A Nitish-Lalu Wave

The challenge will now be to sustain the bonhomie.

Written by Chinmaya Kumar , Abhishek Choudhary | Published:November 11, 2015 12:28 am
bihar election results, bihar 2015 election results, Nitish Kumar, Lalu Yadav, bihar polls results, bihar election, bihar polls, bihar polls results, nitish kumar, lalu prasad yadav, grand alliance, mahagathbandan, bihar, bihar news, india news, latest news Bihar CM Nitish Kumar presents a bouquet to RJD chief Lalu Prasad on his birthday in Patna on Thursday. (Express Photo by: Prashant Ravi)

After months of shrill rallies, ad wars and incessant media coverage, the Bihar assembly election has finally come to an end. The Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) of the JD(U), RJD and Congress won a comfortable majority. To understand the success of the Lalu-Nitish duo, let’s first summarise the failure of the BJP’s three-pronged strategy. The BJP’s core assumption was that the “unholy” alliance of Nitish and Lalu would not work, and therefore the NDA should exploit their two-decade rivalry before they came together for survival after the 2014 general elections.

To begin with, the BJP made it a point to harp on the possible return of Lalu’s “jungle raj” in Bihar. By doing so, it hoped to scare away Dalits and EBCs — communities that hadn’t benefited economically during Lalu’s tenure — from voting for the MGB. At the same time, the BJP also wooed Yadavs, who, at 14 per cent, are the most populous caste in Bihar. At his rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invoked “yaduvanshi” pride, saying the benevolent man from “Dwarka”— where Yadav king Krishna once ruled — had come to improve their lives. The BJP also announced special economic packages and a vision document to attract floating voters across castes.

Nitish and Lalu, on the other hand, worked assiduously to consolidate their respective core supporters to ensure that the vote transfer — between, say, Yadavs and Kurmis (the caste Nitish belongs to) — took place smoothly. Unlike the NDA, the MGB also declared its list of candidates together, displaying surprising harmony. Both Lalu and Nitish appeared willing to sacrifice some important seats so that the coalition would be stronger overall. The MGB also tried to unite OBCs and Dalits by attacking the BJP on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on reviewing reservations; Lalu, especially, tried to create a fear that the BJP, under pressure from the RSS, might tamper with existing quotas.

Nitish and Lalu also attacked Modi on his inability to deliver on the promises he made in 2014. The duo spoke of the rising prices of pulses and onions, empty Jan Dhan accounts, failure to bring back black money, lack of job creation, etc. Nitish also reminded voters of the development work done by him in the last 10 years: Improvements in roads and electricity, a host of successful schemes, reservations for women in panchayats. The choice, Nitish made it seem, was between a “Bihari” who has delivered on his promises and an untrustworthy “bahari” PM. Modi’s inability to deliver anything tangible to the poor is perhaps why he was unable to sustain the leher that swept Bihar in 2014.

Something must also be said about the BJP’s campaign design, especially its refusal to promote local leaders. The BJP dismissing 25 years of rule by Nitish and Lalu — “pachees saalon ka hisaab do” — must have been confusing for voters, given that the BJP was Nitish’s coalition partner from 2005-13.

After the first two phases, ground reports suggested that despite multiple rallies by Modi, the MGB was doing much better than the NDA. Two things were becoming clear: Yadavs had chosen to go with the MGB; and the BJP and its allies were not being able to transfer votes to each other. This forced the BJP to tweak its strategy. Suddenly the NDA’s ads started featuring state-level leaders, especially prominent low-caste leaders from among its allies, like Jitan Ram Manjhi. This poor performance seemed a shock to Amit Shah. A desperate BJP then decided to employ a lethal combination of caste and communal polarisation. Ahead of the third phase, Modi alleged at a rally in Buxar that Janata leaders were going to snatch away reservations from lower castes and transfer them to people from “other” communities. The day before the fifth phase, a newspaper ad featuring a cow questioned Nitish’s silence on cow slaughter. The BJP had hoped to reap the gains of polarisation, but it was too late and too little to have the needed impact.

In the end, the MGB fared better than the NDA across all phases. It would be safe to say, then, that there was a silent wave in support of Nitish and Lalu. The challenge for the friends-turned-foes-turned-friends is now to sustain the harmony they so recently displayed.

Kumar is an economist with the International Growth Centre, Patna. Choudhary is a Delhi-based journalist.

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  1. r
    raj5151235
    Nov 11, 2015 at 10:08 am
    Without Muslim Vote factor, Modi / NDA combine polled = 35% and Lalo/Nitish/Sonia combine polled = 25% . More Biharis (Non Muslim ) voted for Modi and he can be proud of that.
    Reply
    1. A
      Amit
      Nov 12, 2015 at 4:51 am
      Result says that the people of Bihar is wise enough to understand who is lying and who don't. And the other thing that very cheap language used by bjp especially by PM .
      Reply
    2. H
      Haradhan Mandal
      Nov 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm
      There are challenges - but there are opportunities if they have learnt from their past mistakes/ behaviour/greed/self-centered meanness and one-upmanship. This applies more to leaders like Lalu Prasad and Mulayam Singh. But Let's hope that leaders like Nitish and Sharad Yadav prevail (over Lalu Prasad etc) and do something for Bihar, for India and all sections of oppressed cl and communities. They will not fail (so long they remain sincere and honest with people) - as people's support will be with them.
      Reply
      1. M
        Mohan
        Nov 11, 2015 at 9:02 am
        This shows that people are not able to think beyond caste
        Reply
      2. R
        Riyaz
        Nov 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm
        Fools are people who think cow is more important than human being so called literally illiterate people its better to be a fool than to have a stupid ideology like you have
        Reply
        1. K
          K SHESHU
          Nov 11, 2015 at 12:11 pm
          The over optimism of the BJP and the adament postures of Modi contributed to the shameful defeat. This was made more easy by the fringe elements harping caste and religious statements hoping for divisive politics and hindu consolidation. They should realise that there are many hindus who do not want to be hindus: many brahmins who do not want to be part of brahmins and many who want to be irreligious. People of India can never be mobilised on the pretext of religion or food habits.
          Reply
          1. A
            anil
            Nov 11, 2015 at 7:57 pm
            They have done good work. They got votes for that , not for big talk.
            Reply
            1. A
              AshB
              Nov 11, 2015 at 8:49 am
              India has a "Jo jeeta woh Sikandar" mentality where post event everything that a winner did seems righta nd everything a loser did seems wrong. The point is that if this was a vote for Lalu's m social appeal, then why couldnt he win on his own. Similarly, if it was a mive support for Nitish's development work (as it is made out to be now that he has won) then why could he not win on his own. The simple fact is that 3 parties, each of which has a smaller por vote base than the BJP individually, came together and managed to transfer votes to each other. It's as simple as that.
              Reply
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