BJP supporters Modi rally Bihar
BJP supporters during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's election rally at the second leg of his campaign for Bihar assembly elections, in Patna. Image Credit: PTI

Patna: The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been forced to focus its campaigns on issues concerning the common man as the “emotive issues” raised by the party have miserably failed to get support of the masses in the Bihar elections, being described as an “acid test” for the ruling party.

Initially, the BJP tried hard to bring the controversial issues in the poll campaign, such as Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, abrogation of Article 370, militancy in Kashmir and Ram temple in a bid to divert the people’s attention from the real issues.

It all began with federal minister Giriraj Singh alleging that the Congress party was moving on the path of Jinnah, instead of Mahatma Gandhi. Then came federal Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai who alleged the “Kashmiri militants will take shelter in Bihar if the (main opposition) Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) wins elections in the state.”

China standoff

BJP president JP Nadda too made similar comments. “RJD victory will strengthen the ultra Left extremism if it comes to power,” alleged Nadda. Federal defence minister Rajnath Singh, on the other hand, tried to add flavour of nationalism in the poll campaign by mentioning India’s continuing standoff with China along the LAC in Ladakh. “I want to assure that no power can take an inch of our land under the strong leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi...I salute and bow in front of the mothers of brave hearts of Galwan valley who made the entire country proud through their miraculous job”.

Eventually, PM Modi joined the Bihar poll campaign on October 23 and since then he has addressed six rallies so far. His main focus too has remained on primarily two kinds of issues—controversial and alleged “RJD misrule”. While he has constantly spoke on controversial issues, such as Article 370 and Ram temple, on the other hand, he has continued slamming the “Jungle Raj”, a term used to describe the 15-year-old rule of Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, parents of opposition Grand Alliance’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav.

But very strangely, the BJP has been forced to go back to the issues of unemployment and job losses caused by the 90-day-long lockdown. Right from Day-One, the main Opposition RJD had been raising the issue and promising to provide One million government jobs to the youths should it come to power but the NDA people ridiculed it in public.

Meeting expenses

First it was chief minister NItish Kumar who mocked it at his rallies asking as to, “from where will they (Tejashwi Yadav) bring money for the purpose—will they bring it from jail or will they do it through fake currency notes?” Then, BJP too jumped into the debate saying the state government was currently spending Rs50.2 billion towards salary payment and if another one million people get appointed, then it will entail a total burden of over Rs101 billion on state’s exchequer. “If the RJD-led alliance spends this much on salary, how will they meet the expenses on pension, students’ scholarships, cycle, uniforms, mid-day meal, farmers’ subsidy, infrastructure and electricity?” asked BJP leader and finance minister Sushil Kumar Modi.

Very strangely, the BJP itself has now promised to provide 1.9 million jobs to the people of Bihar in its election manifesto, amply indicating the sharp U-turn in its stand. Experts say the BJP was forced to make job promises as a huge number of people have lost jobs as a result of lockdown and want employment.

“The BJP has been forced to go back to the real issues and its entire credit goes to Tejashwi Yadav,” explained political expert DM Diwakar. “Unemployment is the key issue in this election as lockdown has destroyed millions of families. The fact is that the people don’t want to listen to anything else except for jobs, and this has forced all parties to talk about employment,” added Diwakar, former director with Patna-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies.

Experts say the unemployment situation has turned very alarming in Bihar after the Corona-induced lockdown and that’s why it has become a key issue in this poll. “A June 2020 report of the Periodic Labour Force Survey says unemployment is growing at the rate of 30.9 percent among Bihar youths, May 2020 report of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy says unemployment rate in Bihar has touched 46.6 percent while the Azim Premji University Covid-19 Livelihood survey says lockdown has left 46 percent jobless of which 58 percent are Dalits and backwards. The reports paint an alarming picture about unemployment,” said another poll expert Satyanarayan Madan. He added that unemployment became the key issue in this poll because its victims are mainly Dalist and poor.

No wins

Poll observers also say the prestige of the BJP, especially PM Modi, is much at stake in Bihar elections than any parties since the PM has not won any major states in the past five years except for Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat despite his aggressive full-throated campaigns.

According to them, the BJP has lost states after states in the past five years, such as Bihar (2015), Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal (2016), Punjab (2017), Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh (2018), Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand (2019) and as recently as Delhi where the elections were held in February this year.

The party lost the Delhi elections despite a number of politically significant issues in hand, such as scrapping of Article 370 granting special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, CAA, NRC, Ram temple judgement and ban on Triple Talaq. Experts say now the PM wants to win Bihar at any cost to boost his morale. In 2015 assembly polls, Modi himself had led the Bihar poll campaign and addressed as many as 26 election rallies, which was a record by any Prime Minister addressing so many rallies in a state election yet the BJP-led NDA managed to win only 58 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly. This amply explains how the Bihar election remains very important for PM Modi.