In the search for an overarching issue that will decide the Bihar polls, now on their half-way mark, it is easy to overlook the small stuff, the methodical way in which the grand alliance of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and the Congress has gone about its campaign, making it the biggest political whodunit since the Delhi polls in February.
The campaign brief has, however, been clear from the start. Not only has the JD(U) been in alliance with the BJP for over 20 years (and broke it up in 2013), but the campaign is being overseen by Prashant Kishore, associated with the BJP’s 2014 general election campaign.
“The grand alliance knew that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a way in which he created an atmosphere around himself — a few rallies and he could make the atmosphere ‘Modimaya’ with his oratory and appeal.
It was of utmost importance to insert Chief Minister Nitish Kumar into the discourse more aggressively,” said a strategist with the JD(U).
To beat the BJP at its own game in Bihar, the tool the grand alliance chose was Twitter, a medium Prime Minister Narendra Modi understood so well.
Before the Prime Minister landed in Bihar for his rally in Muzaffarpur last month, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had already tweeted a series of questions to him. Sure enough, the Prime Minister answered the questions, and the team knew they had impacted the BJP campaign.
“The aim of all these interventions, asking questions on Twitter, or holding pressers after his [the Prime Minister’s rallies] was to ensure that on the day he spoke in Bihar, we got as much space in the narrative, on questions posed by us,” said the source. A day after the Prime Minister announced the Bihar package, a substantial amount, posters and giant hoardings asking the public not be fooled came up overnight. Even on Saturday afternoon, a day before the Prime Minister addressed rallies in Naubatpur and other areas, Mr. Nitish Kumar posed questions on the murder of Dalits in Haryana.
This was not the only thing. While the BJP has mastered the art of micro-managing elections and has a committed and trained cadre from the booth upwards, the grand alliance, with fewer workers and a coalition that was still to coalesce on the ground, had to push its message home. The alliance has come up with vans that showcased campaign material, similar to the BJP’s mini-raths.
For more rural areas, bicycle campaigners took letters from the Chief Minister to households in various constituencies. “When the letter is handed over, a missed call will be sent to our dedicated campaign phone number and a call back will play a recorded message in the voice of Nitish Kumar,” said a source. Each constituency has 30 cyclists, and their target is to visit 50 houses a day.