Prime Minister Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
Prime Minister Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar being garlanded during an election rally at Paliganj in Patna on Wednesday. Image Credit: PTI

Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces the severest challenge to perform well with the fate of as many as four federal ministers at stake in the final round of the seven-phased Lok Sabha polls. The contest is so tough that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah are sweating it out in the hot and humid weather to ensure victory of their candidates. A total of eight seats go to polls in the past phase of elections scheduled for May 19.

The four ministers who are seeking re-election this time are Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ram Kripal Yadav, R K Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey — the last three being first-time ministers in the central government. Of them, the battle has turned more interesting in Patna Sahib where BJP candidate Prasad is locked in straight fight with party rebel-turned-Congress candidate Shatrughan Sinha and in Patliputra where Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s daughter Misa Bharti is giving tough challenge to BJP candidate Ram Kripal Yadav.


total number of Lok Sabha seats in Bihar state

In the last LS polls, most of the ministers had a smooth sailing — Singh had won the elections with a comfortable margin of over 135,000 votes, Choubey had won with a margin of 132,000 votes while Yadav had emerged victorious with some 40,000 odd votes. Prasad, on the other hand, never faced the votes in the past and is contesting elections for the first time.

More than the prevailing anger among the masses against the 10-year-old United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the local factors had helped the BJP win elections last time. The BJP which enjoys primarily the support of some 14 per cent upper caste and business community voters have put up good performance in Bihar only when it is multi-cornered contest since that allows to split the anti-BJP votes. That had happened last time when both RJD chief Prasad and the Janata Dal United (JD-U) leader Nitish Kumar had gone to the polls separately which split the secular votes, leading to the victory of the BJP candidates.


seats the JD-U of Nitish Kumar is contesting in Bihar

This is not the situation this time. The main opposition RJD has stitched a strong alliance with the like-minded parties such as the Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), Vikashseel Insan Party (VIP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML). The strategic alliance has prevented division of secular votes and also turned the contest straight on most of the seats, leaving the NDA on sticky wicket. RLSP, HAM and VIP are led by former federal minister Upendra Kushwaha, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and Mukesh Sahni respectively. Of the three, first two were part of the NDA till recently.

The challenge the BJP faces from the opposition camp is underlined from the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed no less than 15 election rallies in various pockets of Bihar while BJP chief Shah too rushed frequently to the state, along with a host of federal ministers. “This is not a cakewalk for the NDA this time as the contest is straight on most of the seats. It will be a miracle if the NDA repeats its past performance,” commented political expert Sachindra Narayan.

Another trouble for the BJP-led NDA is that the kind of enthusiasm witnessed among the masses last time is entirely missing this time and is evident from the not-so-good poll percentage which has remained at around 57 per cent despite all the serious efforts by the Election Commission to increase poll percentage. In the last polls, the poor and backward masses had associated themselves with Modi due to his “chaiwala” image and his claim that he comes from the backward community. While his “chaiwala” image is completely gone now after his transformation as “chowkidar” (watchman), his backward caste claim has run into controversy with the opposition describing him as a “fake OBC” (Other backward castes) leader.

All these factors have made the going tough for the BJP which focused much on Bihar and West Bengal this time to make up the possible loss to be caused by the Grand Alliance of Mayawati and Akhilesh Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh. But the way the JD-U gave its offer to work for the granting Special category status to Bihar if the masses help it win at least 15 LS seats (JD-U contesting on only 17 out of Bihar’s total 40 seats) speaks volumes about the challenge the NDA facing from the opposition camp in Bihar despite mighty opposition politician Lalu Prasad in jail at this crucial juncture. This is for the first time in 42 years that Prasad has been out of political scene.