A vote for development — Nitish style

Of the 101 seats contested by both the RJD and JD(U), the former won 80 while the latter managed to win 71.   | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar;Ranjeet Kumar -

Let’s be clear about how we read the verdict for the >2015 Bihar Assembly elections. This is not a victory merely of electoral arithmetic crafted by the Janata Dal(United)[JD(U)]-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress alliance, nor is it a vote on caste identity. The results are clearly a vote for the development work, but not for what Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised in his various public rallies, but for the development work done by Nitish Kumar’s government during his last two terms in government.

Sanjay Kumar

This verdict is also a complete rejection of the divisive style of politics tried by the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) throughout the campaign. In the personality contest between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, people may not have completely rejected Mr. Modi, but have overwhelmingly accepted Mr. Kumar as their next Chief Minister. It is more a positive vote for Nitish Kumar than a negative vote against Narendra Modi.

>The Grand Alliance’s spectacular victory is due to impressive performances by all the three partners. Of the 101 seats contested by both the RJD and JD(U), the former won 80 while the latter managed to win 71. The Congress, which contested 41 seats, managed to win 27 — a huge improvement on its tally of four seats in the previous Assembly.

The victory has put to rest speculation that the alliance may not work at the ground as the core supporters of the JD(U) and RJD would not vote for the alliance partners. The successful transfer of votes gave the Grand Alliance a massive victory.

BJP, allies slump

The NDA was badly defeated because of not only the allies, but the BJP’s own poor performance. Of the 160 seats which it contested, the party managed to win only 53 with 24.4 per cent of the vote. Its vote share declined by 5.46 per cent compared to 29.86 per cent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The BJP’s vote share has declined in all five Assembly elections held since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. It is important to note that in terms of seats, the BJP was reduced to the third position, with the RJD at number one and the JD(U) coming second. The BJP’s allies also fared badly. The Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) managed to win just two of the 40 seats contested while the Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustan Avam Party (HAM) was successful in only one of the 20 seats contested.

Amongst the NDA alliance partners, the worst performance was by the Upendra Kushwaha-led Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), which managed to pull off a victory only in two of the 23 seats contested. The alliance partners within the NDA were unable to transfer votes to their allies.

The NDA also failed to consolidate the Dalit vote despite an alliance with two Dalits leaders — Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi. The lack of coordination and mutual criticism seems to have sent a wrong message to the >Dalit voters.

The five-week long campaign also seems to have had an impact on the verdict. The NDA was certainly ahead when the elections were announced, but it lost the momentum during the campaign. As in a one-day cricket match, where sometimes a team makes a good beginning, fumbles at some point, keeps making mistakes and then ends up losing the match, with every passing week of the campaign, the NDA kept losing its popular support while the Grand Alliance gained.

Tone of the campaign

As the campaign progressed, the tone of the BJP changed from promising development to personal attacks. This did not go down well with Bihar’s voters. The overexposure of Prime Minister Narendra Modi also went against the party. Unlike many other elections in the recent past where a large number of voters took their voting decision well in advance, in Bihar, several voters decided at the very last minute, a clear indication of a careful choice after looking at the candidates and the issues raised. Clearly the BJP seemed to be a loser in this process.

The one issue which turned out to be the game changer both for BJP and the Grand Alliance was the statement by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief > Mohan Bhagwat on the need for a review of the policy of reservations. This created an uncertainty among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and the Dalits. The lower OBCs, who seemed somewhat divided at the beginning of the campaign, went on to vote en masse in favour of the Grand Alliance, which championed the cause of reservations.

The long campaign thus resulted in a shift amongst the lower OBCs and Dalits, away from the BJP, and a further consolidation of the Yadavs and the Kurmis in favour of the Grand Alliance. The centralised nature of the BJP’s campaign also hurt the NDA. The BJP went into the campaign with only its two popular faces, Prime Minister Modi and the party president Amit Shah. The local leadership was completely sidelined, missing even from the posters and the hoardings. This, on the one hand, made the local party leadership unhappy even as the Nitish-Lalu duo used this to their advantage and led the campaign of >“Bihari” versus the “bahari”.

The BJP also suffered due to its strategy of not declaring a chief ministerial candidate. Finally, the soaring prices of pulses angered some sections of voters who decided to vote against the NDA. The beef controversy further consolidated the Muslim vote in favour of the Grand Alliance.

The victory of the Grand Alliance is sure to open possibilities of a coming together of non-BJP parties, specifically in the four States that go to the polls next year. At the same time this defeat will open the gates for discussion within the BJP about what went wrong with the party campaign. It also raises a bigger question about the BJP's inability to win election when faced with a united opposition.

(Sanjay Kumar is a Professor and currently the director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Views expressed are personal)

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 9:23:08 AM |

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