Where’s My Lantern?
- The hate speeches from the BJP fringes have led to an anti-Modi wave, which could badly hit the chances of the BJP-LJP combine
- Voting along caste lines and a consolidation of the Muslim votes behind Laloo could see the RJD making a strong comeback
- JD(U) may fail to benefit mainly due to the complacency factor, which has led to indifferent candidate selection. Anti-incumbency too is a factor.
“If a son errs, give him a slap or two but don’t throw him out of the house,” pleads Ramvilas Paswan at a rally. Paswan knows he is fighting with his back to the wall but his pleas don’t seem to cut much ice. Mohammed Shahid Raza, a long-time Paswan loyalist, says, “There was a time when this same ground would be filled to capacity with people to hear Paswanji. Today, there are more vehicles than people.” Indeed, there are more schoolchildren eyeing his helicopter and discussing its finer points than people listening to his dispirited pitch.
Mushtaq Ahmed, another man in the crowd, does agree though that Paswan is easily the best of the three big candidates from Hajipur LS constituency. “We were fine with his alliance with BJP in the past, but this time he’s decided to break bread with Narendra Modi,” he says. “What my mouth speaks and my heart says is contrary to what my mind thinks,” he goes on, a little cryptically.
They expect 70-90 per cent of the minority votes to swing away from the LJP in Hajipur, where 50 per cent of the voters are from the Muslim and the Yadav communities. While the Muslims are upset with Paswan’s alliance with Modi, the Yadavs are upset with him for breaking up with Laloo Yadav. Still, Paswan puts up a brave front. His body language suggests he is aware of a miscalculation on his part. But he maintains that although a section of the Muslims and the Yadavs are angry with him, the majority will finally come around.
Contrary to the popular perception, an anti-Modi wave seems to be sweeping these parts of the state. The people have all heard about the loaded statements and hate speeches made by the Pravin Togadias and Giriraj Singhs. “If Modi did not have time to oversee what was happening in his own backyard, what is the guarantee he will have time to see what is happening in the rest of the country?” asks a man after some prodding.
Curiously, in large swathes of Hajipur and Saran, people do not seem to have Modi much on their mind. It is chief minister Nitish Kumar they are more angry with and also the local candidate. So an irate RJD supporter in Parsa, in Saran constituency, asks, “What did Rudy (Rajiv Pratap, the BJP candidate here) do for us in the five years he was minister during the NDA rule? Laloo, as railway minister, brought the wheel factory to Chhapra and got several other projects sanctioned.” Land for the projects, they claimed, has already been acquired, sending land prices soaring from Rs 50,000 a bigha to Rs 5 lakh a bigha. “Why should we vote for anyone else?” they ask in unison. Laloo, they insist, is the original “vikas purush”. “All the development you see here—it’s a gift from him,” insist his loyalists.
Paswan is banking on upper caste BJP votes. Also, he hopes minority votes splitting in JD(U)’s favour will help him.
Rudy is up against Laloo’s wife and ex-CM Rabri Devi in Saran. The husband and wife are campaigning separately nowadays with eldest daughter Misa, whose own election is over, accompanying her mother. In Rahimapur village, the headman’s wife comes forward to put some turmeric, rice and a bundle of currency notes on the sari pallu that Rabri spreads out before her. “It’s a shagun that we must give to visiting daughters,” she explains haltingly. Someone adds that the cash, Rs 10,100, was meant for the election campaign. “This is how we raise resources to contest elections,” a benign Rabri Devi tells this correspondent. She claims that barring 2-3 seats, the RJD-Congress alliance will sweep everything before it. “Hum sab jeetenge,” she asserts disdainfully referring to the opinion polls that had initially projected less than five seats for the alliance. “Now they themselves have raised the figure to between 15-20,” she says with a smirk.
People flock to her with grievances. And she accepts petitions and imperiously assures people of redressal, as if she is still in power. Indeed, her constant refrain is “we’ll win, we’ll return to power...”, turning the electoral battle into a local, state-level battle. She never even mentions Modi.
The Yadavs are upset with Nitish Kumar who, they complain, promoted upper-caste Bhumihars at their cost. So they are again rallying around their messiah Laloo, putting paid to BJP’s hopes that OBC votes would be split between the two. Rabri Devi stokes the fire. “Bachchon ke haath mein Nitish ne slate ke badle plate pakda diya hai (Schoolchildren have been handed doles instead of education),” she says, not elaborating whether she is referring to midday meals or to something else. Her audience pliantly nod their heads.
Prabhat Chand Sharma, an lic agent and shopkeeper at Karhauli bazaar in Hajipur constituency, says if this had been the assembly elections, Nitish’s JD(U) would have fared a lot better. But since he is not expected to have much clout in Delhi post-polls, the votes will go to others. Moreover, like many others, he also feels that JD(U) candidate Ram Sundar Das (a former CM) is “too weak”, given that he is over 90. The dark horse that has Paswan so worried is the Congress candidate and Laloo’s choice, Sanjiv Prasad Toni.
Amitabh Bhushan of PRIA, an NGO with a strong presence in Bihar, says there is a growing feeling that whatever development will happen, it will be through a ‘central’ leader, one who’s perceived to have influence in Delhi. In the last seven weeks, the projected tallies put out by media have changed dramatically. Today, there is talk of a strong comeback by the RJD. Not many support the view that this is a vote in favour of Laloo Yadav, it’s more an anti-BJP, anti-incumbency (read Nitish fatigue) vote. For apart from party loyalists in his home constituency, which after delimitation has become Saran, there is hardly any good word to be heard in Patna or Hajipur constituency about the 15 years of Laloo as chief minister of Bihar. Of course, his much-talked-about tenure as central rail minister still has some sheen, raising expectations again that having a strong leader with prospects to become a central minister would bring more rewards for Bihar.
Political pundits are still calculating the winning/losing chances of various candidates in the 40 LS constituencies. Votes still seem to move more along caste lines though it’s not totally disconnected with development issues. “The main minority groups—Yadavs and Muslims—will deliver an anti-BJP vote. If they feel the JD(U) is strong, they will vote for its candidate,” says Paswan hopefully. He’s banking on the upper-caste votes for the BJP and the votes of the minority groups splitting more in favour of the JD(U) to carry him through. He’s also hoping son Chirag’s presence in the campaign will provide some fresh impetus (see box).
Seasoned political watchers told Outlook that the JD(U) may fail to benefit this elections mainly due to the complacency factor—indifferent candidate selection could swing the vote in RJD’s favour. Rabri Devi certainly is confident her party will benefit. “Just like India Shining, last time Nitish Kumar benefited from the media hype and large advertising campaign. Despite the hype, Nitish is likely to lose in all the seats they are contesting while out of the 40, except for a few seats, we will win all.” With hundreds of people including first-time voters still waiting for their election cards, it is hard to say whether Bihar will vote for development or to keep the Modi juggernaut outside the state.