Winning 39 out of 40 seats, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) registered an unprecedented victory in in Bihar. In a bipolar contest between two major alliances — the United Democratic Alliance comprising the Congress, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), and the National Democratic Alliance comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Janata Dal (United), and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) — the NDA decimated the UPA by winning 53% of the votes polled. The only seat that the NDA lost was minority-dominated Kishanganj where the Congress candidate defeated the JD(U) candidate. The RJD could not even open its account and secured merely 15% of the votes. Such was the magnitude of the NDA’s victory that 34 of the 39 seats that it won were won by a margin of over 1 lakh votes, of which there were three seats where the margin was higher than 4 lakh votes, four seats where it was between 3 and 4 lakh votes, and 18 seats where it was between 2 and 3 lakh votes.
Loose alliance with no stars
Many factors seem to account, in varying degrees, for the abysmal performance of the UPA and highly skewed electoral outcome in favour of the NDA. To begin with, while both the alliances appeared formidable in terms of social engineering, they differed in many respects. First, compared to the NDA, the UPA appeared to be a loose alliance. Not only was it way behind the NDA in the seat sharing negotiation, it failed to put up a united campaign. Second, in sharp contrast to the NDA, armed with star campaigners and master strategists including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, the UPA fought this election in the absence of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, known for his ability to connect with the ordinary people and turn the tide in his party’s favour. Thus, the UPA’s campaign lacked energy, synergy, strategy and the much-needed idiom to influence the voters.
Second, as the post-poll survey indicates, while the UPA by and large managed to hold on to its core social constituency of support — Yadavs and Muslims (although there was some erosion of support among Yadavs) — it suffered a major setback among Dalit and non-Yadav OBC voters despite having leaders like Upendra Kushwaha, Mukesh Sahni and Jitan Ram Manjhi on its side. Given the combined demographic weight of these two social groups and their tendency to vote en bloc, no party or alliance in the State can afford to miss them in its fold.
Votes by castes and communities
|UPA (%)||NDA (%)||Others (%)|
(Source: NES 2019 Post Poll Survey by Lokniti-CSDS)
Issues that didn’t work
Again, pinning hopes on rural distress and the concerted effort to mobilise voters around this issue did not work for the UPA as not only did the NDA sweep the urban constituencies (the traditional bastion of BJP in particular), but it also performed much better than its rival across rural areas. Despite consistently projecting the NDA government as pro-capitalist and anti-poor, the UPA could not take advantage of it. As the findings of the survey indicate, the NDA was able to win as much support among the poor as it did among the middle and the upper classes.
What accounts for the massive support for the NDA? Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal among voters was one major factor. Six out of 10 voters wanted to see him as the next Prime Minister. Moreover, over half of those (51%) who voted for the BJP and over one-fourth (28%) of those who voted for the JD(U) and LJP were of the opinion that they wouldn’t have voted for the NDA had Mr. Modi not been the prime ministerial candidate of the alliance.
Another major reason for the NDA’s victory appears to be a higher level of satisfaction with the performance of the NDA governments at the Centre and in the State. Three-fourth of voters seemed to be satisfied with the NDA government at the Centre and in the State, regardless of their financial condition. About half the voters felt that their economic condition did improve over the past five years.
Satisfaction with the performance of Government (%)
|Central government’s performance||75||20||5|
|State government’s performance||76||22||2|
(Source: NES 2019 Post Poll Survey by Lokniti-CSDS)
However, it is also true that not many benefited from most of the schemes launched in the last five years. Four out of 10 voters did not approve of demonetisation, and six out of 10 held that neither they nor their family members had benefited from PDS. Over three-fourth of voters held that none of their family members had benefited from schemes like medical insurance, the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, and the Atal Pension Yojna. Despite this, six out of 10 were willing to give the BJP-led NDA government a second chance.
To conclude, trust in the NDA and preference for it, irrespective of what it did or did not do and regardless of whether or not the voters’ choice was rational, appears to be an important factor for its huge success.
( Rakesh Ranjan is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Patna University; Vijay Kumar Singh is professor at V.M. College, Pawapuri; and Sanjeer Alam is faculty at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies )