Key Issues at Stake in #BiharElections

VANI’s BLOGS, @vanichandra2010

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With Modi pitching in strongly at Mujafarpur and making the battle of Bihar a Modi versus Nitish affair, issues revolve around these two personalities. While Nitish tries to attack Modi on non-performance in one year, Modi is certainly going to make the Gujarat versus Bihar as the main plank and the Bihar Versus Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh as secondary plank and the Bihar versus the new government in Jharkhand and improvement of law and order situation in Jharkhad, post BJP take over as teritiary issue. (BIMARU. Except Ma, all others are weak) The jungle raj of Lalu reign will be another issue. Nitish may try to rake up “Yakub Memon” hanging issue. He may make LAB a big issue and say if elected, he wont pass fresh land law. This will be countered by BJP effectively. Congress flipflops and UPA scams will be brought out by BJP and what stand Nitish took then and where he had stood now would be hot discussion.
Let us try to minutely discuss how each issue, if raked up, benefits or boomerangs on  both the main players (if there are two only, that I doubt, as still Congress is a taboo to many parties except Yechury and Yechury is taboo to others). Parliament logjam will get prime place if Congress finally joins the alliance. (I doubt Rahul thought initially that it was a kind of Italian Jam that his mother would serve with bread. Intelligence slowly dawned on him and he went to Pune Institute to learn more from guys studying there since childhood).
With Congress members being suspended from Loksabha and both JDU and RJD, though overtly seen as supporting Congress cause, seem wary of public backlash of supporting a loose and lost cause. They may boycott Parliament to show they are untited but the heartburn about congress’ flawed stand remains. And NDA took a stand in Joint Parliamentary Committee that the UPA Bill would be passed in toto, leaving the states to determine their stand on infra and industrial growth. Now, Congress can not take a stand that NDA has buckled under pressure or that Rahul has proved himself as leader, as nothing has changed on the ground except that the Central Government is pitching one state against the other in an un-parelelled competition to attract investments. So, it is a win win game for NDA as far as LAB is concerned. By postponing the inevitable till the nearest possible date of Bihar elections BJP tried to score browny points and succeeded in keeping allies in good books. It is a loss to the Pariwar certainly, as the biggest stick to beat BJP with is now in the hands of NDA.
Issues that may dominate the polls may be as follows.
1. Crime Rate and Poverty in Bihar:  
This will play out as a major issue in Bihar. After Nitish Kumar took over as CM, slowly but steadily the crime rate  came down and the JDU+BJP government tried its level best to take the state out of poverty line with little success.
 If Nitish Kumar takes credit for the reduction in crime rate he can not but give credit to the BJP with whom he has been on honeymoon till 2013. Later, during Manjhi time too the crime rate  did not show increase nor jungle raj returned to Bihar. So, the question uppermost in the minds of electorate would be why Nitish left BJP hand with whose help he could curb crime and why he dethroned Manjhi, who individually tackled crime effectively. More than this, the question that would be asked by BJP to the electorate would be what forced Nitish to join hands with Lalu, who was not only a convict on bail but under whose reign corruption and crime thrived. And they will try to influence voter behavior by taking a message to the masses that Nitish is interested in power rather than Bihar welfare. This will be a big booster to NDA which is adept in micro management of polls under Modi-Shah. Compared to this Modi never buckled under pressure of Media, insiders, outsiders etc., and did not remove a single Minister nor changed their portfolios. Continuity is the biggest asset in good governance. Nitish failed on this for personal ambition. Hope BJP will take this message down well and in time.
If, on the other hand, if BJP rakes up the issue of non-development of Bihar it can not escape responsibility as for eight years it has shared the plate with Nitish. But, BJP can attack Congress/UPA of showing step-motherly attitude to non-congress governments and again question Nitish on the propriety of alligning with a party that has never shown concern for Bihar. A minor plus point to BJP and major negative to Nitish.
Special status is an issue that Nitish wants to make big in the polls. In fact, in AP, Odisha too there is a lot of resentment on the issue. As the CMs of those states are not so anti-NDA and they understand the economics of special status versus special packages better (nitish too understands but does not want to come out), they are now trying for the best special packages. Already the Finance Commission increased the States’s share by almost 30% of the existing share. This gave states extra leverage. In Bihar, already Modi announced the special package of more than 50,000 crores unofficially. Most probably it will be announced from the ramparts of the Red Fort on 15 the August, 2015.
BJP has its ammunition ready with a clear cut explanaion of what more benefits Bihar will get or AP may get by the special package (it includes many aspects including tax breaks), when compared to Special status. According to some economists, special staus means loss to some states as the total grants will come down substatially. It mostly depends on how BJP will be able to make the common folk understand this. If they are successful, this issue will be in cold storage.
The sound bites of Media and opposition are , “Where are Acche Din (Good Days?). This does not sustain in polls, as voters know that the one year in office of Modi has far better than the six decades of Congress rule or 10 year rule of JDU in Bihar. We can not still live in the 1950s where Zamindars have been dictating the voting patterns and the whole villages have been following their diktats. Nor are these the days of “ballot papers” and boxes that are being rigged and or carried away. The country changed. Time of digital CC cameras has come. It is not possible to rig elections and villagers are more in sync with happenings in the world with youth from various states moving to various other states/countries in search of work and telling stories of better living conditioons in other states/nations. Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat including small towns are where most migrant labor live. The success stories in Gujarat and Mumbai and no dearth of income for the working classes will certainly have an effect on voting patterns. In Delhi too migrants give credit to the Congress rather than to AAP which did nothing but squabble with Modi. And the corruption in Congress times will be a major issue again and a new face with new ideas will be what voters look for. The continued squabbles between BJP and Shivasena and the rumor that the cousins Raj and Uddhav are coming together doing rounds in Mumbai, will make BJP job easier, as migrants know they are safe under BJP. And Shiva Sena too stopped targeting non-locals after 2014 elections and are concentrating on development politics and this augurs well for NDA as a whole. SS is now concentrating to win votes on development plank only. But it takes time for old wounds to heal.

