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Twin campaign: how Nitish is doing a Modi in Bihar

Soumya Shankar | Updated on: 3 July 2015, 14:21 IST

The campaign

  • Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has launched a publicity blitz across Bihar.
  • The aim: establish a personal connect between the CM and people and showcase Kumar as the face of Bihar.
  • The content is heavily borrowed from Narendra Modi\'s 2014 election campaign.

The tricks

  • Campaign song \'Phirse Nitishey\' is composed by Sneha Khanwalkar and sung by Neeti Mohan.
  • \'Parche pe Charcha\' on the lines of Modi\'s \'Chai pe Charcha\'.
  • \'Munna se Nitish\' comics on Kumar\'s childhood, on the lines of \'Bal Narendra\' comics.
  • The slogan is \'Phir ek baar Nitish Kumar\'.

The significance

  • Kumar\'s campaign suggests the presidential style of elections has reached Bihar.
  • For the first time, caste as a factor has been relegated to the background.
  • With Kumar positioning himself as the face of the campaign, ally Lalu Prasad may go into a sulk.

Nitish Kumar is quite literally knocking on the doors of his electorate.

Blowing the election bugle on Wednesday, the chief minister of Bihar began his party's campaign for the upcoming Assembly elections through the 'Har Ghar Dastak' campaign - designed to assess the mood of the voter through direct and personalised communication.

But what other forms of campaigning is Nitish Kumar using? Here is a tally of the different strands of his election campaign.

A song for Nitish

Following recent campaign trends across the country, Kumar's pro-active campaign team has released an election song called 'Phir se Nitishey'.

It is composed by the feisty Sneha Khanwalkar and sung in a honey-dipped voice by Neeti Mohan. The lyrics are by Raj Shekhar. The song - and there is no prize for guessing - is an exercise in extolling Kumar's achievements.

The campaign, which was expected to counter Modi's self- promoting 2014 electoral campaign, is, in its essence, an imitation of it.

Bihar, according to the song, has been going through a bout of prosperity and the clarion call of the female singer is to continue this good run - with Nitish Kumar, of course.

The song claims that Bihar's pride rests entirely on Nitish Kumar, who is unique. There is an interlude in between, which, assuming a maternal tone, sends across blessings and love to Kumar, the sole heir and successor to all things progressive in Bihar. The music, a cross between a 'maata jagran' and a Bollywood item song, is definitely catchy but quite easily forgettable.

Overall, Nitish's electoral campaign seems to have borrowed heavily in packaging and content from Modi's 2014 general election campaign.

A face for Bihar

When BJP President Amit Shah arrived in Patna for International Yoga Day celebrations, he was greeted with towering billboards all the way from the airport to the BJP headquarters. They all said - 'Phir ek baar, Nitish Kumar'.

These billboards would have certainly stirred some old memories in Shah from the BJP's electoral campaign last year.

Nitish's campaign, which was expected to counter Narendra Modi's self- promotion, is an imitation of it

In 2014, it was Madhusudan Mistry of the Congress who complained that the police and the Vadodara municipality were conspiring to keep the Congress from putting up its posters at advertisements kiosks on city roads.

A year later, it was the turn of Sushil Modi of the BJP to do the same. He claimed that "the Nitish government has made plans to ensure that no hoarding of the BJP comes up in Patna".

He also accused Kumar for using taxpayer money to fund his campaign and of pressuring advertising agencies to throttle the BJP's outdoor electoral campaign in Bihar.

nitish kumar embed1

'Abki baar' becomes 'Phir ek baar' and other comic ideas

Kumar's slogan 'Phir ek baar Nitish Kumar' has an uncanny resemblance to 'Abki baar Modi Sarkaar'.

There are other trends in Nitish's campaign that have an unmistakable resonance with Modi's 2014 General Election campaign. 'Chai pe Charcha' has metamorphosed into 'Parche pe Charcha'.

The 'parcha' in question is a four-page pamphlet that will highlight the achievements of the Nitish Kumar government while equally aggressively underlining the failures of the Modi government.

These leaflets will be handed out in village chaupals.

