The ruling Janata Dal (United) in Bihar may well find that its effort at keeping its Muslim voter-base intact may have been ruined by the Ayodhya case verdict.
For some time now, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his party have been going the extra mile to ensure that Muslim voters do not gravitate towards the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Lok Jan Shakti Party coalition. The JD(U) also did not relish the idea of the Congress, which had become somewhat optimistic of making a dent in this voter base, getting a slice of the cake.
The JD(U), and especially Mr. Kumar, tried to show that the party, despite being in partnership with the Bharatiya Janata Party, would not allow the grossly communal element in it to campaign for the election. So much so Mr. Kumar almost risked a break with the BJP when he ruined its Patna national executive meeting a couple of months ago, making loud protests about Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's posters and newspaper advertisements that appeared in the city.
The BJP surrendered, promising the JD(U) that it would not send Mr. Modi for the Bihar campaign. The list of 40 BJP campaigners sent to the Election Commission does not include Mr. Modi and Varun Gandhi, who became a hate figure for Muslims after his vicious Pilibhit campaign in 2009.
Even as the BJP on Saturday released a list of five more candidates — this time Janardhan Yadav has been denied ticket in Narpatganj, taking the total of sitting BJP MLAs refused ticket so far to five — those in the party who know Bihar well expressed apprehension that the RJD-LJP combine may gain at the expense of the BJP and the JD(U) as a result of the Ayodhya verdict.
The Narpatganj ticket has gone to Damayanthi Yadav, after a party survey led to the dropping of Mr. Janardhan Yadav. In Kishanganj, another woman candidate Sweety Singh has been fielded by the BJP.
The presence of Ravi Shankar Prasad — one of the advocates for Ram Lalla in the Ayodhya case and tall leader of the BJP from Bihar — in the campaign could be used by the RJD and the LJP to whip up anti-JD(U) feelings among Muslims. As for the upper caste vote, which had already begun showing signs of moving to the Congress, the Ayodhya verdict may not stop the drift, the BJP fears.
A Congress source said: “The verdict has come from the court. What has the BJP done for the Ram temple for it to be able to exploit the issue? People are not so dumb as to give it credit where none is due.”
With parties still finalising candidates — the last date for filing nominations for the first phase of the polls is October 4 — it is still too early to tell which way the wind will blow. The common wisdom is that the JD(U)-BJP alliance has begun the game with an edge. Will it be able to maintain that advantage?