The outcome of the 2015 Bihar assembly election has scripted a new grammar of politics in India. It is a staggering victory for the Mahagathbandan. All the exit polls were wrong. No state election had seen such a sustained effort by the ruling formation at the Centre to usurp the provincial electoral space. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led this blitzkrieg from the front, assisted by BJP president Amit Shah and a host of senior party leaders. The duo of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad countered this with gusto, rekindling the “social justice” strategy of the 1990s. Unlike the parliamentary elections of 2014, they fought like Siamese twins this election. The PM’s authority will diminish with this result.
When the election in Bihar was announced, the Mahagathbandhan was in disarray. Initially, Nitish’s spin doctors wanted him to go solo, based on his enviable track record. It was believed any association with Lalu would sully his brand. But the results show more seats for the RJD than JD(U). Even when the alliance was finally fructified, there was mutual suspicion. The important question was whether the rapport between Nitish and Lalu would translate to grassroots chemistry between their social bases. Further, when the Mahagathbandhan was getting its final touches, the missile of discord fired by Mulayam Singh Yadav threatened to disrupt it. Mulayam, Pappu Yadav and Tariq Anwar were not part of the alliance. Given an absence of political tolerance, the Left parties could also not be roped into the Mahagathbandhan. Finally, there was Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, throwing his hat in the race.
WATCH VIDEO: Bihar Election Results: Editors’ Take
Both new political configurations were electorally untested. Incidentally, this year is the silver jubilee year of the triumph of “social justice” in Bihar. One wondered whether, after 25 years, social justice was still in the cognitive world of the Bihar electorate, given that there have been several political changes since. Two associates of the social justice group, Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi, had even gone over to the NDA. It was essentially a bipolar election between the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan. The parties outside these two formations had only a thin presence.
So, why did the Mahagathbandhan win? First, both coalitions tried to appeal to the young aspirational voters, irrespective of caste and class. As many as 56 per cent voters in Bihar are in the 18-40 age group. Among them, 1.8 crore are below 30. There are 24.13 lakh first-time voters, who constitute 3.5 per cent of the electorate. Across India, this class is influenced by national and global markets. Its exposure to the international market comes largely from films like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, which are shot extensively in foreign locales. Modi’s frequent visits abroad and his interactions with the wealthy Indian diaspora are in the same continuum as these glossy films. In the specific context of peripheral Bihar, however, the young voters’ cognitive world also contained a component of social justice and struggle against oppression, as elaborated on by Nitish and Lalu, and Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua’s Bhojpuri film, Nirahua Rikshawala, or Khesari Lal Yadav’s songs. In these films, Danapur and Patna figure more than Paris or London. The NDA was oblivious to this part of the young voter’s psyche.
Second, though Bihar never had a subnational identity, this election saw a clamour for a subterranean identity. Thus, though the movement around “Bihari DNA” failed, the slogan of “Bihar-Bahari” succeeded because of the over-projection of the Modi-Shah duo. Third, that the Mahagathbandhan announced a chief ministerial candidate but the NDA didn’t, made a clear difference. If Sushil Modi had been nominated, he might have been a formidable candidate. He already had a reputation as a successful finance minister and deputy CM.
Fourth, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and subsequent assembly elections in Maharashtra, Haryana or Jharkhand, the BJP made the most of anti-incumbency. The governments in Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand were steeped in corruption. That was not the case with Nitish in Bihar. Even his ardent opponents agreed on his contribution to the development of Bihar. In particular, voters remembered the exceptional improvement in power supply — even rural areas started getting electricity for 15-20 hours. Nitish had an unmatched record of governance and probity.
Fifth, the package for the development of Bihar announced by Modi could not steal Nitish’s development thunder. A package for a historically disadvantaged state like Bihar needs to be calibrated carefully for its “enabling” implications. Such an enabling of Bihar could be done authentically if the bulk of resources was directed towards developing physical and social infrastructure.
Sixth, another enabling strategy could have been the granting of special category status to Bihar, which the PM had promised to do. Bihar could record sustained growth of 10 per cent in the last decade mainly due to public investment. Special status could have provided the enabling construct for the private sector in Bihar. But the BJP distanced itself from this.
Finally, the Mahagathbandhan received massive support from women, lower backward castes and Dalits. Nitish has cultivated these constituencies since 2005, through a number of dedicated programmes and positive discrimination for them in panchayati raj institutions, which brought them into the direct sphere of governance. These measures resonated in the assembly election.
The writer is member-secretary, ADRI, Patna.