The fact of Nitish leaving NDA out of sheer envy for Modi did not go well with the voters of Bihar. Moreover, he could not compromise with Lalu or Congress on whom he had made serious charges of corruption against both parties. But, when the going went tough for him in Lok Sabha polls, he compromised both on corruption and crime and joined hands with both to just keep his CM post intact. His forcing Mulayam to accept him as CM candidate may not have gone well with youth, who form about 35% of voters and 24 lakh new voters who are a main force to reckon with. And before much water passed in the Yamuna or Brahmaputra or Ganges, he unseated Manjhi, an overtly able administrator, just because of paranoiya that his stock had been on down slide.

If we could go back to 2014, many voters in AP were disillusioned with TDP because of his alliance with Modi, whom he once spurned as communal.And , the few voters in AP and substantial voters in TG of BJP too were disillusioned at a tie up with TDP. Reason is simple. People are fed up with opportunistic alliances just to win. NDA scraped through in AP whereas it lost in TG. This applies to Bihar too. It was 12 years ago Chandrababu spurned Modi. People never forgave him nor BJP. How can we expect Bihar electorate to forgive Nitish who spurned two good leaders just within one year? Some analysts may argue that Bihar votes on religion and caste. AP is no different. Or else, accused in many cases, Jagan would not have come too close to TDP with minor difference in vote percentages. Like Poirot, people never forget. Like sherlock Holmes they hound out the Hounds of Baskervelle.

I do not think Nitish Pariwar has much leeway here. Gujarat is coninuing on the development path even after Modi has left and has never intervened in the administration there either overtly or covertly. Luckily BJP has no high command culture. Bihar is still seeking special packages and special status. Bihar, even under Nitish, never tried to address problems from down under. They tried to subsidize people more than they tried to make them good, skilled workers. Nitish never tried for investments. Rayalaseema in AP is attracting huge investments now in infra and industries. It was no less crime prone than Bihar a decade earlier. Where lies the difference? Two good CMs (one, of course, outright corrupt) who tried to woo investors. They used available funds to develop the backward areas. Nitish never tried this and hence migration continued. Migration to far off places leaving family at home is the biggest curse. Will they excuse the successive governments? Modi’s stress on local employment and success stories in Gujarat and Mumbai, Pune will certainly tilt scales.
Till the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government took over in Madhya Pradesh, the states Bihar, MP, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh were called BIMARU, the most backward states. Shivraj changed the scenario in ten years and one should feel proud the way he developed the state. He too had a hostlie Central Government. His neighbour Chattisgadh too showed marked development. The question that would be raised by BJP would be why could Nitish not do the same in Bihar? Of course, BJP was partner but Nitish was uncrowned king of Bihar. He took credit for reduction in crime. He should take the stick for not developing Bihar. Rajasthan, on the other hand was under UPA from 2008 to2013. UP was under rule of local parties. This is a postive issue BJP will bring home.
This is one issue on which the Pariwar expects to polarise votes of a community. This may boomerang. If they polarise votes of community the reverse polarisation can not be stopped. One example is when I have told the domestic helps the day Memon has been hanged that I woke up whole night, they said they too were viewing TV the whole night. This has been an emotive issue with general public. When it comes to hanging a criminal, caste equations in Hindu society will be minmalized.Symapthy can not be generated when it is with a hardcore criminal.  Further, it is difficult to convince the community too as these Pariwar leaders took diametrically opposite stand on Afzal Guru hanging, who was responsibe for nine deaths. Further, total peace after hanging with not much of policing in the country is proof enough Modi has been successful in sending out the message, “SAB KA SAATH, SAB KA VIKAS”. Yes! There are hardliners. But there are moderateds in equal numbers. BJP will easily target this moderate groups against all odds and Bihar will be the first test case in winning votes of all communities. I hope, with much better planning, BJP will succeed in this. Naqui is a moderate face that can influence voters and he is a powerful speaker too.

