Interview: Challenge for Nitish-Lalu is transferring votes at ground level

Patna, Oct 6: As the battle for Bihar hots up, the permutation and combinations too are fast changing. For the BJP this is a do or die election and the case is no different for Nitish Kumar as well. As Bihar gets set to face the first phase of the elections, no party is leaving anything to chance and there is a rally almost every minute in the state.

What do the prospects of each party look like now? Sandeep Shastri, leading psephologist who is also the Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain University and National Coordinator, Lokniti Network says that the decision by the BJP not to declare a Chief Ministerial candidate may work in its favour. In this interview with OneIndia, Shastri says that the battle ahead is tough.

Interview: Challenge for Nitish-Lalu is transferring votes at ground level.
What do you make of the BJP's chances in Bihar?

It is hard to say for now. If one looks at the choice of candidates, I do not know if the BJP has moved backward. There have been questions raised over the selection of candidates. However on the other end, the BJP has stepped up the pressure on Lalu Prasad Yadav for his statements and gained some popular responses. This is working for the BJP as Lalu has been backtracking on his statements.

Also read: Bihar Election 2015: Special Coverage

How much of an impact do you think the Dadri incident will have on the BJP?

I do not think that even before the Dadri incident the BJP was banking on the minority votes. When we conducted a study in 2014 we found that the BJP had not gained anything from the minorities in terms of votes. In the 2014 lok sabha elections, the votes of the minorities were largely with Nitish and Lalu.

If one looks at these statistics, I do not think that the Dadri incident will impact the BJP in Bihar. In fact the BJP already knows that the minorities are not with them. Moreover there is an interesting strategy. Whenever there is a fear psychosis among the minority community, there is a backlash in the majority community and the votes end up with the BJP. We saw this in Uttar Pradesh. Hence I think the Dadri incident will not impact the BJP's vote and could well end up being a tool for them.

Who do you think the minorities are voting for?

The RJD poses a challenge with the minority votes and it is also to be seen whether new entrants into the fray will split these votes. The minority voting pattern is different. They look at the candidate and vote for the person who is most likely to protect their interests. That dimension of tactical voting by the minorities is very much present in Bihar.

What about the reservation remark by the RSS chief? Will that impact the BJP?

The BJP has already said that it would have a Chief Minister from the backward caste. While this nullifies the reservation remark to a great extent, it is yet to be seen what impact it would have on the upper and forward castes. I say this because the forward and the upper caste have been the main stay for the BJP in Bihar.

Also read: Bihar: 130 candidates with serious criminal charges in 1st phase

How does not declaring a CM candidate help the BJP?

Once you declare a CM candidate, the question is how do you deal with the allies. The allies too would want to be part of this process. Moreover the BJP does not have any candidate in Bihar as of now that comes to my mind who has the potential to be projected as the CM.

I feel not declaring a CM candidate is a clever strategy given the issues within the party and the dynamic with the allies. Moreover the Delhi debacle will always be on the BJP's mind. Moreover in Delhi the BJP felt that Kiran Bedi would be a proper counter to Arvind Kejriwal. In Bihar projecting a CM candidate will not dent Nitish's candidature in anyway.

I think the BJP is going with the tried and trusted strategy which they adopted in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.

Coming to the Lalu-Nitish combination, what impact will it have?

It is an alliance of desperation and it is the negative factors that are holding them together. They have only come together as they feel they would have a better opportunity.

However what would be interesting to see is whether they can transfer votes at the ground level. They have fought each other for 15 years after all.

Why is this election so important for the BJP?

The BJP started the year with a loss and would not want to end the year with a loss. A lot of dynamic will change for the BJP if they lose Bihar. There will be a question mark on the Delhi leadership within the party.

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