Why Nitish isn't in the clear yet: Modi factor still to play out in Bihar

The significance of Bihar and the potential electoral outcome in next parliamentary polls is more than just about the numbers the JD(U), BJP, RJD and Congress gets. Its significance lies in deciding whether Nitish Kumar’s unilateral move to split from the BJP was a prudent political decision, and whether Narendra Modi’s appeal was actually so powerful that it could make the BJP gain handsomely at the cost of its erstwhile friend turned foe.

The polls may well see some kind a relative re-emergence of RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, but Bihar should be the test case for Modi’s popularity, since he hasn't been hounded out of any other state in India the way he was here.

Despite being the popular and reportedly the most powerful, the three time Chief Minister was made a virtual persona non-grata who could only come to state on special occasions. He could attend a funeral of a close party colleague or a party conclave, but couldn't publicly speak a word of substance over the last eight years.

Modi suffered personal humiliations, like being told at the last minute that he was not invited to a dinner thrown for his party’s who's who at the Bihar Chief Minister’s residence in Patna. His decision to send relief material to flood affected areas and people in the state was termed communal.

And perhaps the final blow came on 16 June when Nitish Kumar threw out 11 BJP ministers, including his deputy and long time friend Sushil Kumar Modi, and broke the 17-year alliance with the BJP, because the party had elevated Modi to the de-facto leader of the party.

Hence, the upcoming parliamentary poll is more than just about about victory or loss for Nitish and Modi.

Can Nitish do as well when the JD(U) contests all the seats in the state? PTI

Can Nitish do as well when the JD(U) contests all the seats in the state? PTI

It’s a battle royale about prestige and will be fought by both parties to their full potential. Will Nitish retain seats and increase his tally, or will it be reduced to a single digit from the current 20? Will BJP will gain from its tally of 12, and can it come close to what the JD(U) had achieved? Will the polls see a re-emergence of Lalu (though much depends on whether court verdict in fodder scam comes and whether he is convicted and sent to jail)?

Apart from the personal charisma of Modi and Nitish, much of it lies in the complexities of caste politics in the state. It will also depend on whether the focus of the elections will change from the current Nitish versus Modi, to one that focuses on Modi versus the rest.

If that does happen, the question is how parties will go to the polls . If there is a Congress-JD(U) alliance instead of the existing Congress-RJD-LJP, then the scenario could possibly change substantially.

The final tally from the state will directly impact fate of Nitish Kumar, first in deciding whether or not he acted prudently by severing ties with the BJP and how important a player he will be in national politics. For Modi, the numbers from Bihar are important, not just to boost the BJP’s overall prospects. If the BJP is able to contain the JD(U) and gain substantially, Modi's supporters can claim that his charisma has worked and could also help in attracting potential allies to the BJP in the post poll scenario.

The CNN-IBN and Hindu survey indicates that the JD(U) could get 15-19 seats, a marginal drop from the 20 seats that it got last time. The BJP could get 8-12 seats, and it may even lose or just manage to retain the seats it won last time. However, the RJD could double or even triple its seat tally to 8-12. The Congress could rise from nil to a bare minimum of 4. The JD(U) vote share may go up by 1 percent to 25, BJP may rise by 8 percent to and the RJD 's by 5 percent. There is a harmony in the poll percentage and the number of seats projected.

Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN, Rajdeep Sadesai, said the survey was conducted in the immediate aftermath of JD(U) splitting from the BJP. This means that Modi factor has not been played out when the survey was conducted since it has not played out on the ground in the state yet. Modi’s first test will come when he goes to Patna on 27 October for the Hunkar rally. Whether he will succeed in whipping up the enthusiasm of BJP workers and his sympathizers, will be something to watch.

All three political parties, JD(U), BJP and RJD are seen having a maximum difference of 3 percent vote share, so a swing of small percentange in either direction in the coming months could change the game.

For the current indication of a rise of 1 percent vote share for the JD(U) and 8 percent rise for BJP, one will have to also have take into account the fact that in these elections the JD(U) will fight for all 40 seats in comparison to the 25 it fought last time. The BJP will fight for the same number of seats as compared to the 15 that it contested the last time. Hence a one percent increase in JD(U) voteshare does not hold any good news for now.

Leaders of the JD(U) privately admit that the near total desertion of upper caste voters and ability of Lalu Yadav to make a good dent in Muslim votes is a cause of worry for them. Secondly, Nitish JD(U) principal base from the Kurmi community contributes only around 3.5 percent votes.

Nitish’s supporters claim they have the support of around 52 percent of social groups in the state. However, his rivals question whether in the face of increased political activity of dominant upper castes and Yadavs, if his new social support base consisting of extremely backward castes, Mahadalits and Pasmanda Muslims can stand up for him and ensure victory.

Modi will also be flaunting his OBC status, to which Nitish has interestingly already taken note of and even ridiculed.

Another factor is that while Modi is a Prime Ministerial candidate, Nitish is not. Even if he is one then his claim comes with too many disclaimers. Lalu Yadav is a self professed king-maker and little else. However, the Lok Sabha elections are about deciding who would be the PM and voters in Bihar have shown their sensitivity to such political issues in the past.

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2013 17:40 PM

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