Arrive in Patna and there is a common refrain one hears from the cab driver to well known journalists and analysts — the Mahagatbandhan is ahead after two phases of polling. This is a shift from the general opinion till two weeks ago in the town that the race is too close to call, and has generated a new battle of perceptions.
HT asked Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu Prasad’s son and the man billed as his successor, to substantiate this perception. He claimed this is because of ‘backward consolidation’ after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s remarks on reservation. A top JD(U) strategist said the campaign had clicked right from ticket distribution and the need to have Nitish Kumar back as CM over ‘baharis’.
But irrespective of whether the Nitish-Lalu alliance is actually ahead and merit of these claims, the fact is the alliance has scored in generating a perception that the ‘hawa’ is in their favour. Both sides agree that a big campaign tool to ensure victory is to project the inevitability of victory. If you can make enough people think you are winning, it helps you win — for then the floating voters decide not to ‘waste their vote’, and move to the side which has the perceived advantage. This was a key tactic used by Narendra Modi in the 2014 election. And this is where the Mahagatbandhan has scored this time.
And that is why the BJP is working hard to counter this perception it is way behind. The party’s national president, Amit Shah, himself did a presser to suggest that the party is ahead in both phases. Two BJP mid-level activists attributed it to Nitish Kumar’s publicity-machinery and the handiwork of journalists close to him. One told HT, “The corporate media is against us, because big businessmen are not getting the kind of space and access they wanted under Modiji. This is their revenge.” The accusations sounded eerily similar to the ones other parties made against BJP last year.
Party strategists claim that they are indeed behind the Grand Alliance after the first two phases — but the difference is of about 5-7 seats, not the 20-30 seats as is being projected. “They have a small lead, but this was expected since they were stronger in those areas. We will make up for it in the next phase,” said a member of the BJP campaign team, who was travelling on the ground.
A top JD(U) leader pooh-poohed the claims and said, “They had tried to manufacture a fake hawa. It is punctured now.” The perception battle will continue till the final phase — Mahagatbandhan will try to sustain it and BJP will hope to change the narrative after the third phase.