Let us see what each leader in the Pariwar said after Afzal hanging.

 Headline in The Hindu that was highly critical of Memon hanging.
 “Afzal Guru hanging: voice of affirmation across political spectrum”
“Political parties on Saturday said justice has been done with the execution of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru even as BJP questioned the delay in carrying out the death sentence.”
““The law has taken its course. The Parliament attack convict has been hanged,” Congress spokesman Rashid Alvi said reacting to the execution of Guru in Tihar Jail in New Delhi.”
“Justice has been done,” another Congress spokesman Sandeep Dikshit said.”
“In Chennai, Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari said the decision to hang Guru was not based on political considerations.”
“The process of Article 72 unfolded and once the mercy petition was rejected by the president (Pranab Mukherjee) the law took its own course,” Mr. Tewari told reporters.”
“Mr. Alvi said the capital punishment to Afzal Guru would send a message to all terror outfits that India will not tolerate terror.“We have sent a message to the world that we cannot tolerate terrorism at any cost. Anybody committing any acts of terror will be punished. People of our country and government have zero tolerance for terrorism”, he said.”
“CPI(M) said the law of the land has taken its course as far as attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned.“I think, the law of the land with all its provisions has finally been completed as far as the Afzal Guru case and the attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned. The issue which had been lingering for the past 11 years has finally completed its due course,” CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Sitaram Yechury said.”
Reacting to the hanging of Afzal Guru, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said on Saturday that act was inevitable, although delayed.“It is a question of a criminal act. The matter was kept pending for long. With the apex court’s sentence, justice eventually prevailed. There is a feeling among the common people that this should have happened earlier,” Mr. Kumar said.
These statements and the exact contradictory statements by the same leaders post Memon hanging can be spread through Bihar before polls are announced. This will let the people know the hypocrisy of the seculars and how they were using vote banks to suit their needs. Hopefully, Nitish will not raise this issue in polls.
Another point on which BJP would counter the offensive would be that Afzal Guru was hanged secretively, relatives had no access to his mortal remains whereas the law of land was scupulously followed in case of Memon. Death by hanging might be cruel but hardcore criminals can not be condoned on humanitarian grounds. Parties that said there was no politics in Afzal hanging saw only politics in Memon hanging. In case of Guru also main culprits who planned the attack were not brought to justice as in the case of Memon.
Not much can be said on this count as I never studied poll outcomes on caste basis. But, one thing is certain, if the Congress and its tail parties want to encash on caste equations, this time around BJP is more into the game very early, with Modi raising the Yadav pride in his first meeting. Giving Paswan and Manjhi more time than even SK Modi sent sgnals BJP is not shy to play the politics of Congress. During moderate times, BJP was feeling out of place on this count. With two strong leaders with winning ways at the helm this inhibition gave way to enthusiasm. Go out and win, is the message. Manhi, Paswan and few other caste leaders are crtain to work overtime to divide the oppostion camp, I feel.
Lalu will be the main target of attack as time goes by. He is a convicted criminal out on bail. He did not mend his ways. Nitish won Bihar to unseat the demon Lalu. He wanted to throw away the jungle kingdom. Opportunistic alliance  this time will be the main poll plank and BJP is going to reap rich dividends in urban seats, with youth and first time voters.
The almost 75,000 crore package that Modi is going to announce that will pass on many benefits to Bihar is going to be utilised by BJP against the Special Staus demand, that is less lucrative on many counts.
It is a million dollar question how people take this. Prohibition usually leads to disenchantment. Perception of people of what is good or what is bad changed. Further, many states depend on excise revenue. Crime rate may increase as illicit liquor flow can not be stopped in states like Bihar. We have to see how voters take this promise.

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