Election watch

After losses in Delhi and Bihar, BJP decides not to contest elections in Modi’s name

Beginning in Assam next year, the saffron party will declare its chief ministerial candidates well in advance.

After assiduously using Naredra Modi's charisma as its main weapon in each state election over the past two years, the Bharatiya Janata Party is finally abandoning this strategy. The turnaround, engendered by the consecutive defeats in Delhi and Bihar, will be reflected first in Assam, which goes to polls next year, party insiders say.

The new strategy – or the return to the pre-Modi era practice – will continue even after the Assam elections, party officials said. “Although Delhi showed the first signs of fatigue with the Modi-centric strategy, Bihar results confirmed this,” a senior BJP leader said, requesting anonymity. “Now the situation is such that the party would have to suffer if it continues to seek votes in the name of the prime minister.”

Several states, including Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, go to polls in the next year and a half. Of these, the BJP has little or no chances in Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, and in Punjab it contests as a junior partner of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

Since the remaining three states – Assam, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh – are crucial for the party, the BJP appears in no mood to take the risk of projecting Modi as its electoral face.

The first steps

The first step in this direction was taken over a month ago when the BJP decided to appoint Union Minister of State for Sports and Youth Welfare Sarbananda Sonowal as the new president of the party unit in Assam as well as the chairman of the state election committee. Party insiders say Sonowal will be projected as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate well in advance.

Sonowal was the Assam unit chief at the time of the Lok Sabha elections, in which the BJP won seven of the state’s 14 seats. Soon after the general elections, though, he gave up the state post and joined the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

The sweeping victory in the general elections, which the BJP fought around Modi, started a trend that continued in Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar. In these states, the saffron party announced no chief ministerial candidate, instead seeking votes in the name of Modi. Now that trend will end.

According to insiders, it is this changed electoral approach that has delayed the identification of new state unit presidents in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, where elections are due in early 2017.

“In Uttar Pradesh, the moot question before the central leadership is whether the new party chief should be from an upper caste or from OBC [other backward classes],” said a BJP leader. “In Uttarakhand, the effort is being made to identify someone who is acceptable to all factions.”

In both these states, the next party president is likely to be projected as the chief ministerial candidate, insiders said.

New challenge

The shift is being seen in the BJP as further proof that Modi, a leader who revels in electoral jousts, may no longer be the dependable vote-getter he was once portrayed to be.

The first indication of the dwindling confidence in his electoral abilities had come soon after the Bihar results were declared on November 8. In Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha constituency, where campaign for a by-election was in full swing then, the Bihar outcome had an unusual impact – it made local BJP leaders so nervous that they removed several posters and hoardings featuring Modi they had put up before November 8. Though the tactic did not work, and the party lost the seat to Congress anyway, it did indicate nervousness in the ranks on the question of seeking vote in the name of Modi.

Party leaders say the new strategy may create a new challenge for Modi – if it works, it would be difficult for him to regain his erstwhile status of being his party’s most precious political asset.

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Five of the world’s most incredible magic tricks that went wrong

Even the best planned illusions are often unpredictable and can have unfortunate consequences.

Magic has a special hold on our imagination, especially when magicians and illusionists perform death-defying tricks. But magic, much like life itself, is unpredictable. These are some of the world’s most audacious magic tricks that show how even some of the best magicians often miscalculate the risk:

The bullet catch. In this trick, a bullet is fired at a magician on stage who appears to catch it in his mouth. The bullet, before being fired, is marked by a member of the audience to ensure that it is the same bullet that’s caught by the magician. The bullet catch has been described as the most dangerous magic trick in the world and around 15 magicians have reportedly died performing it.

The Chinese water torture cell. In this illusion, the magician, with feet locked in iron restraints, is lowered face first into a glass tank filled with water in full view of the audience. The magician then has only minutes to undo the restraints and escape before drowning. Many magicians have attempted variations of this trick, and as recently as 2015, an escape artist called Spencer Horsmann nearly drowned when he failed to escape.

Buried alive. Legend has it that this illusion has its origins in India. There are many variations of the trick with the essential feature being that the magician is trapped underground in a box. In a famous 1999 event, the American magician David Blaine was buried in a Plexiglas coffin for seven days. He survived the trick but many others have not. Joe Burrus, an American magician attempted the trick in 1990 and died when his coffin broke underground.

Sword swallowing. This ancient art involves the magician inserting a sword or other sharp metal objects down his or her throat and into the stomach. Many variations have been performed with magicians swallowing long swords, multiple swords, bayonets and even hot swords to make it more dramatic. It is estimated that over 25 magicians have died performing it since the 19th century.

Death-defying escape under the sea. This magic trick was first performed by the Indian magician PC Sorcar Jr in 1969. Sorcar was sealed in a mail bag and locked in a wooden crate that was strapped with steel, welded, chained and thrown into the ocean. Sorcar managed to escape from the crate within 90 seconds and became a legend. In 1983, an escape artist called Dean Gunnarson performed a similar stunt in which he was handcuffed, chained and nailed into a coffin that was immersed into a river. The stunt went wrong, and Gunnarson had to be rescued by his support crew and resuscitated back to life.

Despite the best preparations, magic tricks can go awry and leave families without financial security. The video below takes the lens of humor but drives the point home.

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