The real battlefield for Narendra Modi in 2014 will, in many ways, be Bihar and not Uttar Pradesh.
BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi addressing an election rally in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. (ANI Photo)
After becoming the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial face, the Gujarat chief minister’s first political foray into Bihar for the Hunkar (Roar) Rally on October 27 will be a far critical show than any he has encountered so far. This will be the first time Modi will be a entering the state as a rival to Bihar CM Nitish Kumar.
The reason: A higher seat tally from Bihar, which has 40 Lok Sabha seats, is critical for the BJP, given that a significant rise in its share of the 80 seats in UP will be difficult against Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.
Both Modi and Kumar are prime ministerial candidates – the latter in perception so far should a Third Front comes alive. And that may have triggered the feud between Modi’s BJP and Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) after 17 years of alliance.
As allies, the two parties had secured 206 seats in a house of 243 in the 2010 assembly polls, with the BJP accounting for 91. While the JD-U attributes the BJP’s success to a ‘Nitish wave’, the BJP claims its upper caste vote bank helped Nitish ride the wave.
For the BJP, the challenge will be to bring down Nitish’s stock in Bihar and, nationally, in the 2014 general elections to prove his reign was due to saffron support alone, said PK Sinha, a leader of Samata Party. Simultaneously, the saffron party will look to bag many more Lok Sabha seats than the 12 it managed from Bihar in 2009, Sinha said.
And if the JD-U’s score goes below its 2009 tally of 20, it will effectively end Nitish’s chances of being offered the leadership of a Third Front.
Nitish knows that. He has taken a political risk by breaking up with the BJP — a decision that drew sharp criticism and created quite a perceptible divide among the JD-U rank and file.
But one factor that both the parties conveniently chose to forget is that they grew in alliance and thrived on Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad’s tactical blunder — not accommodating the Congress in a tie-up in 2009, said Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan. Paswan was an ally of Lalu and is lately exploring tie-up with the Congress.
While Modi’s campaign is tied to ensuring more seats in Bihar, the BJP cannot afford to ignore the RJD, which, at this point in time, is projected to win as many Lok Sabha seats as the BJP from the state in 2014.
If the BJP ends up equalling Lalu’s tally in 2014, it will lose the moral position of being better than the RJD. A poor showing will also cost the JD-U its high ground.
In such a scenario, the JD-U and the BJP cannot claim that Bihar had rejected Lalu and brought them, as National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies, to power in the state, said Ram Kripal Yadav, a senior leader of Lalu’s RJD.
But for the BJP to have a big success in Bihar, the Congress would have to refuse an alliance with the JD-U and the RJD.
Should the Congress tie up with any of these groupings, the largely upper caste and middle class-supported BJP could see a fall in support and crystallisation of Muslim support against it — not an ideal situation for a sweep.
With the Bihar Congress unit split vertically over the question of whether to ally with the JD-U or the RJD, the ace seems to be up Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s sleeve. Gandhi is believed to have a soft corner for the JD-U.
On the other hand, if Bihar sees a four-cornered contest in the Lok Sabha polls — with the BJP, JD-U, RJD along with LJP, and the Congress fighting alone, Modi could virtually sweep Bihar.