It has been a good month for the BJP so far, with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) moving past the majority line in the Bihar Assembly ; the party far ahead of its ally, the Janata Dal (U); and grabbing the House Speaker’s position as well. But what has really made this an important month for the BJP in the State is that it has been given, through the difference in its relative strength vis a vis the JD(U), the opportunity to make changes in the party organisation and even taking bold steps in broadening its social coalition, over and above that of being a party identified with upper castes.
Change in legislative party leader
The BJP’s national leadership’s ambitions with regard to its Bihar unit came to the fore on Sunday afternoon, when Tarkishore Prasad was elected the leader of the legislative party in the Assembly and Renu Devi elected deputy leader. This clearly meant that former Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, who also doubled as the legislative party leader, will not be made Deputy Chief Minister. Mr. Modi had, for years, managed the BJP’s relationship with Nitish Kumar and his exclusion this time around meant that the terms of engagement between the BJP and the JD(U) had changed and would be far tougher for Mr. Kumar without the benign friendship of Mr. Modi.
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For years, Mr. Modi had been resented by his own party men for giving in too much to Mr. Kumar and not asserting enough on behalf of the party within the coalition. Even in 2010, when just before the Bihar polls, Mr. Kumar said that there was no need for then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to campaign on behalf of the NDA in the State, matters were smoothened over but the BJP cadre was restive at such an open insult to a popular leader in their party.
The BJP, therefore, seems to be making a decisive break from some of the old patterns of its relationship with Mr. Kumar and the JD(U). The chief ministership may not be in the BJP’s hands but the party intends greater control over the government and the Assembly. A generational shift within the State leadership is being affected, with leaders like Union Minister Nityanand Rai likely to take the centre stage.
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The silent voter
Many who covered the Bihar polls saw first hand that BJP and the Prime Minister’s popularity remained intact through months of the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown and after. Much of it was attributed to the welfare work done under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana and improvement in last mile delivery of welfare goods of various Central programmes. Several commentators and even some party leaders were of the view that the BJP would have improved its tally had it fought alone, and maybe even won on its own. The national leadership of the BJP, however, had learnt from the 2015 debacle and knew that a BJP-JD(U) alliance had the critical mass of social coalitions needed to win. That the JD(U)’s vote among Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs), Mahadalits (a sub category among Dalits created by Mr. Kumar) and women was important to reach the finish line. The large number of women voters who outnumbered male voters in every phase of the three- phase poll and the NDA’s success in Seemanchal, considered the stronghold of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) proved that these category of voters did flock to the NDA. But what was also clear through the election was that Mr. Kumar was not the only draw for this vote bank and Mr. Narendra Modi with his welfare policies and non upper caste moorings was a big draw as well. The Prime Minister alluded to this “silent voter” in every thanksgiving message after the polls.
The appointment of Renu Devi, not just an experienced and assertive politician, but also belonging to the backward Nonia community as deputy leader and within the NDA government gives enough notice of the BJP seeking to widen its social base, with or without Mr. Kumar’s help.
The 2020 verdict, therefore, is being seen as a take-off point for a new Bihar unit of the BJP. A project that had to be abandoned in 2015, but which is likely to gain traction in the next five years.