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Modi enters battle arena Bihar after break: Do or die battle for NDA in next 2 phases

A break can sometimes alter the course of history.

You will see compelling proof of the importance of a brief time-out while travelling from Patna to Rajgir, the former capital of Magadha. On the outskirts of Rajgir, the poor Bihari's Kashmir because of its verdant hills and hot water springs, there is an akhara (wrestling ground) where Pandava prince Bhima is rumoured to have fought the Magadha king Jarasandh.

 Modi enters battle arena Bihar after break: Do or die battle for NDA in next 2 phases

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

According to Indian mythology, when prince Bhima couldn't defeat Jarasandh even after wrestling for 14 days, he took a break and went to Krishna's for advice. Krishna asked him to tear apart Jarasandh like a twig; a ploy that ultimately led to the Magadha king's death.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though not a mythological character, is locked in a similar fight with a formidable adversary from Magadha. After two rounds of polling, the contest is still evenly poised. Will the break help Modi?

A lot has changed in the game during Modi's lemon drinks break in Navratra, ostensibly the reason behind his fortnight-long absence from the campaign. From the clear front-runner it was a few weeks ago, the NDA is now struggling hard to get its nose ahead of the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance, which, analysts believe, has done much better than expected in the first two rounds of polling held in 81 out of 243 seats.

The BJP's future depends heavily on how it performs in the next two rounds -- on 28 October and 1 November -- since the fifth is expected to go to the Grand Alliance because of a large number of minority-dominated constituencies in Seemanchal, the eastern region bordering Nepal, despite the presence of Asaduddin Owaisi's MIM. So, the challenge for Modi now is to make the most of the next two.

Newspapers in Patna on Saturday were full of huge advertisements announcing Modi's return to the battle field. More than the announcement of the venue of his 17 rallies in the next six days, the propaganda served the purpose of countering rumours that the PM had gone back to the pavilion -- retired hurt --s ensing his team's impending defeat. Apart from mobilising the party cadre just before the decisive phase of the election, it will also signal to voters that the BJP is still in the race.

But, symbolism alone will not help Modi. His party will now have to implement on the ground its latest battle plan: influence Dalit and extremely backward caste voters. Unless this happens, the NDA will be routed in the election.

Modi's biggest problem is that he is being forced to continuously look for new strategies and promises in Bihar. The BJP had begun its campaign with hopes of dividing the Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi vote bank of the Grand Alliance. But, even the controversy over beef, attacks on Lalu Prasad Yadav, references to jungle raj and the entry of Owaisi have not had any effect on the bonhomie among supporters of Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar.

Since its vote bank is intact, the Mahagathbandhan is expected to get the support of the majority of the Muslims (17 percent), Yadavs (14 percent) and Kurmis (3-4 percent). The BJP is hoping that a counter consolidation of 13-14 percent upper caste, six percent bania (OBC), five percent Dusadhs and five percent Mushars and four percent Koeris will balance the expected 35 percent vote share of the Nitish-led alliance.

That the fight is now for the nearly 25 percent extremely backward caste voters was clearly visible when the BJP embraced former JD(U) leader Bhim Singh during the break. Singh, an EBC, has very little presence on the ground, but by inducting him into the party, the BJP is trying to position itself as the party of choice for backward leaders. In 2013, Modi had slammed Singh for saying people join the army to get martyred, but the grand welcome accorded to an armchair politician reveals the importance BJP is giving to such symbolism. Like Singh, several other EBC leaders have been poached by the BJP since the election began to influence the individual castes in this category.

Modi is expected to harp on the backward theme during his 17 rallies. Simultaneously, the BJP will go on a PR offensive to highlight Modi's backward status -- he is from the community of oil pressers -- during the next two rounds.

If he manages to snare the EBCs away from Nitish Kumar, Modi would win the battle of Bihar. If he doesn't, his dreams would be torn apart like a twig.

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2015 09:58:37 IST