“We have now begun a campaign to explain the rationale of our decision to the people”

The CNN-IBN-The Hindu Election Tracker in Bihar has revealed nuanced differences within the Janata Dal (United) on recent political developments, and their impact. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) have, however, claimed this as a vindication of their position, while the Congress feels it has the key to the electoral outcome.

The survey suggested plummeting popularity of the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government. While the vote share of the JD(U) is expected to increase by a percentage point, there will be a corresponding increase of eight percentage points for its friend-turned-foe, the BJP. A large section of voters, including his core supporters, does not agree with Mr. Kumar’s decision to break ties with the BJP over Narendra Modi’s elevation as the BJP’s campaign committee chief.

JD(U) leader Shivanand Tiwari candidly told The Hindu that the party was receiving similar feedback, but it was working to recover lost ground.

“There is a general perception that in Bihar, the government was stable, and perhaps there was no need to take the recent decision.”

He added that the media’s projection of Mr. Modi as a ‘development man’ had also created ‘confusion.’

“The issue of secularism and communalism is often not perceived in the same way by people as by those understand these issues.”

But K.C. Tyagi, JD(U) spokesperson, said that the poll was ‘incomplete and flawed.’

“It underestimates the consolidation of the secular vote — which will include both Muslims and a large section of Hindus — behind Nitish Kumar.”

He added that while ‘upper-caste, urban dwellers and middle classes,’ may be temporarily upset for they feared a return of the RJD, this would not hold. “As soon as Modi enters Bihar, his focus of attack will be Nitish. And that will give us the entire anti-Modi constituency.”

A more introspective Mr. Tiwari, however, said that the party had made a mistake in not initiating ‘political education’ on the issue earlier. But this, he argued, did not take away from the merit of the decision. “It was driven by our political and ideological commitment. We have now begun a campaign to explain the rationale to the people.”

The BJP, however, welcomed the findings. It's deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told The Hindu that the ‘enormous rise’ in the BJP vote-share was a clear indication that the people of Bihar disapproved of Mr. Kumar’s ‘unilateral termination of relationship’ with the party.

“It also reflects an overwhelming yearning to see BJP in power and Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in Delhi.”

Mr. Prasad said that the findings proved that his party had been a ‘pillar of stability, rationality and good governance in Bihar.’

From the other end of the spectrum, the RJD too said that of all surveys, this was the ‘closest to depiction of reality.’

Explaining the dip in Mr. Kumar’s popularity, RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said that the Chief Minister had become ‘complacent’ and ‘arrogant’ since his re-election.

“He got cut off from people’s representatives and began to depend on chosen bureaucrats completely.”

Laughing off the JD(U)’s decision to break ties with the BJP, Mr. Jha said, “The findings show Bihar has seen through Nitish’s secularism façade. He legitimised the BJP’s right-wing politics and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has witnessed the most expansion in Bihar after Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.” The RJD leader, however, admitted that his party had to do more to translate the resentment against the incumbent into political advantage.

A senior Congress leader, who insisted on anonymity, said that the survey was not ‘off target.’

“It is clear there will be an alliance before the polls. The Muslim vote will consolidate behind whichever party the Congress allies with. The survey, by taking into account individual parties, misses this element.”