Will beef undo Narendra Modi's chances in Bihar election?

Indian voters queue to cast their ballots at a voting centre in the final stage of state assembly elections in the Bihar village of Thakurganj in Kishanganj district on November 5, 2015. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The BJP is hoping for a repeat of the 2014 general elections, where a wave of support for Mr Modi saw the party decimate the opposition

Voting has begun in the final stage of polling in the northern Indian state of Bihar. The contest has seen incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar pitted against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But while Mr Modi has talked up development during campaigning, the lynching of a Muslim man in northern India on suspicion that he ate beef and a number of related incidents may harm the prime minister's party, writes BBC Hindi's Nitin Srivastava.

"Narendra Modi won in 2014 because he spoke only of development, but now his party and ministers try and defend killers of people eating beef in India. This won't work in Bihar," says Radhe Shyam.

We are at an election rally for Mr Modi, who has been the star campaigner for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Bihar. The BJP has never been able to win an outright majority in the state and Mr Modi is trying his best to change that. He has addressed at least 30 public meetings there in two months.

The BJP is hoping for a repeat of its performance in the 2014 general elections, where a wave of support for Mr Modi saw the party decimate the opposition across the country, including in Bihar. Many believe that the BJP was in a strong position to win this election even as recently as three months ago.

Modi's silence

But a growing controversy, especially in the north of India where a Muslim man was lynched on suspicion that he consumed beef appears to have endangered the BJP's chances here.

"Forget zero support from Muslims, even Hindus here are progressive and don't want to be preached to on whether to have beef or whether to observe Valentines Day," Rajeev Kumar, a technocrat, told the BBC.

This fact has also been seized upon by Nitish Kumar, a savvy politician.

Mr Kumar, along with his ally Laloo Prasad Yadav, has frequently questioned Mr Modi's silence on the lynching and accused the BJP of trying to consolidate the majority Hindu votes.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nitish Kumar has attacked the prime minister for his "silence"

"Mr Modi's prolonged silence on the beef killing has baffled many people. He tried to clarify on the beef issue during an election rally in Bihar, but his party members thrashed a Muslim politician in Kashmir that same day. This shows that there is a clear difference in what's being practiced and preached," senior journalist Nalin Verma said.

Analyst Sanjay Sinha says that "the more the beef killing incident has been condemned, the more it has influenced voter sentiment".

In spite of the beef issue, Mr Modi's public meetings in Bihar have been well attended with thousands arriving well in advance and waiting for hours just to catch a glimpse of the prime minister.

But even here, not everyone is a supporter.

One man looks cynically at the hoardings, posters and the stage.

"Why is Narendra Modi always flying in and out of Bihar? Doesn't he have an entire country to run?"

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