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BJP predicts last-lap leap

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 17.02.05
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New Delhi, Feb. 17: The National Democratic Alliance, which started out as an also-ran when elections were announced, believes it is within ?striking distance? of power in Bihar and Jharkhand because of an ?anti-Laloo Prasad wave?, the Congress? ?inability? to find a focus for its campaign and fissures in the United Progressive Alliance.

The NDA would touch 105 in the Bihar Assembly and make up the shortfall of 17 with the help of Independents, BJP sources claimed on the basis of feedback on the first two phases of polling. The coalition would not require the help of Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan to form a government, they said.

The BJP-Janata Dal (United)?s optimism was based on the input of upper-caste consolidation, the regrouping of non-Yadav backward castes in their favour in phase two of polling and a split in the Muslim-Yadav axis forged by the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

The party, the sources said, had received feedback that the upper castes would hold the key to victory in phase three of the elections. The constituencies going to polls on February 23, they said, have little Muslim-Yadav presence and thus Laloo Prasad Yadav?s RJD does not have much at stake.

?We hope to make the maximum gains in the last phase,? said the BJP?s campaign in-charge, Amitabh Sinha.

The NDA suffered the maximum losses in the first phase, when its upper-caste votes were poached by Paswan. ?At that point, the tactical mistake we made was to put Paswan in the spotlight,? said a source.

?We wanted to show people that we are sincere about consolidating anti-Laloo forces and liberating Bihar from his grip. The Dal(U) even indicated its willingness to project Paswan as its chief ministerial candidate. From then on, he ? and not the NDA ? was seen as Laloo Prasad?s alternative. This was clear in the shift of Bhumihar votes to the Lok Janshakti,? said the source.

To cut its losses, the NDA immediately announced Nitish Kumar?s name as its chief ministerial candidate midway through the campaign, against the wishes of a section of Dal (U) leaders.

?Our message is that Paswan and the Congress are Laloo Prasad?s proxies. When Nitish?s name was announced, his popularity soared. Not only the upper castes, even the non-Yadav backward castes regrouped around the NDA. We were able to stem the desertion of our traditional support to Paswan,? said a source.

The BJP?s assessment is that in phase one, Laloo Prasad?s Muslim-Yadav combine remained undented but took a beating in phase two when Paswan went all out for Muslim votes.

In the BJP?s reckoning, the RJD would be in the 75-85 range, Paswan 18-20 and the Congress 12-15. If they reach the upper range and Paswan shakes hands with Laloo Prasad, they would be three short of the half-way mark.

Sources said the NDA would cite the 1998 precedent when then President K..R. Narayanan invited the coalition to form a government at the Centre. The precedent was used in 2000 when the NDA emerged the largest pre-poll alliance in Bihar. Nitish was sworn in as chief minister and asked to prove his majority in a week. By then, the RJD and the Congress had joined hands to beat him in the numbers? game.