In high-stakes Bihar polls the discourse touches new lows – An analysis

In high-stake Bihar polls the discourse touches new lows - An analysis
In high-stake Bihar polls the discourse touches new lows - An analysis

Navin Upadhyay

New Delhi

Few state polls have been so bitterly fought in the recent times as the upcoming Bihar assembly elections. The gutter-level discourse is linked to the high stakes for the players and their parties in an election that has been reduced to a platform for name calling and score settling. The vicious barbs and invective that rival sides are hurling at each other makes a mockery of the high principles of democracy. But then certain words are sacrosanct for the political class only for lip service!

Without going into the generous contribution of Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi, Bihar Chief minister Nitish Kumar and his poll ally Lalu Prasad Yadav in lowering the level of discourse, it would be safe to assume that if the atmosphere remained equally surcharged, then the violence could not remain confined merely to exchange of words. In a caste-ridden society like Bihar, there is subterranean tension that could erupt into a volcano if the leaders continued to fan the flames of sectarian bitterness.

In all fairness, it was neither the reticent Nitish Kumar nor the loud-mouthed Lalu Prasad who started this unseemly battle. The PM himself hurled the first stone when he questioned Nitish Kumar’s DNA. Nitish Kumar may have his own shortcomings — that he lacks the political acumen to keep together his party colleagues, is a familiar charge against him—but few will accuse him of not observing normal protocol of speech and gesture in greeting even his enemies. One may accuse him of plotting and conspiring like any other politician to remain in power or retain power, but those who know him for any length of time will not question his language or etiquette.

It’s not surprising why the PM chose to launch a personal broadside against Nitish both in his rallies at Mujaffarpur and Gaya. Modi is not a man who believes in forget and forgive. The fact that Nitish had cancelled a dinner invitation to Modi when the BJP national executive met in Patna in June 2010 is not something a person like Modi is ever going to let go of.

Modi is also unlikely to ever forget that Nitish Kumar broke Janata Dal (U)’s 17-year-old alliance with the BJP ahead of the May 2014 Lok Sabha polls to sabotage the prospect of the Gujarat strongman to become Prime Minister. Still Narendra Modi never launched such vitriolic attack against Nitish or Lalu Prasad in the camping for Lok Sabha polls. If he has decided to climb down from the lofty chair of Prime Minister and take his rivals in a street side brawl, then the reason has to be something more immediate and desperate.

So now let us take a look at the ramifications of the outcome; If Modi wins October-November Bihar polls, then he would have proved that even after 18 months, his charisma remains intact and despite his perceived failure on several counts, people still have faith in his ability to deliver in the long run. At the same time, a victory in Bihar will help BJP chief Amit Shah re-establish himself as a poll manager par excellence and silence those who bayed for his blood after the BJP’s rout in the Delhi assembly polls. The victory will enable Modi-Shah duo to also make a history – The BJP has never formed a government in Bihar on its own. Also, a victory in Bihar will demolish the Opposition and give the Central Government enough bargaining chips to successfully conduct the parliament proceedings and pass important reform legislation.

At the same time a defeat in Bihar will raise serious question marks over the longevity of Modi’s vote-catching ability and the poll management skills of Shah and embolden the Opposition in a way that the Government will have to bend over backwards to carry out its reform agenda.

Similarly, if Nitish and Lalu lose the plot, the days ahead would be tough for them. Age is not with them and their party relies on their personal charisma for surivival. Both JD (U) and RJD have negligible presence in Lok Sabha and as such they will not be in a position to influence the course of national politics, either.

With such high stakes, the players are ready to use every trick in the bag, fair or unfair. But some times such desperation could end up in a self goal. So many times we have seen it in the past that people might clap for a rabble-rouser but they don’t give him their votes. Time will tell who is seen as rabble rouser and who the victim!

Navin Upadhyay

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