NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cow politics was put out to pasture on Sunday as the impoverished state of Bihar gave a resounding verdict against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign to pit Hindus against Muslims over beef eating.
The hefty score of 178 seats in the Bihar 243-member assembly for Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s grand alliance demolished virtually all poll predictions, including the highly acclaimed NDTV. The news channel was predicting a landslide for the BJP even after the counting of votes had begun.
Other channels were equally pulverised by the results. They all rowed back, but not without being ticked off by the victors.
The chief minister’s Janata Dal-United (JDU) had fought in alliance with former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). Both backward caste leaders have made popular visits to Pakistan, and the BJP targeted them for this. The BJP-led NDA ended with a paltry 58 seats.
Mr Modi began his crucial month-long election campaign in Bihar, India’s second poorest state after Orissa, on a platform of economic development.
Midway, however, his party got nervous and, shooting from the hip, claimed that a defeat for Mr Modi would be a victory for Pakistan. “Firecrackers would go off in Pakistan,” BJP president Amit Shah said.
The victorious alliance bagged 178 seats in the 243-member state assembly
A last ditch effort to instil religious polarisation in what has become a communally harmonious state boomeranged. BJP posters began showing a vulnerable cow embraced by a caring woman. It accused the chief minister of keeping silent when the cow was facing an alleged threat from Mr Modi’s opponents. The election commission proscribed the ad, but by then the election was nearly over.
“This is not a verdict against (Mr Modi’s) National Democratic Alliance only,” Rahul Gandhi clarified, whose marginalised Congress party made substantive gains as a junior partner in the Nitish-Lalu partnership. “This is a verdict against the politics of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. It is a verdict against the BJP’s mindset, and against Mr Modi’s narrow politics, against their efforts to pit Hindus against Muslims.”
An early evidence of the sobering impact of the adverse Bihar verdict came when Mr Modi met Lal Kishan Advani, one of the BJP’s old guards, to greet him on his birthday on Sunday. BJP and RSS leaders began to distance themselves from recent poisonous comments made against Muslims and protesting intellectuals by Mr Modi’s supporters.
“We have to do serious introspection,” said Seshadhri Chari in a TV discussion. He is a senior RSS ideologue.
“Warmest birthday greetings to our guide & inspiration, the respected Shri L.K. Advani ji. I wish Advani ji a long life filled with best health,” Mr Modi said of the man who he sidelined to become prime minister in May 2014.
“Advani ji’s contribution to the country is invaluable. He has always been respected as a person of immense knowledge & integrity,” Mr Modi tweeted while hailing the former deputy prime minister.
Earlier this week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slammed India’s protesting intellectuals and said there was no intolerance in the country for them to fight.
Immediately, BJP MP Yogi Adityanath proved him wrong. He described Muslim Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan as Pakistani extremist Hafiz Saeed.
The popular actor had said India was facing a climate of extreme intolerance.
Mr Yadav told a post-victory news conference that he was leaving Bihar to the care of “my younger brother Nitish, because now I have to go to Delhi to dislodge Narendra Modi. He will soon be back in his home state of Gujarat.
That is what the people’s verdict has advised us to do. The opposition has got a spring in its walk.”
Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2015