How the BJP lost Bihar

Over-projection of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and lack of a CM candidate, may have scuppered its chances.

Written by Shaibal Gupta | Published:November 9, 2015 12:00 am
bihar election results, bihar 2015 election results, 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 Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Muzaffarpur on Friday. (PTI Photo)

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.

WATCH VIDEO: Parties React To Bihar Results: Rahul Gandhi, Kailash Vijayvargiya & Javed Raza Speak

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.

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  1. V
    V. D.
    Nov 9, 2015 at 3:22 pm
    Lalu, the man barred from holding a post due to huge siphoning and worst kind os family rule, now tops the seats in this mess! Bihar, as usual, does not fail to scupper any of its own or Indian aspirations towards a capable government. They really are pretty dim...and now have again validated their Jungle raj .Sigh
    Reply
    1. A
      Amir Rasheed
      Nov 9, 2015 at 9:11 pm
      Great article, thoughtful analysis but the most important point missing was consolidation of muslim votes for G Alliance which led to this mandate. Atleast for next 50 years no political party will dare to challenge India Muslim's loyalty. During parion muslims who choose not to migrate to a newly created muslim nation because of their love and affection to the mother land, we should have been loved more instead hatred became part of our daily routine. I can go on and on... I know Mr. Gupta personally he is a gentleman but we should expect people like him to use their pen power or when asked on NDTV panel to tell this also.
      Reply
      1. B
        Bihar
        Nov 9, 2015 at 3:18 pm
        Do they offer any Ministry to you to renovate your Office, NGO (ADRI, Patna), run by you from long time in dilapidated buildings conditions.
        Reply
        1. B
          babablacksheep
          Nov 9, 2015 at 11:26 pm
          No one wants to emphsize this point because it will bring muslims in the line of fire of communal forces. However all communities voted for nitish lalu
          Reply
        2. A
          Azhar Ali
          Nov 11, 2015 at 8:06 am
          Senior party leaders like former Dy Prime Minister Mr LK Advani, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi and sitting MP Mr Shatrghan Sinha who himself hails from Bihar were turned a blind eye to by the party leadership during the election campaigning even as rampant incidents of 'intolerance' for dissent were reported from across the country which attributed to the BJP's debacle in the Bihar embly election.
          Reply
          1. B
            bitterhoney
            Nov 9, 2015 at 4:42 pm
            Modi only listens Modi Modi Modi
            Reply
            1. D
              Dr. Sonali
              Nov 12, 2015 at 4:37 am
              "Facts " will continue to be created and baked. News is a manufactured item. But what has happened in Bihar is a lesson for all national political parties. Even national business units - localise.
              Reply
              1. D
                Dr. Sonali
                Nov 12, 2015 at 4:33 am
                Many students will do PhD on this subject. My feeling is that ALL business and politics has to be local - customers and voters are local. Be local. Understand local. Act local. National parties need to de-centralise their operations. Make strong state-units. Develop local-face. Local action units.
                Reply
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