Factoring in the verdict

The Bihar Assembly elections verdict marks the emergence of new contours in the ‘cow belt’ polity. The result may have a base in caste, but the edge for the Mahagathbandhan came from a class perspective.

Yashwant Deshmukh
Manu Sharma

In order to determine what made all the difference, we mined our post- >poll data . There is a slight difference between the actual election results and the estimates: we overestimated the National Democratic Alliance by about 5 per cent and underestimated Others by the same number. However, the data is useful for analysis.

This analysis goes beyond the traditional caste-based arithmetic of traditional psephology practiced in India to the realm of class-based analytics, to reveal the tremendous social churning that is taking place in the great political laboratory of India, Bihar. The following are the five takeaways from the verdict.

One, when “ Har Har Modi” was changed to “ Arhar Modi”, it was taken in a lighter vein, as nobody expected inflation to become the deciding issue in the Bihar elections. But it did, especially in the final moments, eclipsing all the other issues. In the run-up to polling, our opinion polls suggested that 13 per cent of Biharis considered inflation to be the most important polling issue. However, the post-poll data indicates that ultimately 32 per cent of Biharis named inflation as the most important issue at the time of voting.

A costly decision

For the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), it was a strategic failure to have deviated from the development narrative that used to be rated by over 40 per cent of Biharis as the Number One polling issue. In a narrative vacuum created by negative campaigning, inflation came to dominate the scene in the final moments of the poll.

Two, women have arrived as a decisive vote bank — and how! Nitish Kumar heralded change vis-à-vis the poor governance records of previous governments. His service delivery in terms of female education, empowerment, the law and order situation, and progressiveness is widely held in regard. Women voters voted for him in 2010 owing to his government’s good track record, but this time they were even more prominent as an interest group, giving a huge double digit advantage to the Mahagthbandhan.

The >story of Bihar 2015 is self-evident when one looks at the post-poll data of housewives and their voting choices. This is probably the second such instance after the “onion” defeat in the 1998 Delhi Assembly elections, where the BJP’s defeat was primarily due to inflation and the anger of women voters as a consequence.

Three, the Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi (MYK) vote bank remained intact for the Mahagathbandhan — regardless of the ticket distribution and regardless of the same-caste candidates fielded by the NDA. Not only did members of this vote bank vote for their leaders; they also ensured support for the members of the alliance — something that could not be asserted for the NDA.

In order to gauge the steadfastness of a social coalition, we have compared the community/caste wise vote shares for each candidate, analysing the support of respective communities. We found that the voting behaviour of MYK voters remained the same regardless of the caste of the candidates. So, the core voter of the Mahagathbandhan remained intact in every possible scenario. However, the same does not hold true in the case of the core votes of the BJP/NDA, especially in the case of Brahmin and Bania voters. Amongst the Brahmins, a same-caste candidate, when fielded by the Mahagathbandhan, led to a nearly 10 per cent rise in alliance vote share; among Bania voters, a 20 per cent rise.

Fourth, there is ghettoisation of MYK versus an emerging rainbow coalition of the youth, Dalits, EBCs and Mahadalits.

First-time voters

Amongst first-time voters, the NDA bettered the Mahagathbandhan across all demographics barring Muslims and Yadavs. The data reveals that the BJP has emerged as the party of aspiration for Dalits, Mahadalits, and EBCs apart from its traditional upper caste base.

Almost two-thirds of all Mahagathbandhan voters come from their core MYK combination. On the other hand, only about one-fourth of every 100 NDA voters comes from their core upper caste combination. This also means that almost three-fourths of the NDA's composition is coming from Dalits, Mahadalits and EBC voters, who were previously never the core constituency of the BJP’s support.

Besides all these factors, the rebels and the “strategic” independents damaged the NDA enormously. The BJP’s attempts to polarise the elections on religious lines failed, as the united spectrum of the Hindu vote was weaker than the minority vote. Last, but not the least, Lalu Prasad carried his core votes decisively.

One important takeaway is that the youth are emerging as an exception to their past voting behaviour. Barring the Muslim and Yadav youth, Mr. Prasad is not a decisive vote swinger amongst first-time voters. Therefore, the question that remains is, even if Mr. Prasad carried the core for this round, will it be sustainable?

(Yashwant Deshmukh is senior TV journalist and founder of CVoter. Manu Sharma is an economist and editor of CVoter India.)

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 2:43:05 PM |

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