Kumar's PR team has also released a comic series titled 'Munna se Nitish' much along the lines of the Modi's deifying 'Bal Narendra' series.

It is all about how Munna grows up to become Nitish Kumar - an upright, dowry-rejecting, prostrating-at-mother's-feet, socialist ideologue.

Munne se nitish 1
munne se nitish 2

Balancing light and shade

It seems Nitish Kumar's campaign team is following the footsteps of Arvind Kejriwal's Delhi election strategy also where outdoor communication was used to highlight the achievements of the 49-day AAP government, while most of the mud-slinging was reserved for the social media campaign.

Likewise, the Bihar government's 'Badh Chala Bihar' campaign is all about development, while Phirse NK, Parche Pe Charcha and other social media campaigns deal with the seamier side of the campaign.

The massive outreach campaign undertaken by the Bihar Government under the cumulative head 'Bihar @ 2025, Badh Chala Bihar' has a multi-pronged vision of encompassing not only the voters, but the highly scattered and influential NRB's and the media.

Something for every voter

The campaign aims to target voters from all sections of society.

Programmes like Udghosh will include panchayati raj institution members, Anganwadi workers, self-help group members, under which exhibitions will be organised.

The ambitious Jan Bhagidari is pitted as the 'world's largest participative agenda setting exercise' which truly reflects the breadth and scope of Nitish Kumar's vision. Around 400 GPS-enabled mobile vans branded Janbhagidari Manch will move around 40,000 villages showing audio-visual clips of the government's achievements in the last five years.

Representatives of the government or Janbhagidari Samparkkarta will engage with villagers to open a dialogue about inclusive modes of development through the eyes of the people.

The 'Breakfast with CM' model will have Nitish interacting with members of national and foreign media, showcasing the achievements of his government.

Gaurav Goshti aims to highlight district level achievers and re-instill a sense of pride in its citizens as well as in Bihar's glorious place and role in India's history.

'Bihar Development Dialogue' and 'Bihar Lecture Series' will witness the outreach towards businesses, civil society groups, and students - covering resident as well as non-resident Biharis scattered across the country. [fullsuite/]

Division of labour

The campaign team has been split into two. Citizens Alliance - with close to 35 members - is directly working in tandem with the Bihar government in the long-term Badh Chala Bihar campaign.

Then there is the Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) - with 27 members - which is working with the JD(U) for data analytics, social media work, mapping, cadre training and the like.

The rise of presidential-style campaigns

The 2014 General Elections showed two trends. One, they centred around single personality - Narendra Modi. And two, every state election since, with the exception of Delhi, has been contested on similar lines, with Modi being the face of the BJP across all states.

In Bihar, it is the all-pervasive personality of Nitish Kumar which is being promoted. It is a Nitish vs Modi battle in Bihar. There are no traces of the Janata Parivar's new-found bond anywhere in the electoral campaign.

Sources suggest that the Congress, with little or no hopes in Bihar, is quite comfortable riding in the shadow of Kumar. Lalu Prasad, on the other hand, it seems, has been short-changed in the deal. Few to no posters or campaigns of both the Congress and the RJD are seen in Bihar.

Caste campaign is less overt

The one thing that provides a breath of fresh air and injects new vigour into Bihar's campaign is the largely caste-less communication with the voter. But it has not quite disappeared and is unlikely to.

Caste, it seems will be relegated to the village chaupal and corner meetings over tea. The subject of development is what has taken overt primacy in the campaign. If this experiment works for Kumar's victory, these elections could change the psyche of the Bihar voter.

In all, even if the shoddiness and imitation blame is overlooked, armed with the two-pronged strategy of the governmental and party campaigns and the freshness of a caste-less election promise, the stage is set for an election that has the potential to transform how elections are contested in Bihar.

First published: 3 July 2015, 14:21 IST
Soumya Shankar @shankarmya

A correspondent with Catch, Soumya covers politics, social issues, education, art, culture and cinema. A lamenter and celebrator of the human condition, she hopes to live long enough to witness the next big leap in human evolution or the ultimate alien takeover of the world.