Skip to main content
xYOU DESERVE INDEPENDENT, CRITICAL MEDIA. We want readers like you. Support independent critical media.

In Bihar, High Time for Opposition to Bolster Efforts Against BJP's PR Machine

Tarique Anwar |
"If the Opposition parties and its workers hit the ground right away and launch a door-to-door campaign with meticulous planning for every village and block level, then only they can come in a position to defeat Modi despite social engineering favouring the latter," says Sahdev Paswan, a resident of Magardahi village in Samastipur district.

Patna: "Had there been a Congress government at the Centre, such a massive rescue operation in Uttarakhand (to save 41 workers trapped for 17 days in a tunnel collapse) would not have been possible." Every third or fourth person across communities, except a few, in Bihar opines this during a casual chit-chat on politics. They credit him even for the work his government has not done. Interestingly, the voters, who should critically examine the government's works and point out the misses of the incumbents, defend the government’s alleged failures.

This shows how the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) public relations (PR) machinery consistently works towards bolstering Modi's perceived invincibility – an area where the Opposition parties continue to struggle or miserably lag. Through strategic messaging, pro-government news broadcasts and mobilising its cadres, the saffron party has come to be known, by many, to convert any kind of crisis into opportunity.

When people’s opinions are countered with facts, they assert the authenticity of their information as their sources are TV news channels, the flurry of messages on WhatsApp, and the local leadership of the party.

On the other hand, despite successive drubbings in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, the Opposition has next to no presence on the ground. Even the incumbent regional parties are unable to come up with a strong and effective counternarrative.

Madan Mandal, a resident of Sonki village in Bihar's Darbhanga district, says if the inflation is skyrocketing and the price rise is out of control, people's income has also increased.

"As a result, no one sleeps hungry. It was not the case 10 years ago," says the 55-year-old, who sells vegetables in the local market.

He struggles to earn not more than Rs 200 a day and, as per his own admission, the income is insufficient to make ends meet. Still, he thinks that price rise is inevitable as the government is making "tough" decisions to make the country "prosper" and "strong".

Despite high inflation, he says with visible confidence—unaware of and uninterested in statistics—that there is "prosperity" everywhere.

"Go to villages and talk to people. They are now able to afford good meals. Non-vegetarian food is no more a luxury even in the hinterland of the country where mostly daily wagers live. You will spot motorbikes parked outside almost every household," he argues.

When asked, why people are forced to migrate to big cities to earn livelihood in inhuman conditions despite this “upliftment”, he responds, "The government gives us free ration (under the Public Distribution System or PDS). We get monetary support for the construction of houses (under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna). Toilets were constructed everywhere. Transportation got easier because even the remote villages of the state have good roads."

When it’s pointed out that these schemes have continued from the previous governments and that it is their right in a welfare state, he claims that the implementation was ineffective before. “

When countered there is nothing new as these are continuations of the existing schemes and it's their right in a welfare state, he said, " The implementation was a problem. "The incumbent has ensured that the benefits of such schemes reach people. However, a lot needs to be done as there is corruption everywhere.”

Interestingly, the voters are crediting the Centre for improving physical infrastructure in the state, overlooking the work carried out by the Nitish Kumar government.

Dilip Mandal, a resident of Saharsa who owns an embroidery workshop in Rajasthan's Jaipur, vehemently opposes political "freebies" (financial or material transfers from the government to sections of the population, especially the poor). But at the same time, he complains about the high electricity tariff and stoppage of the subsidy for beneficiaries of the Ujjawala scheme.

The propaganda war against the "freebies" was first started by the BJP and its affiliates, making a case that such significant redistributive transfers are fiscally unsustainable and will inevitably lead to an economic crisis.

Though the saffron party itself has indulged in the announcements of such "freebies" on larger scales to woo people and win recent elections, it has successfully built a narrative against it. The Opposition party workers have failed to counter this public discourse.

Lalan Singh, a former sub-inspector of the Bihar Police, says the Opposition alliance is trying its best to take advantage of the Caste census in Bihar, but it has nothing to offer in terms of the benefit of the exercise.

"Merely letting people know about their share in the state or country's population is not going to make any difference till it impacts lives of individuals (in positive ways)," he opines, arguing that the INDIA alliance has to do a lot to win over the numerically significant OBC (other backward classes) and EBC (extremely backward classes) voters who "trust Modi over any other regional parties".

To cement his argument, he cites data that the Union Cabinet has 27 ministers from the OBC community; the Modi government gave constitutional validity to the OBC commission; gave them quota in allotment of petrol/gas agencies; and financial assistance to pre and post-matric students belonging to the community. He says that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is one of the architects of the Opposition unity bloc, won't be able to turn his dream of becoming the prime minister into reality as he has earned "notoriety in changing sides and misrule".

