08/11/2015 7:53 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Big Moments That Shaped The Battle For Bihar

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
PATNA, INDIA - OCTOBER 28: Voters pose with their ID Cards standing in queue to cast their votes at DAV School, Danapur Cantt, during the third phase of Bihar Assembly Elections on October 28, 2015 in Patna, India. Bihar will hold five-phase elections between October 12 and November 5 to elect the 243-member assembly. Counting of votes will take place on November 8. BJP led NDA and Grand Secular Alliance comprising of RJD, JD (U) and Congress are two main coalitions vying to form the next government in the state. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The Bihar State Election will go down as one of the most hard fought electoral battles in India's political history, with three titans--Narendra Modi, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav--going all out in a high-stakes battle.

The campaigning was long and eventful. It raised political temperatures throughout the country. Colourful epithets were exchanged and the communal cauldron was brought to boil.

Ultimately, there were a few moments that determined the fate of this election. Here is a selection.

Nitish and Lalu joining hands

The election's main turning point was when fellow Lohiyaites and bitter political rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad decided to join hands with the Congress as the junior partner in a grand alliance. They came together to stem the BJP wave that had, subsequent to the sweep in national elections, won state elections in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir.

After fighting each other for more than a decade, it took tremendous political will for the regional leaders to come together. But they did it despite the odds because a BJP win in Bihar this election would have meant virtual political extinction for Nitish Kumar and a devastating blow for Lalu Prasad.

Nitish had to factor in Lalu's image as a flawed popular leader, whose reign is dubbed 'Jungle Raj' for its poor law and order record. But he is also a big vote catcher, with a cachet of Muslim and Yadav votes.

It was a tough call for Yadav, who had to weigh his desire of beating Modi against swallowing his pride and playing second fiddle to Kumar, while conceding the top job of Chief Minister to his erstwhile rival.

The Congress Party piggybacked on the Kumar-Yadav partnership to form the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance).

While neither side admitted to the strains in their relations, tensions between the two men were often palpable.

Many people believe that Kumar made a swipe at Yadav in his tweet quoting a Rahim couplet, and likening himself to sandalwood which is not affected by the snakes wrapped around it.

Staying Friends

There came a point when it seemed that Kumar may reconsider his alliance with Yadav, especially when the BJP unleashed their campaign strategy of mocking their alliance, and making them the butt of jokes.

In rallies across the state, Modi evoked the memory of "Jungle Raj" (crime, kidnappings and poverty) which existed under Yadav. He laid bare that the two regional leaders had nothing in common, but it was a marriage of convenience only to beat him.

In one rally, Modi said: "Instead of development and governance, they are discussing snakes and poison. They should decide who is what, who is drinking poison. The people of Bihar want to drink water."

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's flight from the Mahagathbandh was a moment of crisis, not because of its practical implications, but because of its psychological impact, just as campaigning was heating up.

Weathering the storm, Kumar and Yadav stuck to the alliance and figured out a working relationship. While the BJP and its allies were pulling their hair over seat sharing till the deadline, RJD and JD(U) divvied up 100 seats each and gave 40 seats to the Congress Party.

At the end of a bumpy road, the two leaders not only managed to stick together, and they managed to transfer their support base to each other.

Modi's Package

In the midst of caste calculations, the major political contenders did eke out some economic incentives for voters. BJP tried hard to woo the Bihar electorate with Modi and his development agenda.

Addressing a rally in Arrah, Modi asked, "How much do you want... 50,000 crore, 60,000 crore, 70,000 crore, 75,000 crore or 80,000 crore...," finally announcing Rs1.25 lakh crore from central government funds for Bihar.

Kumar later quipped whether Modi was "bidding" for Bihar, and dismissed it as "repackaged" money.

Arrogance in DNA

One thread running through Modi's verbal assault on Kumar was accusing him of being an arrogant leader, who had cast aside his political colleagues to get ahead.

During BJP's maiden rally in Muzaffarpur, Modi made jibes about Kumar's "DNA."

Kumar's campaign was quick to pounce on the "DNA" remark, and launch a counterattack on Modi by suggesting that he had insulted the DNA of Biharis.

In addition to slamming Modi at every opportunity, Kumar decided to send DNA samples of hair and nails to the Prime Minister's office in Delhi. By September, the Nirman Bhavan Post Office had received 117 mail bags with about 1,000 letters each, which had samples of hair strands and nail clippings.

BJP responded: "We want to humbly state, Bihar is not Nitish Kumar and Nitish Kumar is not Bihar."

Mohan Bhagwat's Faux Pas

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mogan Bhagwat's remarks about reviewing the reservation policy was arguably the game changing moment of the Bihar election.

By the time Bhagwat tried to feebly backtrack, BJP's rivals especially Yadav had milked the faux pas.

"The grand alliance spread the word to every nook and corner of the state and this has led to a polarisation of the deprived classes against the NDA and that sealed its fate," he said, last month.

Bihari versus Bahari

With the BJP dedicating heart and soul to winning Bihar, the Grand Alliance raised the slogan of Bahari(outsider) versus Bihari. “You have to choose between a Bihari and a Bahari. A Bihari is standing before you, just say goodbye to the Bahari," he said before the final round of polling.

Modi transitioned into his political avatar to fight dirty during the election, but when he was called a "bahari," the BJP leader was quick to pull out his prime ministerial credentials . "Am I not the Prime Minister of India? Is Bihar not in India?" he said.

He also asked whether Sonia Gandhi, who lives in Delhi and is of Italian origin, was a " bahari or Bihari."

Dadri Lynching

The killing of a Muslim man in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh--just a week before polling began--did little to help the BJP's prospects with the Muslims in Bihar.

On September 28, Mohammad Akhlaq was beaten to death a mob alleging that he had eaten beef.

In the midst of growing criticism about his silence over the tragedy, Modi did speak about the need for peace and tolerance at one rally. But this effort appeared largely superficial in light over the parallel conversation about beef which the BJP injected into the campaign.

Modi mocked Lalu for his beef remark, and said that he had insulted the Yadhuvanshi community.

Reservation Going To Minorities

The big finish to the BJP's campaign was Modi's attempt to turn the wrangle over caste on its head by saying that the Grand Alliance was scheming to take away five percent of the quota from Dalits, Mahadalits, Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and EBCs, and give it away to a minority community (He did not say Muslims, but it was evident which community was implied).

Whether Modi's attempt at communal and caste polarisation made any difference is a matter of debate, but it was widely seen as unbecoming of the prime minister.

Eventually, the Election Commission banned the BJP advertisement which questioned Kumar's "silence" on insulting cows.

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