The BJP’s national leadership may be putting up a brave face after the drubbing in Bihar and blaming the loss on alliance arithmetic but the party’s state leaders and allies are alleging a string of controversial statements caused the crushing defeat.
The saffron alliance’s local leaders allege Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on reconsidering caste-based reservations and the constant raking of communally-divisive issues such as beef consumption didn’t click with the pivotal backward castes, who deserted the NDA in large numbers.
“It (Bhagwat’s comment) was ill-timed and it agitated backward castes and Dalits,” said Hukumdev Narayan Yadav, a five-time BJP parliamentarian from Madhubani in north Bihar.
“The party should analyse why backward castes voted for the Grand Alliance. Not everybody who voted for the Modi government supports or agrees with the RSS. The party and government should be sensitive to their sentiments.”
The Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal(United) and Congress cornered a lion’s share of the backward castes, Dalit and minorities vote on its way to a thumping victory in the Bihar polls, whose results were declared on Sunday.
The unexpected victory came after nearly two months of bitter campaigning and a spate of controversial statements from both sides and sensitive issues such as caste-based quotas and the cow slaughter taking centrestage.
Grand alliance leaders, especially RJD chief Lalu Prasad latched onto Bhagwat’s caste comment, using it repeatedly during the campaign to show that a BJP government was inimical to lower caste interests. Local leaders say this hurt the party across Bihar where backward caste vote holds sway in a majority of the 243 assembly seats.
But this analysis was dismissed by finance minister Arun Jaitley, who attributed the loss to a consolidation of votes due to Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar coming together.
“We don’t believe that the remark is a reason behind the loss in Bihar. The results of elections are not dependent on a single statement. Elections have their own arithmetic,” he told reporters after a BJP parliamentary board meeting in Delhi that looked into the defeat.
Manjhi blames quota remark, beef issue
NDA ally and Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) chief Jitan Ram Manjhi also questioned the timing of the RSS chief’s statement. Manjhi, a Mahadalit leader, was expected to bring in the lower caste vote to the NDA but ended up with just one seat.
“Lalu played up Bhagwat’s quota review remark and impacted the voters by projecting the BJP as an anti-reservation party and talking about forwards-backwards and ‘Mandal Part 2’. The beef issue was also a big factor,” Manjhi said.
Earlier in the day, BJP MP Shatrughan Sinha termed the Grand Alliance’s performance as a “victory of democracy” and took a swipe at the party leadership, saying the issue of “Bihari versus Bahari” has been settled once and for all.
“The need of the day is introspection, modified and better strategy, teamwork and coordination in the future. Salute once again to Biharis,” Sinha, who represents the Patna Sahib parliamentary seat, tweeted.