Bihar Assembly Polls: A bitter campaign comes to an end

Bihar will vote in the fifth and final phase of the Assembly poll on Thursday. The campaign for the five-phase poll was rather too long and arduous. It should have been compressed. It is incomprehensible why the Election Commission could not hold a single phase, or, at the most, a two-phase poll spread over, say, a week in a state which has been by and large free from any sort of violence — casteist or religious. Given the huge interest in the outcome, an extended poll needlessly took the focus away of the entire polity, including central and State governments, from the urgent business of governance. Though the routine, day-to-day business of governance proceeded as usual, the political executive otherwise got fully engrossed in the poll-related activities.

The Prime Minister, for instance, was in and out of Bihar, being the star campaigner for the BJP-led NDA. A shorter campaign would have saved his time and effort and helped him get back to the urgent business of governance sooner than was possible in an extended period of electioneering. In fact, it is not only the rival politicians who got diverted from the normal by such a high-stake poll but people in other professions as well found themselves sucked into the on-going process. For example, market men tended to hedge their bets till after the poll outcome. The media further fuelled the poll mania by excessively focusing on the poll. Of course, this is not to suggest that the result in Bihar is not important. It is. But it will not, cannot, majorly impact the working of the central government. Yes, the political class will feel the impact, but it cannot have a lasting bearing on the functioning of the central government.

If anything, a setback for the NDA would spur the Prime Minister to put his shoulder to the wheel of good governance with added gusto and energy in order to win back the trust of the people. Modi will have a greater incentive to focus on vikas whether the NDA wins or loses Bihar. It is because he is now well into the second of the five-year term. People are beginning to wonder if anything has changed in the eighteen months he has been in the saddle. He needs to retain the trust they had reposed in him in such great measure in May last year. More than anyone else in the entire political firmament, it is Modi who has much at stake. Aside from the momentary high or low from the Bihar outcome, Modi as PM has his task cut out. He is to boost growth, revive the animal spirits of the investing community, create new jobs, ensure peace and harmony in the country and so on. The PM cannot be deflected by a win or a loss in a lone state, his constituency being the entire country.

And, hopefully, whether it is a win or a loss in Bihar, the needless controversies over cow and beef, caste and Muslim reservations would become history once the bitter business of impressing the Bihar voters is behind them. Both sides were guilty of running a bitter and acrimonious campaign. If Lalu Yadav sought to consolidate his grip on his caste brothers by twisting the words of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat about the need for a re-look at the entire reservation policy, by claiming that the BJP would terminate the OBC reservations, the BJP was wrong in invoking cow and beef to win over the Hindus. In such a no-holds-barred electioneering, there was hardly any room for decency and good manners. Such bitterness during the campaign, hopefully, would not preclude rival politicians from cooperating in the larger interest of the people. Indeed, even if Modi, regardless of the outcome in Bihar, wants to get down, in all seriousness, to delivering on the promises made during the parliamentary poll, the onus will still lie with the opposition to abandon their obstructionist stance against the central government.  Creating roadblocks in the path of the Centre cannot endear the Opposition to the voters. Whoever wins Bihar, the central government must begin to deliver — and be allowed to deliver.

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