Isn't it hypocritical to now discredit Kumar, once celebrated as a "Vikas Purush" (Development Man), merely because he severed ties with the BJP? He disagrees, stating, "He disrespected people's mandate.” When asked about his take on similar disrespect displayed by the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra towards people’s mandate, he vaguely responds, “It’s all history now.”

Sahdev Paswan, a resident of Magardahi village in Samastipur district, says people are "chanting Modi, Modi" just because the Opposition leaders or their workers are nowhere to be seen in their constituencies.

"Their public outreach and PR machinery is extremely weak to counter the BJP," he points out.

Though he will extend his support to the NDA (National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP) because “his leader” (Late Ram Vilas Paswan) was with the coalition, he reveals, he does not hesitate in praising CM Nitish for creating the EBC category and launching welfare programmes for their "upliftment".

"If the Opposition parties and its workers hit the ground right away and launch a door-to-door campaign with meticulous planning for every village and block level, then only they can come in a position to defeat Modi despite social engineering favouring the latter," he observes.

Arun Jha, a farmer with a land holding of 10 acres in Baruara village in Darbhanga, also says that the "caste census undertaken by the Bihar government will not have much impact on the electoral outcome as the election in 2024 will either be fought on the party or individuals' clout".

"The JD(U), the RJD, the Congress and Left parties will have to adopt strong campaigning strategies to not let communal polarisation work and to prevent the swaying in the name of construction of Ram Mandir," he suggests, adding that the poll plank for the Opposition should consist issues of agricultural farming, joblessness, price rise, Chinese intrusion into Indian territory, caste atrocities, etc.

Agricultural farming, according to him, should dominate among poll issues as farmers in the state are in "pathetic conditions".

"As a result of acute shortage of DAP (a concentrated phosphate-based fertiliser), they are buying it from the black market at highly inflated prices. Since there is no APMC (agricultural produce market committee) in the state, the peasants have to sell wheat and paddy at throwaway prices to local buyers who procure the food grains and sell them at higher prices in APMCs in Punjab and Haryana," he says, adding that people don't sell their agricultural produce to PACS (primary agricultural credit society) as they need instant payment – which they get only from local buyers.

But the Opposition, said 65-year-old Jha, can cash on such issues, which are directly impacting people, "only when they hit the ground with full force to turn the tide".


"Drawing room politics is no longer going to work. Why is it that the electorates are talking about hypernationalism, communalism, and partially true stories of the country's growth when they are struggling to make ends meet in this age of high prices? Why don't they question the government for its sheer mismanagement during Covid? Why are they defending the government on price rises, saying it's inevitable? Why is that instead of questioning the government on joblessness, people are themselves defending the incumbent by saying that it's impossible to accommodate such a large number of people in the government sector?" he asked.

The one answer, according to Jha, is that they (the voters) are fed pro-government propaganda on a daily basis and the Opposition is nowhere on the ground to counter it.

Baidyanath Yadav, a 54-year-old farmer from Gaya says the “M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) equation” is still intact in Bihar, but the Opposition needs to work among non-Yadav OBC and dalit voters who would play a crucial role in deciding the election.

"The BJP is successfully polarising these chunks of voters to counter the M-Y block," he claims.

As per the latest caste census conducted in Bihar, Muslims constitute 17.7%, while Yadavs account for 14.27% of the state's population.

Other major communities are Kushwaha (4.21%), Brahmins (3.65%), Rajputs (3.45%), Mushars (3.8%), Kurmis (2.87%), Bhumihars (2.86%), Mallah aka Sahnis (2.60%) and Baniyas (2.31%).


Even the INDIA alliance constituents in the state admit that they are not as effective as they should be in their voters’ outreach.

“It’s true that our presence on the ground is not that strong, but soon we will be in every panchayat and ward with full force. We will not leave any stone unturned ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” says JD(U) spokesperson Neeraj Kumar, who is also a member of the Bihar Legislative Council.

He acknowledges that electoral battles on social media are not going to win elections, but at the same time, he denies his party’s absence among voters in his state.

“We are conducting ‘Bhim Samvad’ to make our youth aware about the reservation and anti-constitutional forces and hold discussions against suppressing the voices of backward classes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and exploited communities in the country,” he says, adding that the effort is “so successful and impressive that the BJP has to launch ‘Ambedkar Samagam’ in its counter but it is a completely flop show”.

The Samvad, he says, is an attempt to counter communal polarisation by raising social issues that impact people’s day-to-day lives.

The JD(U), which is ruling Bihar in alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and Left parties, is also aggressively targeting the BJP government over allegedly changing the name of the central scheme, Babu Jagjivan Ram Hostel Scheme. This scheme was meant for the construction of hostels for the students belonging to the Scheduled Caste.

