The BJP on Monday called the Bihar poll humiliation a “collective responsibility” as it sought to quell any dissent against its top leadership as well as ring RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat with a barb-proof shield.
A single statement cannot determine an election outcome, the BJP said as fingers were pointed at Bhagwat, chief of the party’s ideological mentor, for his quota remarks in September when the poll campaign in the caste-sensitive, politically crucial state was at its peak.
Several party parliamentarians held Bhagwat’s comments —that the nation’s reservation policy needed a rethink — responsible for consolidation of OBC and SC voters behind the Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance.
The barbs flew before the BJP parliamentary board, its highest decision-making body, sat down in the afternoon to review the Bihar result.
After a quick autopsy, the BJP rejected suggestions that Bihar was a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party ascribed the defeat to its opponents joining forces against it.
“Our assessment that the grand alliance constituents will not be able to transfer their votes to each other was incorrect,” finance minister Arun Jaitley told reporters. Compared to the grand alliance, NDA allies failed to transfer votes to each other smoothly, he said.
The BJP admitted it failed to anticipate the popularity surge for the JD(U)-led alliance and underestimated its power.
Jaitley also sought to silence critics, especially allies Shiv Sena and Jitan Ram Manjhi who have held BJP president Amit Shah at fault for the party’s dismal performance. He said a “party collectively wins or loses an election”.
The assessment came hours after Shah held a closed-door meeting with RSS chief Bhagwat. Sources said Shah sought to delink the party’s performance with Bhagwat’s quota statement but admitted that the BJP did not have any credible backward face to present as alternative to the two socialist leaders —Lalu and Nitish.
In an interview to RSS organs Organiser and Panchjanya, Bhagwat had called for a committee to decide who should get reservation and for how long. The BJP’s rivals quickly picked up the remarks to accuse the RSS of trying to do away with the reservation policy.
Late on Monday, the RSS chief called on President Pranab Mukherjee, a visit that the organisation described as routine sampark (reach-out) meeting. Jaitley countered allegations swirling around Bhagwat’s quota remarks. “We have accepted concept of reservation based on social consideration, that is also the stand of RSS,” he said.
At the same time, he advised party leaders to maintain decency in their speeches.
Voices of dissent are rising within the BJP after the Bihar disaster as parliamentarian Hukumdev Narayan Yadav said Bhagwat’s quota statement was “ill-timed” and “agitated” backward castes who rallied around the grand alliance.
“Not all who voted for the Modi government are RSS supporters,” said the five-time Lok Sabha MP from Bihar with a socialist background.
Jaitley promised all support to the new government in Bihar, saying the financial package announced for the state will be delivered to it, despite the poll outcome. The NDA government at the Centre had announced a Rs 1.25 lakh crore economic booster dose for Bihar just before the polls were announced.