On Saturday, Bharatiya Janata Party leader >Shatrughan Sinha tweeted that the “cancellation” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bihar rallies “at the last minute” may send out a “negative message” to voters and other electoral stakeholders.
In this, Mr. Sinha seems to echo what the Janata Dal(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, which form part of the grand alliance, has been claiming: the Prime Minister is stepping back from the campaign midway through the polls. To back their claims, the two parties cite the “cancellation” of his rallies on October 16.
Top BJP leaders in the national capital were, however, quick to rubbish the charge. “We have maintained that the Prime Minister will address 20 rallies in Bihar. You will find at the end of the fifth phase that the number will be 22. He will address four rallies each in the third and fourth phases and five in the fifth,” a top leader said.
Mr. Sinha tweeted that “local dictatorial leaders” in the State had created a “mess” and wondered whether “a situation that led our star campaigner PM to cancel his Bihar rallies at the last minute [was] sending a negative message?”
“He [Mr. Sinha] has been misled by false reports being fed from Bihar,” a senior BJP leader said.
May have over-projected Modi
Some BJP workers have tried to read signs of potential losses in the Bihar Assembly elections in the fact that the party recently shifted from posters focussing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah to those featuring regional leaders. This change of tack is being seen to be a “damage-control” exercise in anticipation of a potential defeat.
The BJP’s official denial notwithstanding, there are unmistakable signs that the party, which was literally going for the kill two weeks back, feels a bit uneasy after the first phase of polls.
“First, the party over-projected the PM, who is popular in Bihar. But it changed the strategy midway and decided to feature local leaders, too. This midway change had backfired in Delhi, where Kiran Bedi was projected as CM midway. None has been named here, but the sudden tactical change has had tongues wagging,” said a BJP leader.
The BJP had gone to the polls looking to cover the slight advantage the grand alliance had in the first phase, hoping that floating votes would come its way given the negative image of RJD chief Lalu Prasad. After that phase, however, many BJP workers felt that the grand alliance had taken a lead. The fifth phase — which is also the last one — is also in the strongholds of the grand alliance, given that the Muslim-heavy Seemanchal region will go to the polls in that phase.
The saffron party, in other words, had just the second, third and fourth phases to hope to turn the tide. It may hold a slight advantage in the second phase on Friday, but many workers feel that these three phases will not balance the deficit the party faces in the first and last phases.
A senior BJP leader disagreed. “We are winning 28-32 of the 49 seats that went to the polls in the first phase and 20-24 of the 32 seats in the second phase.” Another BJP leader had given a different assessment of the first phase: 24-28 seats. These varying numbers, however, do not reflect the scepticism among many BJP workers in Bihar.
“Nitish Kumar is starting with a 35% strong chunk of Muslim, Yadav and Kurmi votes, while our core votes are clearly behind. We will have to beat him massively among the floating EBCs to cover the gap, but his alliance seems to be holding till now,” a BJP leader said.