“We are going to people to let them know that the Centre, which claims itself to be champion of dalit causes, has not given a single penny to Bihar under the scheme during 2022-23,” he says.

The BJP government at the Centre has merged the scheme named after Bihar's dalit leader and country's then deputy Prime Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram with other two Centrally-sponsored schemes. It has now been named ‘Pradhan Mantri Anusuchit Jaati Abhyuday Yojna (PM-AJAY)’.

As part of its campaigning strategy, JD(U) is also distributing pamphlets in villages – highlighting the state government’s work for every section of the society and its impacts.

The BJP, alleges Kumar, makes use of public data available to the government for its election campaign.

“It’s an unethical practice. No wonder they are so keen on linking Aadhaar to every scheme. The massive funds they have generated over the years help their workers be present and work in constituencies. But we cannot stoop to so low. We will take on the incumbents with full force, highlighting our work for the people in general, and never indulge in any unethical practices,” he says.

The saffron party is said to have done direct canvassing of beneficiaries of government schemes in the recently concluded Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh. It reportedly distributed the database of beneficiaries of the state government schemes to its 40 lakh workers to reach out to them.

Kumar accepts that there is infighting in the INDIA alliance and that “should be dealt with tactically if the Opposition unity wants to defeat the BJP in 2024”.

He has a message for his own leaders: “Second- and third-line leaders should stop self-promotion, go to their respective constituencies and highlight the state government’s works. Then only, we will be able to secure victory.”

Communist Party of India (CPI) MLA Sandeep Saurav also accepts that the Opposition alliance does not have any defined campaigning strategy yet even though the anti-incumbency after 10 years of the Modi government at the Centre is not strong enough for the INDIA bloc to ride on.

While the BJP has its election war room ready for 2024, even the first meeting of the INDIA alliance to deliberate on and finalise its campaigning strategy has not been held, according to Saurav.

In addition, he says, his party is an ally of a government – (the JD-U-headed alliance government in Bihar) – whose “faulty decisions such as prohibitions, issues of government teachers, etc. are posing a tough challenge for his party, leaders and workers to defend and deal with” when they go to people for canvassing.

“The Nitish Kumar government banned liquor trade and its consumption. But the decision did not only measurably fail in its purpose, it proved to be suicidal. It gave a boost to the illegal production, smuggling and trade and that too of sub-standard and life-threatening liquors. Those who were consuming it earlier are continuing the same. The only difference the prohibition brought is its black marketing. In addition, it gave the police a licence to indulge in atrocities and frame anyone they want,” he says.

Apart from prohibition, teachers’ appointments and how regularisation of contractual teachers—giving them rights of the state employees—has been carried out might make matters worse for the ruling parties in the state.

“The government has cheated unemployed youth in the name of teachers’ appointments. The majority of teachers who have been appointed through a written examination conducted by the BPSC (Bihar Public Service Commission) are existing teachers. It means, fewer fresh appointments have been made against vacant posts,” he says.

The second challenge, which can potentially impact the INDIA alliance’s prospects in Bihar, he points out, is that though the government, after a series of protests, accepted the long-standing demands of existing teachers to grant them the status of state employees, it took away their rights.

They are no longer allowed to form their organisations or unions; their existing unions were derecognised; they cannot write anything against the government on social media; they will have to stay in schools from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. even if the classes are over at 4 p.m.; and they won’t have any leave even during summer vacations.

“The teaching community cannot be taken lightly at least in Bihar. Almost every village in the state has a sizeable number of teachers, who play a very important role in elections. Their resentment can cause the government irreversible damage. We are time and again bringing these concerns to Nitishji’s knowledge, but he never listens to anyone except his bureaucrats,” adds Saurav.

Having said that, he concludes, there is resentment and anti-incumbency against the Modi government and the INDIA alliance “will try its best to convince people to vote in its favour”.    


You cannot defeat the BJP or for that matter, any party, says election strategist-turned political activist Prashant Kishor, unless you understand their strength.

“What is the strength of the BJP? It’s not necessarily Mr Modi or Mr Amit Shah or the RSS. They are winning elections because of four things: one, their ideological base – which is Hindutva; two, hyper or neo-nationalism – which Mr Modi added to this as an additional lever by reiterating in every gathering that India has become a ‘Vishwaguru’ since we arrived, the PR exercise around hosting G-20 meet and through the great shows he put up outside India; three, the direct beneficiaries – the ‘labharthis’ as they say in Hindi; four, the organisational and financial muscle,” explains the founding chief of Jan Suraj Abhiyan, whose firm had played a crucial role in ensuring the BJP come to power in 2014.

He says if any alliance, be it INDIA or any other else, is taking on the BJP unless it beats the saffron party on three of the four fronts, it does not have much chance to out the incumbent from power.

Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.

Subscribe Newsclick On Telegram