and its alliance partners should have done far more to ensure a victory. But while the BJP’s campaign in wooing voters was in full swing, problems erupted with the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat saying in an interview to the mouthpiece Panchjanya that the reservation quota given to backward castes and scheduled castes needs to be reviewed. He repeated this demand again at a meeting in Gorakhpur.

This stunned the backward castes and dalits. Both Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar wasted no time in encashing on Bhagwat’s statement and strengthening public perception about BJP being an upper caste party that is driven by the RSS. Prime Minister Modi tried to clarify his party’s policy on the issue, but with Bhagwat repeating the charge, it was just too late in the fourth phase of the campaign. Modi’s clarification was aimed at consolidating the Hindu vote bank, including upper castes, backwards and dalits. He vehemently insisted that the present reservation quota for backwards and dalits would stay and accused Nitish and Lalu of planning to give a part of the dalit-backward cake to Muslims. But it was too late. Nitish and Lalu had scored.

Keeping in view the differences between Kurmis represented by Nitish and Yadavs represented by Lalu, the poll manager of the maha gathbandhan, Prashant Kishor, advised the two leaders to address rallies separately.       

The BJP could not break the Yadav-Muslim alliance. A major part of the backward castes and dalits shifted to the maha gathbandhan. Thus the NDA consisting of BJP, LJP, BSLP and HAM could not retain the gains achieved in the 2010 assembly polls and Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Even dalit parties like LJP could secure only 2 seats and HAM only one seat. The RSLP representing backward castes could get only 2 seats. The BJP’s vote share fell to 24.4%, the largest vote percentage by a single party, but it is no satisfaction as BJP contested the largest number of seats – 140. Its score turned out to be only 53. The NDA’s total tally was 58 as against 178 for maha gathbandhan.

Things could have turned out better for NDA had Bhagwat not made such a damaging statement in the midst of the polls.

More pertinently, however, Modi’s development agenda has not reached the ground level. The mega-programmes like Make in India, Clean India, Digital India and others have long gestation periods and are not designed to give immediate benefits. Even programmes like Jan Dhan Yojana and MUDRA Bank, which were designed for immediate impact, were not propagated to the people at grassroots level. By comparison, the maha gathbandhan campaigners went from door to door with Nitish’s development programmes.

The Modi government has designed a programme that would give immediate benefits to youth at grassroots level - Skill India – but nothing much has been done in this area. India faces severe shortage of well-trained skilled workers. Only 2.3% of the workforce has undergone formal skill training. It is high time the government began the skilling programme on a war footing so that unemployed youth can secure their destiny. Several PSUs, ITIs and other institutions like Railways, Defence establishments and others can impart short-term courses on skilling. It is unfortunate that the Minister of State for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy who hails from Bihar has done little in this regard. Skilling will augment avenues for employment and cause a rise in income. If you cannot control price inflation in essential commodities, then create conditions for increase in income which will manage the situation.

Another programme launched for the people at grassroots level is Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. How many BJP parliamentarians have adopted villages under this scheme? How many have used the MP Fund for Local Area Development? Why the delay in developing the promised Buddhist Circuit in Bihar? These are questions BJP has to answer.

Mohan Bhagwat may have damaged BJP’s Bihar poll prospects, but the NDA Government at the Centre should have reached the people of Bihar with these grassroots programmes much before the polls.

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