No one got Bihar elections right. My central forecast was as bad as everyone else’s but my low probability forecast with odds of 20 to 1 did come about with Nitish Kumar winning by a landslide. Of course the real winner is neither Nitish nor Lalu Prasad. It is the Congress. To get 27 out of 41 is a miracle. It is thanks to Sonia Gandhi who showed willingness to be a junior partner in the coalition. She knows the Congress has to change given its loss in 2014. The Congress may again become the alternative. It is too early to project Bihar onto the national level for 2019.
The BJP was the junior partner of the JD(U) in 2005 and 2010. It failed to take any credit for the development in Bihar, leaving all to Nitish. Sushil Modi, one of the sharpest minds in the BJP, did not get his due. The BJP was forced to argue that no development had taken place after the NDA broke up in 2013 and recalled Lalu’s jungle raj. Unfazed by this attack, Lalu used his unrivalled knowledge of Bihar’s caste structure. While previously the OBC/Muslim/Dalit vote split between the JD(U) and RJD, this time it combined. The BJP had the upper caste vote but not enough of Dalit vote or OBC. Still it got the highest vote share at 24.5 per cent under the first past the post system, but only 20 per cent seats. The RJD got 18 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.
All parties played the caste card and the local side won . It shows that in India, national parties are not able to command respect everywhere. In Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the ruling parties are local. The BJP has traditionally dominated in north-west India — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
These are states where previously princely kingdoms proliferated. The old feudals went over to the BJP from the Congress after being harassed during the Emergency. Thanks to the Modi wave, the BJP won in UP and Bihar in 2014. But it is now clear that national elections are different from local ones.
Much has been made of the BJP’s mistakes. There were many but it is not clear that the caste arithmetic would have been changed much. Still the BJP ought to have better discipline within its ranks. In the UK, police and other public officials have been sent on courses to cure their racism and gender bias. The entire BJP membership needs drastic training in removing its crude biases against Muslims and Dalits if they are serious about becoming a ruling party.
The RSS also has to enter the 21st century. It should get over its misogyny and have women pracharaks, even women leaders. It should not let any random musing by the Great Leader turn into a viral hit. There is no problem in the RSS advising the BJP from the outside. The Communist parties routinely obeyed Soviet and Chinese instructions. But the RSS ought to advise quietly and subtly, control its mouth as much as its mouthpieces. Power demands responsibility.
Narendra Modi came to the top of the BJP by promising to win votes. He did this in 2014. But state elections should be left to local leaders. For the remainder of his term, Modi should concentrate on delivering sabka saath sabka vikas. Not much time left.
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