Discussion with voters about the elections outside Patna. The Citizen photograph

Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah arrived for a nights halt in Patna. Scores of BJP members, including some journalists he had sent for, queued up for an audience. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh also arrived with full security. And while the BJP Bihar leaders kept a grim silence when asked if the “beef” propaganda was working, one could help but wonder whether the conversation behind closed doors at the hotel was all about why this campaign had failed, and why Bihar had decided to reject the communal campaign.

For it is clear from a visit to the districts of Bihar, that the BJP has failed to polarise the voter on communal lines. In village after village across Samastipur, Jehanabad, and in between villagers greeted The Citizen with, “there is no discord here, we are one, there is no problem and there will not be, this is Bihar.” The groups of villagers one spoke to at random and frequent halts comprised all communities. Sometimes the questions would provoke an argument between the voters, but as they would hastily turn and say, “we might discuss and argue, but there is no discord.” And Nitish Kumar is responsible for ensuring this, was the consensus with even BJP supporters quick to nod assent.

The Muslims in Bihar have merged into the whole, and it is perhaps this that has ensured the failure of the BJPs communal campaign. There are no fatwas by the religious leaders; no pandering by the political parties; no counter except the one by Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav; just a message down the line that all religious communities are secure in Nitish Kumars Bihar. That, Janata Dal(U) leaders said, and voters verified, was the focus of the election strategy with care being taken not to fall into any trap of the BJP’s making.

The Muslims, almost as if a signal has been sent across, are not raising issues that are not of Bihar’s in these elections. There is no reaction from a group of Muslims just outside Patna about the Dadri lynching, and the BJPs beef campaign. Mushtaq, a shopkeeper, said, “this is not an election issue.” Except for some BJP voters from the upper castes, no one was keen to take up the issue up for discussion making it clear that this was not relevant. “This is Bihar, here we are voting for development, for Nitish Kumar, not for all this, “was the overwhelming consensus.

The BJP efforts to communalise the situation have thus been blocked completely by the voters of Bihar. There is no tension in the villages, with the Uttar Pradesh tactics to polarise voters failing dismally here. As a result the BJP finds itself on unsure footing, although in the villages as well it is seen to be the party with the money.

Interestingly, the media in Patna seems to be stuck on the beef story and unwilling to move forward. At an impromptu press conference Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who came armed with data to punch holes in Prime Minister Narendra Modis campaign against the state government, found himself being asked about the beef issue and the statement made by RJD chief Lalu Yadav. As he pointed out, this was an old issue, and there was little to say on what was over and done with. It could not be ascertained whether the reporters at the press conference were under instructions from their bosses to focus on a dead issue, of whether the questions were being flung at the chief minister out of the scribes own ignorance. More so as the issue had not even taken off as a significant development in the Bihar districts, including Samastipur that has gone to the polls and Jehanabad that will be voting later this week.

The BJP has used several cards, apart from the money power that it is widely credited with. As JD(U) leader Pavan Varma said, “let us see what they do, they will try, and we have to be careful and on guard.” The communal card was basic to the thrust of the campaign but given the Muslim voters low key profile, and the disinterest in the issue shown by all others this has completely failed to take off. The Manjhi card has been successful only in pockets with the Mahadalit at this point in time, seen as a fractured vote without having consolidated behind either the JD(U) led grand alliance or the BJP led NDA in the state. Both sides claim its support, as they do of the extremely backward sections. Here too there is a visible division, to what extent though is again impossible to predict at this stage.

What is certain is that the 16 odd per cent forward castes have consolidated behind the BJP. And the Yadavs, Muslims and Kurmis constituting over 35 per cent have consolidated behind the grand alliance. The rest will be known when the votes are counted.