Nitish Kumar’s campaign still has an edge while the BJP seems to have developed transmission glitches.
“Most villagers are working in the fields” says Kumar Niraj defensively, trying to explain the lack of crowd around the Janbhagidari truck, “there is no promised film (video) either, so it is less of an attraction” he adds as an afterthought. Niraj is a part-time Shiksha Mitra, part of a special interest group working with the Bihar government in the border district of Supaul. His is a thankless job today as the truck moves from village to village trying to attract disinterested villagers to a Prashant Kishore (of Citizens For Accountable Governance fame) designed ambitious program, Bihar@2025 also known as Badh Chala Bihar.
Some 400 GPS enabled trucks have been plying the dusty roads of Bihar since late June to create a vision document through public involvement known as “janbhagidari”; this is an ambitious outreach program by the Bihar government which was originally designed to not only get voter feedback but also for Trojan marketing of the Nitish government. Last month, the Patna High Court banned all the audio-visual “promotional” material that was played on the LED screens mounted on the trucks; in fact, all posters of Nitish and his ministers have also been removed. Now it is simply a drab truck that moves into the village square, spends some idle time and moves on to the next village.
“This is extra work for which nobody has time and in any case it is a harebrained program by the government, too late in the day” avers a Panchayat official (who doesn’t want to be identified) in Triveniganj. The apathy of the Bihari bureaucracy at the district and taluk level towards Badh Chala Bihar is palpable everywhere one visits, for nobody is interested in this ‘extra work’ which pays no dividends. “The whole idea is a sham, why would the villagers want to waste their time in this sowing season?” asks another sarkari babu in Patna. The ever efficient Prashant Kishore may have finally met his match – the disinterested Bihari babu.
Approximately 90% of the Bihari voting population resides in the villages and any outreach program that does not penetrate rural Bihar would be politically useless, so the Nitish government campaign was designed to reach some 4 crore Biharis by travelling to each and every village. Till now, the Janbhagidari program has hardly managed to reach some 18000 villages out of a total of 40000 and is unlikely to reach even one out of every two villages before the model code of conduct comes into effect soon. What is more, since it holds very little attraction amongst the villagers, merely 20% of the targeted 4 crore population may be reached eventually.
On the other side of the political divide, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a hugely successful public rally last month in Muzaffarpur. This rally was reminiscent of the summer of 2014; people climbed on to tent poles, nearby buildings and distant brick walls just to get a glimpse of the PM. There was loud cheering and chants of “Modi, Modi” all around which reiterated Modi’s rockstar status. It is quite possible that the Delhi drubbing in February this year was merely a fluke and the Prime Minister still holds huge sway among the masses, especially in the hinterland who are probably more patient than the editorial class occupying the national capital region.
The Nitish camp has been nervous ever since the Prime Minister’s rally in July and is trying hard to counter the Modi offensive. The ‘Bihari DNA’ counterattack by the CM was one such sample which created a lot of stir in the media circles. Yet, on the ground, Nitish campaign still has an edge, because BJP has been a slow mover. For instance, PM’s rally might have been successful, but not much has moved after July 25th. Suddenly, in 2015, BJP seems to have developed transmission glitches.
One of the primary reasons why the 2014 saffron campaign was so successful was due to great vertical integration of Modi the campaigner with the BJP-RSS machinery. In the summer of 2014, immediately after a Modi rally in a particular geography, the entire saffron machinery would then get into action by creating door to door amplification of the Modi message; this is why “Abki Bar Modi Sarkar”, “Acche Din” and “Har har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi” campaigns clicked with the voters like never before. Unfortunately, in today’s Bihar, after the Muzaffarpur rally, BJP and the larger Sangh Parivaar seem to have again gone into hibernation.
There are possibly three logical explanations to this lackadaisical BJP campaign in Bihar so far:
First, Amit Shah has probably realized that in Delhi, the saffron campaign peaked too early and then went into a disarray in the last fortnight which gave huge traction to Kejriwal so he wants to avoid that mistake here in Bihar.
Second, BJP-Sangh machinery has been in continuous campaign mode for more than 2 years now and it has taken its toll on the organization, so things have automatically slowed down.
Third, Bihar’s election campaign is still in its infancy and Nitish Kumar may have jumped the gun by starting vigorous canvassing too early while BJP and other parties may try to pick momentum after Independence Day.
Whatever the end result, we can safely assume that as of today, Bihar is witnessing not only a battle of ideologies but also a battle of different campaign styles and electoral strategies.