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Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With upcoming elections in states such as West Bengal, it is going to be a tough road ahead for the BJP. Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With upcoming elections in states such as West Bengal, it is going to be a tough road ahead for the BJP. Photo: PTI

For Narendra Modi, Bihar election calls for course correction

Analysts say Modi remains a popular leader and he should now try and evolve a larger political consensus, keep fundamentalist groups in check

New Delhi: The drubbing in the Bihar assembly elections may well provide an opportunity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to effect a course correction, both within the government and the larger grouping of the Sangh Parivar, and rein in extremist elements.

Although his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have lost back to back assembly polls in Delhi and Bihar in this year, if the crowds attending Modi’s election rallies are any indication, he still enjoys a high popularity.

Political analysts also say Modi remains a popular leader at the national level and, putting the Bihar elections behind him, he should now try and evolve a larger political consensus by reaching out to other parties and checking the fundamentalist groups from making irresponsible statements to ensure that the large turnout at his rallies gets converted into votes as well.

“The way the prime minister needs to analyse the Bihar election results is that he must address concerns on the issue of intolerance. Also, the strategy of polarising votes that the BJP adopted after the Muzaffarnagar riots during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls will not work every time, and the Dadri incident proved so in the Bihar elections," said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor of political science at Delhi University. “A course correction on this issue is inevitable else BJP will disappear."

“Apart from this, the prime minister also needs to get back to the development agenda. Though I feel that having tasted electoral success in Bihar, the Congress will not let parliament function during the coming winter session but then the prime minister and the government have to try and evolve consensus both within and outside Parliament on key administrative and economic issues," Chakrabarty added.

During the course of the five-phase polls in Bihar, some of the controversies and incidents that seem to have disturbed the BJP’s developmental narrative and campaign were the Dadri lynching of a Muslim man on suspicion that he ate beef and the whole controversy over cow slaughter, a remark on reservations by Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat and the one by BJP president Amit Shah stating that crackers will be burst in Pakistan if his party loses in Bihar.

Other remarks like the one by former army chief V.K. Singh using an analogy of a dog getting hit by a stone to the burning to death of two Dalit chidren in Haryana only added fuel to the fire.

“The Bihar election results are a total disaster for the BJP, especially Prime Minister Modi and party chief Amit Shah. In the past 18 months that Modi has been in power, he has clearly reflected that he is incapable of day-to-day interaction with the opposition, even as he is very good at dealing with large audiences and with dignitaries," said S.L. Rao, a Bengaluru-based sociologist and former director general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research.

“The prime minister has demonstrated complete inability to be more flexible, polite, open to negotiations and magnanimous even when he is in a position of great authority," Rao said. “He has made it completely impossible for himself to do anything with the opposition and thus it is nearly impossible for them to get support for issues like the goods and services tax."

A certain amount of introspection is required by both Modi and the BJP because the party faces crucial assembly elections in 2016 and 2017 in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Punjab where either the party has no significant presence or will face resistance from strong regional forces.

In Punjab, the BJP will encounter stiff anti-incumbency as it is part of the ruling coalition led by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).

“With upcoming elections in states such as West Bengal, it is going to be a tough road for the BJP. It is not going to get control of the Rajya Sabha and its condition will become worse in the state elections ahead," Rao said. “A course correction requires him (Modi) to change his persona, which seems a very difficult thing to do."

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