The by-polls in Mokama and Gopalganj will be a litmus test for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar. It is considered crucial as an indication of the mood of the voters before the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
Mokama and Gopalganj by-polls are taking place at a time when the BJP is in the Opposition and it will test the real strength of the party and its leaders. The leaders of the Mahagathbandhan are already claiming big victories in these two places. In that case if the BJP candidates do not get a respectable number of votes, it will give a wrong message for the Lok Sabha election in 2024.
The upper caste voters are considered the backbone of the BJP in Bihar but the Rashtriya Janata Dal has given the ticket to the wife of Bahubali leader Anant Singh who belongs to the upper caste Bhumihar community. The BJP has nominated Sonam Devi, who is the wife of Lalan Singh. He also belongs to the Bhumihar caste to counter Anant Singh.
However, Anant Singh has won the Mokama seat for the last four times and he is virtually unchallenged there.
Rama Singh, a resident of Nauranga village, said: “Anant Singh despite being in jail, will comfortably win this seat. He did it in the past and he will do it again. It does not matter to him whether he is out of jail or inside. The fight here in Mokama is 80:20 in favour of Anant Singh. His wife Neelam Devi will win the seat easily.”
The Mokama seat fell vacant after the MLA-MLC court of Patna convicted sitting MLA Anant Singh in the AK 47 and hand grenades case this year.
In Gopalganj, the seat was vacant after the death of BJP sitting MLA Subhash Singh. The party has given the ticket to his wife Kusum Devi.
She will contest against RJD candidate Mohan Prasad Gupta who was runner-up in the 2020 Assembly elections.
The BJP may take the help of Sadhu Yadav who is a former MP of Gopalganj and has a good hold in the region. The Sadhu Yadav factor may hurt the RJD as there is an expectation of division in the RJD vote bank.
Mritunjay Tiwari, the national spokesperson of the RJD, told IANS: “The BJP candidates will lose the battle with a big margin in these two seats. I doubt that they will save their security deposits. They do not have any achievement which they could claim in this by-poll and go before the voters. The Narendra Modi government has failed on every count. It has not delivered on any promise. Why would voters trust this party.”
When asked about Amit Shah’s frequent visits to Bihar, he said: “Amit Shah should open the office of the Union home ministry in Patna and stay here and learn from Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav about the work being executed on the ground. He came to Purnea and said that the airport is open to the public. Where is the airport in Purnea and imagine what the people of Purnea must be thinking about the Home Minister of the country. Bihar is a land of Socialist people and ‘Jumlebazi’ will not work here.”
“The people of Bihar have witnessed the result of the Bochahan by-poll. It was in favour of the RJD despite the BJP being in power in Bihar then. Now, we have an alliance of 7 parties in Bihar. It will be a landslide victory for the RJD in these two seats. This will clearly set a trend in favour of a grand alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha election,” Tiwari said.
Nikhil Anand, BJP leader and national general secretary of the party’s OBC Morcha, told IANS: “As far as Gopalganj seat is concerned, the BJP MLA and former minister Subhash Singh was elected four times. After his demise, our party has given the ticket to his wife Kusum Devi. The people of Gopalganj want to pay tribute to Subhash Singh by voting for his wife in a by-poll. You would remember the result of Bochahan when Musafir Paswan’s son Amar Paswan won that seat with sympathy votes after his demise. It was not the win of the RJD but it was an individual win of Amar Paswan. Similarly in Gopalganj, the BJP candidate will win on sympathy votes.”
“In Mokama, we have silent voters of EBC who will give votes to a BJP candidate. The people of Mokama are miffed with Bahubali leader Anant Singh. They want freedom from Anant Singh and hence they would vote for the BJP candidate. As far as Lok Sabha election 2024 is concerned, the result of the by-poll will not become a trend,” he said.
Despite the BJP’s claim, the battle for Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats is already intensifying and it is reflected in the statements of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Deputy CM Tejashwi Yadav and JD-U national president Lalan Singh.
Nitish Kumar during the inauguration of an engineering college in Samastipur on Friday said that he will not go with the BJP for his entire life.
He openly took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah and said that the current BJP regime is only limited to statements and has nothing to do with work. He also compared Narendra Modi’s tenure with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government and said that the latter had the respect of the people of the country. They worked for the people of the country but the Narendra Modi government only works for Capitalists.
Lalan Singh said, “How many EBC (Economically Backward Class) MPs are ministers in the cabinet of Narendra Modi despite the BJP having 17 MPs from Bihar? The JD-U has 16 MPs in the Lok Sabha and 5 of them are from EBC. This is the working style of Nitish Kumar. I was the leader of my party in the Parliament and I requested the Prime Minister for a meeting on the issue of a caste-based Census, but he asked us to meet the Home Minister. When we went there, he turned it down. Nitish Kumar on the other hand has decided to conduct a caste-based Census at the expense of the state government and his decision was in the interest of OBC and EBC.”
“The BJP always makes tall claims but it does not talk about the real issues like inflation and unemployment and diverts attention to other issues,” he added.
The real challenge for the BJP is an identity crisis at the state level. Sushil Kumar Modi was one such leader in the BJP who could put up a challenge but the central leadership of the BJP put him from the main carriageway to a service road after the 2020 Assembly elections and brought Tar Kishore Prasad and Renu Devi and made them Deputy CMs. Those two leaders failed to emerge as big leaders of the BJP in Bihar, say analysts.
The battle in Bihar and West Bengal will decide the fate of Narendra Modi in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. These two states together have 82 seats which are more than the seats in Uttar Pradesh (80). The 2015 Assembly elections in Bihar and the 2021 Assembly polls in West Bengal were the case studies for BJP leaders to look at and rectify things.
“For the BJP, the party leaders are realizing that PM Narendra Modi’s charisma could turn the battle for them. The biggest worry for the BJP is the anti-incumbency factor and there are no policies coming from the Centre to counter it. The last 6 months of the Narendra Modi government may become crucial for him when it is expected to come with lucrative offers. It will be interesting to know how much the people of Bihar and the country would buy on his promises,” said Bharat Sharma, a political analyst based in Patna.