Published On : Mon, Nov 2nd, 2015

What Bihar polls mean to Modi?

PM Narendra Modi

Amit Shah seems to believe that if “by mistake” the BJP were to bite the dust in Bihar, there would be firecrackers of celebration in Pakistan. On the contrary, fireworks would burst in India, and particularly in Bihar, if the BJP were smashed, as 70% of the electorate that did not vote for Modi even in 2014 celebrate the end of the Modi-Shah juggernaut and are joined by millions of Modi’s erstwhile voters who are thoroughly disillusioned with 500 days of “achche din”.

That the end for the BJP is nigh is palpable. Even the satta bazaar that had hitherto been backing Modi is turning the odds in Nitish Kumar’s favour. By most accounts, Nitish is overtaking Modi – and panic appears to be overtaking the BJP. For the election being a two-horse race, even a small majority in the percentage of votes would translate into a huge majority of seats. One TV correspondent who has been traveling extensively around Bihar in recent weeks bluntly predicted in a private conversation with me that the Mahagathbandhan would “sweep” the polls. Others have been predicting this publicly. Coming after the slaughtering to which Arvind Kejriwal subjected the BJP in the Delhi assembly elections, their myth of invincibility would be definitively blown.

With defeat staring them in the face, desperation is becoming evident in the electoral idiom of Modi and his cohort. Their election speeches are getting more and more coarse, drifting towards the “tapori.” Calling the three leaders of the Grand Alliance “3 Idiots” is to sink towards the gutter. Starting with decrying Nitish Kumar’s DNA, Modi’s satire has run to describing Lalu Yadav’s daughter as “bechari beti.” The young woman, Misa, has retorted, “Modi se kisi bhi shabd ki apeksha thi. Woh kisi bhi nari ka samman kar hi nahi sakte kyonki woh RSS ke hain aur wahan auraton ka sthan sirf paer dhone ka hai (We can expect any kind of expression from Modi, he is from the RSS, where the woman’s place is restricted to washing men’s feet)”. To which her father has added, “On the one hand, Modi talks of ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’, but, on the other, extends no respect to any daughter”.

What is it that takes the BJP’s language of politics to that level and pushes Nitish into responding that he, for his part, “can’t stoop to that level?” Is it merely that Modi’s sense of humour has failed him? Or is Modi turning hysterical as he foresees that defeat in Bihar will call into question his entire strategy of taking and keeping power? That his authoritarianism will come under challenge? That the Bihar result is part of a wider and deeper rejection of what he and his Sangh Parivaar stand for? That empty talk of “development” can no longer befool people into believing he does indeed have a new agenda of development? For the spiralling price of tur and urad dal is as much the consequence of the Modi model of development as is the collapse of the rupee in relation to the dollar to the lowest level ever. The Modi-Shah duo are discovering in Bihar that the mystique of the “Gujarat model” that carried them to victory in 2014 is now evaporating as the realization dawns that the model is for the “suited and booted” and not for Everyman, that the key to its appeal to the wealthy lay in the way it rode roughshod over the helpless and the voiceless tribals and the destitute.

It also lies in people realizing that Modi cannot forever distance himself from the deeply divisive, intolerant and insensitive statements of his ministers, MPs, MLAs, governors and party leaders, that his very silence over their repeated transgressions constitutes endorsement – and that such endorsement is not acceptable to at least three-quarters of our people who comprise both those who did not vote for him even last year and those who did but are now swelling the ranks of the dissenting disillusioned. Modi rode out his crushing rejection in the Delhi polls. But his political investment in Bihar has been so heavy that if his party loses there on Sunday, 8 November, as it seems to be doing, the loss will be personally attributed to him. He cannot get away with claiming victory for himself when his party wins and passing the buck to others when his party loses.

When this election’s post-mortem is written, perhaps someone will find that it was the wrong Modi that was projected – instead of the votes that Sushil Modi has won for the BJP, Narendra Modi has lost them and more. By making himself the focus of the campaign when at the start it looked as if the BJP would be victorious in Bihar, Modi thought he would garner all the credit unto himself; what has happened on the ground is that the more Modi has involved himself, the more rapidly has the ground beneath the BJP’s feet slipped. His much-hyped “package” for Bihar has been quickly exposed as the re-packaging of what Bihar would in any case have been entitled to get. His attempt to portray the Grand Alliance as clandestinely working towards religion-based reservations has backfired, even as Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on phasing out caste-based reservations have deepened Bihari apprehensions of a BJP restructuring of the architecture of reservations. The Election Commission has added to Modi’s misery by banning BJP ads that attempt to build on Modi’s dark hint about existing quotas being shaved to carve out a separate quota for “another community”.

And as veteran journalist MK Venu has pointed out, “By invoking Pakistan, the BJP think it can consolidate Hindu votes across castes”. A significant majority of the Bihar electorate have rejected the BJP leadership’s attempts at promoting community-based polarization by such innuendo. Similarly, the “beef” games being played by the BJP and the Sangh Parivaar across the country to give them electoral traction have collapsed because voters are seeing through this cynical, dangerous game.

What everyone also sees is that the results of this election will not be confined to Bihar. They will reverberate across the land and be heard most particularly in the national capital. The bugle would sound for the fractured Opposition to combine its might to present a united front to the Central government. Authoritarians like Mussolini, Hitler and Franco could only consolidate their hold by moving from victory to victory. This strategy has been characteristic of Narendra Modi. However, in Delhi, he stumbled, especially after he ostentatiously pushed CM-candidate Kiran Bedi aside to lead the campaign from the front – and, in consequence, brought the BJP to its knees in the face of the AAP challenge. If in Delhi he stumbled, in Bihar he is falling off the cliff for the same sin of sidelining the local BJP leadership.

As soon as the results are out, the rumblings already being heard in the BJP and Sangh Parivaar ranks will rise to a crescendo. The era of Modi dominance is coming to an end. The end of the Modi era itself is in the offing.

– By Mani Shankar Aiyar (Source : Indian Express)