BJP chief Amit Shah may have dismissed a Janata Parivar reunion as “zero plus zero remains a zero” but anxiety in the party was palpable after six constituents of the erstwhile Janata Dal merged on Wednesday.
Sources said a direct fight between the BJP and the new national secular alternative in the Bihar assembly polls might hit the saffron party’s efforts to overcome its Delhi rout this year.
“They are stronger than us in the caste combination. If it is going to be a direct contest between us, we would be at a disadvantage,” said a BJP leader who is also a senior minister in the Narendra Modi government.
On Tuesday, Shah tried to fire up party workers at a rally in Patna with strong words against chief minister Nitish Kumar and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad, the mainstays of the merged entity in Bihar, saying a saffron tide would sweep through the state the way it did in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
But polling figures from 2014 explain the worries in the BJP camp. The RJD and Janata Dal (United), which announced their merger on Monday, together polled 36.5% votes, much higher than the BJP’s 29.86%. The NDA, which included Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, got 38% votes.
“It was a different election altogether. 2014 was swept away by a Modi wave, breaking all caste barriers. The assembly elections will be different,” said a BJP leader from Bihar, familiar with the state’s caste politics.
Party leaders debated the prospect of the “Congress ganging up with the Lalu-Nitish combination” to take on the BJP. “Together, their vote share would be over 45% and if they retain that figure, a decisive victory for Nitish Kumar is assured,” a source said.
Primarily identified with upper castes, the BJP is trying to woo voters down the social ladder and keeping an eye on the caste equation that the Janata parivar and the Congress enjoy.
“They can have a hold on every section of society. A formidable combination of politically-significant Yadavs, numerically-crucial Muslims, women and a chunk of the upper caste would give an edge to the anti-BJP formation,” a source said.As a counter-measure, BJP chief Shah timed his Patna rally to coincide with Dalit icon BR Ambedkar’s 124th birth anniversary and the party has been flirting with Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Mahadalit leader who has become Nitish Kumar’s bitterest foe after losing the chief minister’s chair to him in an ugly battle for supremacy.