As Bihar election enters the final phase today, another long and bitterly fought campaign among rival camps of political parties ends now, pending the mandate due in a couple of days from now. A victory for BJP and its allies would make them reinforce their run of victories starting from late 2013 for the state assembly elections through the Loksabha elections of 2014, barring the odd defeat in Delhi state elections this year. A victory for JD(U) and its allies would make them turn a new leaf among the “secular coalition” that could then think of a coming together of such forces in all future elections to counter the “Modi wave”. Either way, one thing is sure. The polarisation between the ruling party in the Centre and the Opposition parties is only going to get starker and the divide wider, aided by the mainstream media that ironically hypes every election (even local body elections) as an ultimate test for the legitimacy of the incredible mandate BJP won in the last Loksabha elections.
Well, partly this is also BJP’s problem. Since September 2013 when Narendra Modi was declared by BJP as their presumptive Prime Minister candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Modi has been relentlessly doing only one thing, almost for two years now – that is campaigning for the party! After a hectic six months of nationwide campaigning that saw him get an absolute majority on his own, he had to continue doing the campaign then for Maharashtra elections, Haryana elections, Jharkhand elections, J&K elections, Delhi State elections and now Bihar elections. While there is no doubt that BJP would like to use their star campaigner and crowd puller to the maximum, this in effect has turned the discourse in the media to a test of Modi wave for every State election also, regardless of the clear mandate BJP has in 2014. Moreover, this has also resulted in the rising resentment among the Opposition parties that made even the fiercest of rivals like Nitish and Lalu to join hands to fight the Modi wave.
The fall out of this has already started in terms of the logjam in Parliament on even such trivial non-issues like Lalit Modi case that literally put the monsoon session and lot of important legislative business like GST bill in a limbo. And before the winter session, the march of protest citing “rising intolerance” has already begun in the background of Bihar elections and Dadri incident, that could very well be the next alibi to put winter session also in turmoil. Besides, Modi as PM, is also now pitted against every regional or local leader of the Opposition, like Nitish, Lalu and Kejriwal due to this campaign mode and absence of a strong local leader in BJP, to lead the campaign in these states during elections. And that is the second problem.
While States like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and such had incumbent Chief Ministers or strong local leader who was a presumptive CM candidate to campaign, states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Jharkhand and Bihar were new territories for BJP to win on their own, hence they couldn’t take a chance, so had to put Modi – Shah machinery at work in full steam to get it going. Maharashtra, post Munde’s death was different though. The void created by Munde’s demise and Gadkari’s move to the Centre was filled by Fadnavis as the State unit President quite well, and his energetic campaign and assured posturing with Shivsena, emboldened Modi and Shah to risk going all by themselves after the break-up with Sena and then almost won the State on their own. The only question post-election was if Gadkari could be a compromise candidate in case NCP’s support was required to form the government, but Fadnavis emerged as the clear leader of choice and managed to pull it well. Such a strong local level leader is not emerging for BJP, during pre-elections in other States, so much so, they have to project Modi’s face for each of these elections. A last minute inclusion of Kiran Bedi as a lateral entry choice of CM in Delhi didn’t work either, as an experiment last time. So they have now reverted to the original model, to not risk such a failure this time. So the PM is back to full campaign mode in Bihar along with Shah as the only faces of BJP in the State, that resulted in the “Bihari vs Bahari” debate in this election.
Yet contrast the number of rallies (30) the PM had to undertake during this long campaign period which is phenomenally high for any PM to campaign for, in any State election, to almost 242 rallies that Lalu did during this campaign or close to 200 rallies that Nitish did, virtually covering every constituency, and in many constituencies even more than once. The only BJP leader to come close to this level of wide and extensive campaigning was Sushil Modi with about 190 rallies, and one is not sure even now, if he would be the CM, incase BJP wins. It would be impossible for the PM to match this level and scale of campaigning so he had to depend on the entire army of Central Ministers, other BJP state CMs and such to up the ante. Going forward, as more and more Assembly elections will come, especially the UP elections in 2017, which is a much larger state than Bihar, or West Bengal elections, this is going to be even more challenging with even more formidable local rivals.
Therefore, it is imperative for BJP to rethink their strategy on putting Modi ahead for every State elections and local body elections, as the only face of BJP, and start working towards developing strong local leadership and a possible presumptive CM candidate, well in advance for such a leader to run his own campaign, much like how they did in 2013 to announce Modi as the PM candidate for the 2014 Loksabha elections as opposed to Congress which was still reluctant to name Rahul Gandhi or anyone else for that matter as their candidate. This would surely ease the campaigning burden on the PM (if he really thinks it is taking a toll on him), would help reduce the resentment and build bridges with Opposition parties at the Centre to constructively work together and more importantly give much less fodder to mainstream media to make every election as a “do-or-die” battle for Modi and Amit Shah and then keep that as the only issue the nation faces, as though nothing else matters!
Above all, win or lose any State, the PM can have more time and energy to focus on what he is supposed to do – which is to carry on with his work, given the mandate for five years until 2019 before he launches his re-election campaign, rather than being in a continuous campaign mode.