Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be selling the Indian dream in the USA, but back home his party is floundering badly in the high-stakes Bihar polls that could decide the course of economic reform and policy formulations. Massive rebellion, charges of selling tickets to criminals, and lack of cohesion are sending wrong signals to the voters that could cost it heavily in the early phases of the staggered month-long elections. The party’s prospects could also be marred by strained relations between the NDA allies.
After a massive unrest surfaced in the party following ticket distribution, the top party leaders dismissed it as a routine phenomenon that would die its own death in the course of time. But the malaise seems to be much more deep-rooted. Even as several state level leaders were heckled and the party offices attacked in Patna and elsewhere, in segment after segment rebel candidates filed their nomination papers for the first phase, giving nightmares to the party. Things took a turn for the worse with party MP from Ara and former Home Secretary RK Singh alleging that genuine workers have been ignored in the selection process and Sushil Kumar Modi took money and sold tickets to criminals.
As a bureaucrat RK Singh was a no-nonsense officer whose integrity was never brought in question even by his bitter critics. When a man like him makes such serious allegations it is bound to stick even though Sushil Modi has cleaner image than most other senior BJP leaders from Bihar. Also, Sushil Modi had limited role in ticket distribution in a set up where party president Amit Shah is the monarch of all he surveys. Still, the issue has snowballed into a big controversy and given the BJP’s rivals a chance to embarrass the party in the midst of electioneering.
While Sushil Modi expectedly refuted the charges and got the backing of Home Minister Rajnath Singh as also several other senior leaders, the controversy took another embarrassing turn for the party when Patna MP Shatrughan Sinha, supported RK Singh’s charges. It is a different matter that the “Bihari Babu’ is upset with the party for a long time, but such charges can be very damaging when one after another leader are repeating them.
This controversy surfaced just days after Rashtriya Swaymasevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat virtually scored a self goal by suggesting that a committee should be formed to review who should get the benefit of caste reservation and for how long. The BJP was quick to distance itself from Bhagwat’s view and asserted that there was no question of reviewing the existing reservation policy, but the damage may have been done. All prominent votaries of caste-based reservations like Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar, and Mayawati have said that the BJP has no power to reject the RSS diktat and it was a question of time before the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Castes were going to be stripped of their Constitutional benefits. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is so far silent on this issue, but the controversy over Bhagwat’s statement has become one of the biggest talking point of the Bihar elections. Significantly, SCs/ STs/ OBCs comprise nearly 70% of the Bihar population.
The NDA alliance itself is not working as a cohesive unit with its partners sulking and fuming over the BJP’s `big brotherly’ attitude in ticket distribution. Of the three BJP allies, former Chief Minister Jitanram Manjhi is a happy man, but Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) Chief Ramvilas Paswan and head of the Rashitrya Loktantrik Samata Party (RLSP), Upendra Kushwaha, have openly given vent to their anger over seat sharing. The issue may have been contained for the time being, but the distrust between the allies could harm the NDA chances on several seats in Bihar. In addition, the one-up-manship between Paswan and Manjhi, who are trying to score over each other to emerge as the most influential Dalit leaders in Bihar, is also giving nightmare for the BJP.
While the BJP is banking on these two Dalit leaders for transfer of most of the 16% votes of their respective sub-castes, the duo does not seem sure of its own chances. After Manjhi declared to contest from two seats in the central Bihar, Paswan has decided to take no chance with his brother Pashupati Kumar Paras and also nominated to field him from two places in north Bihar. This has given the opposition a tailor-made opportunity to question their confidence ahead of the polls. The ticket seekers in both these parties are obviously upset with such decisions.
The BJP is also reeling under the impact of the surprise sprang by the rival alliance of Janata Dal (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress in finalizing their list of candidates and representation given to various castes. By fielding 95 Yadavs and Muslims, the alliance has sent the right message to MY combine, which together account for 30% votes in Bihar. But what might have stumped the BJP was the decision by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad to field as many as 30 kuswaha candidates. The BJP is banking heavily on Upendra Kuswaha’s ability to sway the votes of his caste, and if the Nitish-led alliance could stop it there, then the NDA will face an uphill task in Bihar.
The situation is so grim for the BJP that it’s senior leader Ashwani Choubey, party MP from Bhagalpur, ended up weeping on the stage over open rebellion in the district BJP over nomination of his son as the local candidate.
In the phases one and two, where the BJP was expected to sweep given the fact it has a favourable caste equation on most of the seats going to polls, the BJP is losing its advantage fast. If the party leaders did not take urgent remedial measures the problems could affect its prospect in the latter phases of the poll, too.
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