Why the Modi factor is crucial to Bihar polls

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·5-min read

The first phase of polling in Bihar for 71 seats ended on October 28 in a peaceful manner. Turnout was a tad below 2015 polling percentage of 55.1%.

In the aftermath of a dip in the popularity of Nitish Kumar, the Bharatiya Janata Party supporters have pinned hope on the Modi factor to bail out NDA.

Party feels Modi’s popularity and his rallies in the state will convert the undecided voters in its favour.

What is the Modi factor?

The boost the BJP gets from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal political capital—which took the party past the finish line in elections over the last few years—has often been referred to as the ‘Modi factor’.

The Modi factor was 27% in 2014 general elections. This political capital fetched BJP 4.6 crore and NDA allies 0.9 crore votes in 2014. This accounted for 63% of NDA’s margin of victory over UPA in 2014.

In 2019, the Modi factor increased to 32%. These many voters said in a CSDS survey that they would not have voted for BJP if Modi was not the PM candidate.

In 2019, the political capital of Modi fetched 8.5 crore votes to the NDA. NDA led UPA by 11 crore votes in 2019 and Modi factor accounted for more than three-fourth of this lead.

So, the Modi factor can tilt the scales in favour of NDA in Bihar which is facing a lot of anti-incumbency.

The level of popularity of the Modi government is higher than Nitish’s government

While 52% respondents in the Lokniti-CSDS survey were satisfied with Nitish Kumar’s performance, a higher 61 per cent say they are satisfied with the work of the Modi government.

NDA voters are far more impressed with the work done by the Modi government than they are with the work done by the Nitish Kumar government.

On an overall basis, for 27% respondents the main consideration is the work done by the Modi government versus 16% for the work of the Nitish Kumar government. This is not very lower than the 32% in general elections.

For NDA voters, people voting on Modi government work is very high at 42%. Even for LJP voters, 27% are voting with Modi in mind.

This shows that Modi is more popular than Nitish in Bihar. In 2015 state elections when they contested separately, Nitish was more popular than the Prime Minister, and managed to defeat BJP in an alliance with his bete noire Lalu Yadav.

Why did the Modi factor fail in state elections post 2019 general elections?

BJP lost state governments in Jharkhand while its tally reduced significantly in Haryana forcing it to form an alliance with JJP.

In Maharashtra it fell short of opinion and exit poll predictions and lost the government due to differences in power sharing pact with Shiv Sena.

In Delhi, for the second time in a row its tally couldn't even touch double digits.

Modi’s popularity was at an all time high during this phase because of historical decisions taken with respect to CAA, Triple Talaq and Article 370. But still BJP lost 2 state governments and couldn't dislodge Arvind Kejriwal from Delhi. Despite this BJP lost.

In state elections, voters decide on the basis of state leadership. Modi performed well at the centre so the voters gave him a thumping majority in the 2019 general elections.

In state elections, people vote on the basis of performance of the state government. Modi could not shield BJP’s tally from the anti-incumbency against incumbent state governments.

The Modi factor did work in state elections after 2014 general elections, but BJP was then the challenger and used to its advantage the anti-incumbency against the opposition governments. It used Modi as a poster boy of development to woo voters.

Why could the Modi factor work in the 2020 elections in Bihar?

The financial position of the states has deteriorated in the aftermath of COVID. Even the central government is not left unscathed from the pandemic. The resultant lockdown has led to a fall in GST collections.

States have accused the centre of delaying their revenue share. A big controversy erupted recently when the Centre asked states to borrow to fund the shortfall. Ultimately the Centre relented to the states’ demands and will borrow.

The pandemic has impacted the lives and livelihoods of people. Around 30 lakh migrants have returned to Bihar from other states. Bihar’s economic condition is still not great.

Amidst all this, the dependence of people on the state has increased. Central schemes like NREGA, Rs. 500 per month transfer in Jan Dhan accounts, free ration for three months, has provided some succour to the people affected.

On the other hand, people are unhappy with the way Nitish dilly dallied in bringing back migrants and students stuck outside of Bihar.

With the state's economic health poor, people look up to the centre for help. Same government in the state and the centre will reduce friction and increase support. If the Mahagathbandhan wins there could be friction impacting support from the Centre.

This point can enhance the role of the Modi factor in this state election. Can Modi bail out Nitish in Bihar? Interesting times ahead.

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