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Halfway through, changing terrains & strategies

Bihar is halfway through the general election with polling in 20 of 40 Lok Sabha constituencies over now.

Polling in three phases encompassed the diverse layers of society and diverse regions — from the rugged hills of Gaya and Aurangabad to sylvan surroundings of Nalanda and from rice-rich plains of Ara and Buxar bordering Uttar Pradesh to hot and humid tea, sunflower and maize-producing Seemanchal, bordering Bengal and Nepal.

A travel through the places and enquiry with the voters brought to the fore the state’s multi-faceted diversity coming into full play with the EVMs travelling from the Kanyakubj Bramin-dominated Buxar in central Bihar’s Ganga basin to the Rajput-dominated Aurangabad, known as Bihar’s Chittorgarh, and from backward caste-dominated Munger and Nalanda to the Muslim belt of Bhagalpur, Katihar, Kishanganj, Araria and Purnea divided between north and south of the Ganga.

Incidentally, the elections began from the geographical and demographic regions, which were traditional BJP strongholds. For instance, Buxar, Patna Sahib, Gaya and also sub-regions in old Sahabad district had invariably elected a fair number of the BJP’s lawmakers both in the Assembly and Lok Sabha throughout the 1990s till 2009-10. The elections beginning in its traditional pockets strongly supplemented what the BJP’s bellicose cadres described as “hava (wave)”in favour of its prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi.

But as the polls entered the third phase, primarily in the Muslim-dominated constituencies with a fair sprinkling of Yadavs — Bhagalpur, Araria, Katihar, Kishanganj, Supaul etc — the wave appeared to lose its steam. Even in the BJP insiders’ assessment, the party would find it hard to repeat what it had achieved in 2009. The party had then bagged Bhagalpur, Araria, Katihar and Purnea thanks to its company with socialist chief minister, Nitish Kumar. The RJD was not in alliance with the Congress and NCP then.

With the EVMs now about to travel to the Muslim and Yadav-dominated Jhanjharpur, Madhubani, Darbhanga in north Bihar’s Mithila region and Madhepura — in Kosi region also the extended part of Mithila and Samastipur — the EBC and OBC-dominated karmbhoomi of socialism’s pioneer, Karpoori Thakur, the so-called wave in Modi’s favour is likely to be further smothered.

As in the third phase, the fourth and fifth phase of polling that will take place also in Lalu Prasad’s bastion of Saran and Maharajganj is likely to witness more consolidation of the M-Y (Muslim-Yadav), a lethal electoral combination that constituted Lalu-Rabri regime’s core strength for 15 long years through 1990s till 2005. “Initially, we were confused in our preference between Lalu and Nitish. But now we have assessed that Lalu is better equipped to defeat Modi-led BJP for the RJD boss has about 15 per cent of the Yadavs — Bihar’s single largest caste — solidly behind him. We have all reverence for chief minister Nitish. But we will rally around Lalu’s candidates to upset the communal forces from coming to power,” Mohammad Bashir Alam (50), a teacher of physics in Darbhanga said.

Overall, the M-Y combination constitutes about 30 per cent of the state’s electorate. But at least in about 10 Lok Sabha constituencies - from Araria to Jhanjharpur to Madhepura to Darbhanga to Madhubani in almost similar cultural and linguistic regions and from Saran to Vaishali to the East and West Champaran region - mostly the Bhojpuri speaking belt have the M-Y combination going beyond 40 per cent or even more, threatening the decimation of the NaMo wave.

It is not without reason that Kirti Azad, the sitting MP from Darbhanga, seeking re-election on the same seat used his “clout” with the BJP high command to get Modi to campaign for him on April 24. And Modi kept his speech free from the old rhetoric of “Dwarka and Jadubanshi” that he invariably spoke in his previous rallies, eying on the Yadav votes. Perhaps, Modi had sensed that his “overreach” for the Yadav votes - emotionally bonded to their icon Lalu - might turn counterproductive and stayed focused on the youths’ career, a more practical issue for the young generation.

But the wily Lalu landed at Darbhanga a day in advance, warning his caste men in explicit term — “Ahir (folk name for Yadavs) log mar khaya hai. Mar kha ke Ahir sudharta hai (The Yadavs have been beaten. But the Yadavs get into their senses after being beaten).” A communicator par excellence, particularly to his rural constituency, Lalu gave a subtle hint to his caste men that they had suffered the pangs of the loss of power during the BJP-JD(U)’s rule and as such they should move on correction course.

There are obvious signs of the M-Y combination getting revived with the elections now entering the fourth and final phases. It is still premature to predict how many seats this combination will throw in favour of RJD-Congress-NCP combination. What is a fact of concurrent history is that this combination - minus LJP that is with the BJP now - had smothered Atal Bihari Vajapayee’s “India Shining” campaign in Bihar by winning 24 seats against the NDA’s 15 in the 2004 elections.

Will Lalu’s famed M-Y combination do to Modi’s wave what it had done to Vajpayee’s “India Shining” campaign? Senior BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi told The Telegraph: “Modi wave is like a tsunami. It will shatter all the traditional calculations as the people of all sections of society are voting for the BJP. The people are fed up with the Congress’s corruption and misrule.”

But contrary to what Modi claimed, particularly about the Congress, the grand old party seems to be in far better position than what it was in 2009. The Congressmen are confident that besides securing their old seats of Sasaram (Meira Kumar) and Kishanganj (Asrarul Haque), the party stands a fair chance at several other places — Aurangaabad and Supaul from where Nikhil Kumar and Ranjita Ranjan are in the fray.

This correspondent noticed Congress candidate Ashok Ram and Akhilesh Singh staying strongly in the contention in Samastipur and Muzaffarpur constituencies. “Let the results come out. You will find the Congress doing better than what it has done in the last 20 years in Bihar. The Congress is fighting on 12 seats — all-time high during the Lalu-Congress alliance,” said Congress media-in-charge, Prem Chandra Mishra.

In a way, what Nitish had calculated as his “worst fear” is, apparently, coming to haunt him. After dumping the BJP, Nitish was interested in an alliance with the Congress, primarily, to check the M-Y getting firmed up. He went out of the way to befriend the Congress — voting for Pranab Mukherjee even while staying in NDA and praising Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. For once, the Congress responded too by lavishing some packages and central universities to the state. There was a stage when it looked like the Congress was getting close to Nitish and cold-shouldering Lalu.

But a hardcore power politician, Lalu stooped to conquer, ignoring obvious signs of rebuff from Rahul Gandhi and eventually won the alliance with the Congress. Many observers feel that Nitish lost more by his failure to befriend the Congress rather than breaking alliance with the BJP. “Had Nitish befriended the Congress, the scenario would have been different. The Muslims would have sided with the JD(U)-Congress combination. As a result, Lalu would have been finding himself in as isolated position as Nitish is finding himself today,” said a senior JD(U) strategist while campaigning with Nitish in the Kosi region.

Whatever be the results - the battle of ballots in Bihar is entering in more decisive and intense stages. There are obvious signs of the plot on which it had begun changing. Lalu Prasad has, apparently, got spring in his feet. And the BJP strategists have shifted into contemplative and cautious mode from the earlier carefree and confident posture they had got from what they felt like a Modi wave.


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  • Halfway through, changing terrains and strategies