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Bihar elections: Nitish-NaMo grudge match to shape Modi captaincy

New Delhi: It is imminent that by November 8, the Bihar enigma will come to the fore as a consequence of a high-octane grudge match featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. It is a battle that is most likely to affect national politics and shape Modi’s remaining tenure as PM, importantly his government’s capacity to push reforms and key legislations in Parliament.

nitish_sl_-11-10-2012The chime and bugle for Bihar battle were sounded on Wednesday when the Election Commission announced a five-phase poll schedule, beginning October 12 and ending November 5, with results on November 8.

On one-side are OBC stalwarts Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, along with Congress, and on the other, the NDA, led by Modi and supported by alliance partners Ramvilas Paswan, JD(U) rebel Dalit politician Jiten Manjhi and OBC politician Upendra Kushwaha.

The essentially bi-polar contest will test Bihar’s caste and political equations against Modi’s mega development pledge. Though a state election yet Bihar’s results could have a massive fallout on the Modi government. A win would improve his political stock and empower him to deliver on policy issues like GST and land bills. Equally, a defeat could hobble his government and make Modi wary of bold reforms.

Leading from the front, Modi has made a bold pitch for development, bolstered by a mega Rs 1.25 lakh crore package, even as the NDA is counting on its outreach to backwards and dalits, assisted by allies, to counter the backward credentials of its rivals. Development is emerging as the main poll theme with Nitish Kumar challenging Modi’s package and coming up with a Rs 2.7 lakh crore deal for Bihar of his own.

If caste elements work the way they usually do, the Lalu-Nitish-Cong ‘secular’ alliance will have a clear edge as the backward castes put together, along with Muslims, produce an electoral arithmetic that’s hard to beat. But if Modi changes somewhat this arithmetic with his personal appeal and promise of development, the NDA would not only change the electoral pattern in Bihar, it could also bury Mandal politics – its rival axis in the Hindi heartland– at least for a while.

Primary reports from Bihar suggest that NDA has moved ahead. What’s creating this impression among observers are Modi’s political rallies– huge and enthusiastic. The youth, in particular, are said to be smitten by his way of talk on development and jobs. Even the satta bazaar odds are favouring Modi. But these initial reports as well as satta bazaar odds have been proved wrong quite often.

After Bihar polls, if NDA is beaten, it will find it very hard to cut deals with non-NDA parties like Trinamool Congress, BJD, SP and AIADMK while an emboldened Congress- despite its minimal role in the Bihar showdown- will be tempted to step up its opposition in Parliament.

At another level, the Bihar fight is a fierce combat between the competing appeals of Modi and Nitish Kumar, both of whom claim to have delivered good governance and see themselves, as leaders with appeal beyond caste lines. Modi has already managed four rallies in Bihar and his focus of attack has been Nitish whom he has dubbed as an unreliable and duplicitous leader.

Mud has been flying thick and fast with political fireworks lighting the electoral firmament ahead of the formal announcement by the election commission.

The NDA is looking to better its appeal beyond the upper castes to MBCs like Nishads and their sub-castes, other occupation-related most backwards like julahas, lonias and badhais. Here an important element of the NDA strategy is to woo the MBCs in opposition to the rival camp’s dependence on assertive OBCs like Yadavs.

With inputs from TOI

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