Bihar polls: Can Modi wave still work for the BJP?

Bihar Assembly Election 2020: Can Modi wave still work for the BJP or will it settle as ripples?

Bihar saw the highest voter turnout in last 15 years in 2015 and the BJP attributed it to the Modi wave. Will the wave work this time?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering during an election rally, in Sasaram, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. Credit: PTI Photo

The year was 2015. Bihar saw a record 56.8% voter turnout for the Assembly Elections. And the state was struck by the first wave of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi, then freshly-elected, addressed 31 rallies across the state, vowed to "change the state's destiny", end the dark days of the RJD’s "jungle raj" and promised development that focused on everything from "paani" to "jawaani" with the help of Rs 1.25 lakh crore.

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The outcome - the BJP single-handedly got a 24.4% vote share. Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) was with the Grand Alliance back then but later joined the NDA. Interestingly, the party even won the Katihar seat, which has a Muslim-majority population and was the district that recorded the most votes in the state that year.

In 2020, the saffron party has adopted a new focus. As India continues to grapple with Covid-19, the party promised that everyone in the state would receive a free vaccination.

Will dangling a vaccine be enough for Bihar to succumb to Modi’s charms? What else does the leader have to offer?

BJP is ready, is the NDA?

On Sept. 23, Modi’s first rally speech concentrated on the expected issues - the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s dispute with China, the ‘Atmanirbhar’ push for the economy and the party’s "lone struggle" to uplift the state, which would, in turn, lift the nation’s stature.

Also Read | PM Modi rakes up Ayodhya, 'jungle raj' at Bihar rally, hails Nitish

Modi also took the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) down a peg. He said that he had worked closely with the leaders of Bihar only for the past three to four years and that the state saw exponential growth within this period, which may be an indication that the incumbent 15-year-old rule of Nitish works best only with the BJP on his side. “Politics apart, the poor people of this country are our number one priority. The sons and daughters of Bihar have to leave their parents and go look for employment elsewhere. I want to change this," said Modi.

'Caste' votes

The BJP and the JD(U)'s common ground is their biggest strength. That would be the upper caste of Bihar, who have shown displeasure against 'jungle raj' several times in the past.

In typical Modi fashion, his opponents were not named. Listing his criticisms against the Opposition, he said, “I believe India cannot progress until Bihar is developed. The people of Bihar have witnessed the spread of feudalism, capitalism, separatism and nepotism in the state. The people of Bihar have witnessed everything. Now, I urge the people of the state to vote for development in this election.”

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“You know what the family did, what kind of games they played, what the media was full of,” Modi added.

Modi played his cards carefully, mentioning employment opportunities, industrialisation and in-state development while staying away from the state's newly added EBCs for reservation.

Chirag paints a picture, is he in it?

Then there's LJP chief Chirag Paswan's repeated emphasis on his dissatisfaction with CM Nitish's governance and his unshakeable loyalty to Modi from his "Hanuman to his Ram" narrative. Chirag is contesting against the JD(U) but is not opposing the BJP. So, how does that work?

Also Read | Bihar polls: Understanding the rift between JD(U) and LJP

The prime minister did not clarify in his speech if there are talks about fresh alliances. Certain sections of the Grand Alliance have shown openness to negotiations with the LJP, which could become an advantage.

A special package delivered?

Elections, however, aren't just about the opposition moves and party-jumping plays. What about yester-election promises, the ghosts of polls past?

Modi pointed fingers at the inaction of the former CMs in that 2015 speech and said, “The people want development, not false promises about special packages.”

In the same 2015 rally, the PM had vowed to deliver a whopping Rs 1.25 lakh crore package to set in motion multiple developmental works, from "paani to jawaani".

Also Read | PM Narendra Modi calls Tejashwi Yadav 'Yuvaraj' of 'Jungle Raj'

The Bihar government, in March 2017, said that Rs 28,117.23 crore had been made available so far from the Centre for 30 schemes.

“Out of a special package of Rs 1.25 lakh crore announced by the PM, schemes worth Rs 96,885.77 crore have yet not been implemented," senior Bihar minister Rajiv Ranjan Singh Lallan had replied on a call attention motion of JD(U) MLC Niraj Kumar.

Fast forward to 2020, Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala on Tuesday claimed that works worth only Rs 1,559 crore from the special package were completed in five years.

The Centre could sanction just Rs 37 crore for the 'Ramayan Circuit' tourism project as against the announcement of Rs 100 crore to be allocated for the purpose, he said.

Modi had held three rallies on Oct. 23 and is likely to speak at nine more in the days ahead, including three on Wednesday, trying to consolidate votes in the favour of the NDA.

As there's a lot of pressure now on the healthcare system, the Centre’s funding for a free vaccine in the future may not have the same impact.

More than two crore voters in Bihar will decide the fate of 1,066 candidates on Wednesday (Oct. 28) across 71 Assembly segments in the first phase of the elections. Prominent candidates include Shreyasi Singh, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist shooter who is making her debut at the age of 27 as the BJP candidate from Jamui.

The opinion polls point the needle towards an NDA-majority on counting day.

Will this be the second wave of Modi in Bihar? Check in with DH on counting day to find out.