What do the results mean for the BJP?
Politically and electorally, Bihar is crucial, and a kind of a bellwether state for the politics of the Hindi heartland. The BJP has gained massively in this election. In 2015, its tally was 53 out of the 157 seats it contested; in 2020, out of the 121 seats it contested, the BJP has won 74. The BJP can claim that it has catapulted the NDA to victory because its allies, especially Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), have not done well.
The poor performance of the JD(U) — of the 115 seats that it contested, it could win only 43 — will make the BJP the leading partner of the alliance in Bihar, a position the party has long aspired for. The party cadre will demand that the Chief Minister must be from the BJP. However, several BJP leaders indicated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and even party president J P Nadda are unlikely to back that demand immediately. The party could perhaps consider the demand after a year or so, these leaders indicated.
But the commanding performance in the election will certainly embolden the BJP to pursue its agenda in terms of policies, appointments, and government formation. It will open up space for the party to put its own leaders in top positions, and utilize the situation to expand its ground beyond boundaries of castes and classes.
Will the Bihar election results have any impact on the other state elections coming up next year?
Certainly. “Mahaul kaafi important hai (the atmosphere is quite important),” a senior party leader said. The BJP’s ability to score wins despite the presence of strong regional parties in the field will make it bolder in West Bengal, where it is in a fierce contest with the ruling Trinamool Congress. However, in West Bengal, the anti-incumbency votes could be split between the BJP and the Left-Congress combine.
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) November 11, 2020
Up until Bihar, the BJP’s track record in state polls after its impressive Lok Sabha performance in 2019 had not been spectacular. It lost power in Maharashtra, scraped through in Haryana, and lost power in Jharkhand and Delhi. The BJP will be hoping that the showing in Bihar has arrested the trend, and will give it momentum in the elections ahead in West Bengal and Assam.
In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the other two states where Assembly elections are due, the BJP does not have much influence, and its main goal would be to improve its vote share and win a few seats. However, the Bihar performance would definitely act as a boost, and help it seek out new alliance partners or cement ties with existing partners in these states.
What impact does the Bihar result have on the popularity of the Prime Minister personally?
The campaign and the results have indicated that Narendra Modi’s popularity is intact, the coronavirus pandemic and the collapse of the economy notwithstanding. The BJP can now claim that the election was a referendum on Modi’s governance, rather than a vote on Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister.
This victory, coming at a time when the Prime Minister has been criticised for his handling of the Covid-19 situation, the tensions on the border with China in Ladakh, and the economic slowdown, would place him on a stronger pedestal, and encourage him to press ahead with his government’s reform agenda and other initiatives.
बिहार में जनता-जनार्दन के आशीर्वाद से लोकतंत्र ने एक बार फिर विजय प्राप्त की है।@BJP4Bihar के साथ एनडीए के सभी कार्यकर्ताओं ने जिस संकल्प-समर्पण भाव के साथ कार्य किया, वह अभिभूत करने वाला है। मैं कार्यकर्ताओं को बधाई देता हूं और बिहार की जनता के प्रति हृदय से आभार प्रकट करता हूं।
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 10, 2020
Over time, the influence of Modi on Assembly elections had begun to appear diminished, as several states voted on local issues. The BJP rode the 2014 Modi wave to impressive victories in Maharashtra, Haryana, and Jharkhand; this could not, however, be repeated post 2019, even though the BJP’s tally did go up to a record 303 in Lok Sabha. Until now — and Bihar 2020.
So is there anything that the BJP would continue to see as an area of concern?
This election has exposed the absence of strong regional leaders in the party. The BJP, when it first came to power under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had brought up a number of regional leaders — B S Yediyurappa in Karnataka, Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh — who had enough charisma and popular support to deliver their states repeatedly to the party.
Currently active BJP chief ministers, including Raghubar Das in Jharkhand and Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, have been unable to deliver in the same way — even Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana has been unconvincing in many ways. Under the current leadership of the BJP, only Yediyurappa from the older generation has managed to keep his popularity intact, as most others have diminished.
At least two BJP leaders pointed out that “over centralisation” in the party may not be helping this situation. The centralisation of power and the near complete dependence on one or two personalities for decisions have weakened the regional satraps, who have not in many cases got the full support of the central leadership in retaining their bases in their states.
And what about the NDA as an alliance?
The Bihar results have pulled the NDA back after a series of recent setbacks.
Over the last two years, the BJP has lost two of its traditional allies, the Shiv Sena and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Now that the JD(U) has been weakened further, the NDA no longer has any significant parties other than the BJP. However, the BJP could make use of the opportunity to show “largeheartedness” by allowing Nitish Kumar to become Chief Minister again, a situation that would help it earn some goodwill as a good alliance partner.
The BJP’s stellar performance and the setback to the JD(U) could make Chirag Paswan and the LJP more comfortable in the NDA. The results indicate that LJP candidates received the tacit support of the BJP in some constituencies. With its reduced strength, the JD(U) will no longer be in a position to insist on expelling the LJP from the NDA or keep it out of the Union government.
The weakening of the NDA isn’t good news for the BJP — despite being the largest party, it still has not acquired the national character of the Congress of the 1950s or 1960s. The plural character of the Congress and its presence in every corner of the country had allowed it to stay in power for decades. But the BJP, which still has the image of a Hindi belt party, has not yet made deep inroads into the southern states — and this is where the right alliance partners could play a crucial role. A senior leader said: “The BJP does not have diversity within itself. It could acquire diversity with its alliance partners. But the absence of significant partners is going to be a disadvantage for the party’s future.”
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The image of the BJP as being unable to lead coalitions might come in the way of winning alliance partners in the South. In Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK, with which the BJP has been friendly, has started to put a high price on its continued friendship as the Assembly elections approach.
The BJP-led NDA in its first term under Vajpayee had more than 20 alliance partners, and the current NDA, in its initial days in 2014, had more than a dozen. However, with the BJP’s growth and expansion, the party has shed one partner after another, and is increasingly becoming a loner. This may end up hurting the BJP after a point, and in the long run. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
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