Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s sudden decision to take a break from campaigning in Bihar was on Wednesday dubbed as a sign of “flight in the face of imminent defeat” by the rival Mahagatbandhan (Grand Alliance) in the State.

The BJP’s poll campaign in Bihar has so far been entirely centred around Modi, who was expected to address as many as 40 rallies in the State. Publicity material – posters, banners and hoardings – have all been projecting Modi as the lone star campaigner and leader of the National Democratic Alliance.

But in the last few days, banners and hoardings depicting other senior leaders of the BJP as well as the NDA have sprung up alongside the huge hoardings depicting the twin images of the Prime Minister and BJP President Amit Shah. Almost simultaneously, the PM has cancelled two of his scheduled programmes in Bihar.

On October 16, for instance, the PM was expected to address rallies in Buxar, Paligunj and Hajipur. Similarly on October 20, he was scheduled to address meetings in Chhapra, Arrah and Barh. BJP insiders now say that the PM will not address any rallies till after Dasara that falls on October 22. It is not certain whether he will address rallies on October 25 (Bagha, Motihari, Siwan and Nalanda) and October 27 (Gopalgunj, Bettiah, Sitamarhi and Muzaffarpur).

The Mahagatbandhan was quick to call this sudden shift as a sign of the BJP conceding defeat in Bihar. The spokespersons of the Congress, JD(U) and RJD gathered in the JD(U) office in Patna on Thursday afternoon to claim that voting trends in the first phase of elections have “scared away” the PM. “Suddenly the PM has cancelled his rallies. Considering that the BJP’s entire campaign was based around the PM, they appear leaderless and directionless.

Simultaneously, we notice that besides Modi and Amit Shah, who were the only two images of the BJP’s hoardings in Bihar, other leaders have made an appearance. We don’t need to speculate on why this has happened,” said JD(U) spokesperson Pawan Verma.

According to him, this reflects a paradigm shift in the BJP’s strategy, because of the realisation that the party is losing ground in Bihar. “In the first phase, trends reflect that the Mahagatbandhan is getting at least three-fourth of the seats. That is why Modi wants to insulate himself from the defeat. He is running away from the battle because the defeat is now imminent,” said Verma.

‘Another Delhi for BJP’ RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha said Bihar will be a “repeat of Delhi”. He quoted reports claiming the PM was taking a break from campaigning because of the Navratri season.

“The BJP is losing big in Bihar. It is a repeat of the Delhi Assembly elections. I concede that Amit Shah is entitled to insulate the PM from this massive defeat. But don’t tell us that he is fasting during Navratri and that is why he is not campaigning.

As far as we remember, the PM was in the US last Navratri and addressed not one but several public functions, including a gala ceremony at Madison Square. So why abandon Bihar under false pretexts? Why not admit that you are running away because you have lost?” said Jha.

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