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Bihar post poll survey: Dalits dump NDA, rural Bihar stays out of its reach

The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey examines what went wrong for the NDA in Bihar, especially after a pre-poll survey had found it ahead of the grand alliance.

Written by RAHUL VERMA , Nitin Mehta |
Updated: November 10, 2015 12:29:02 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 Nearly deserted BJP headquarters in New Delhi on counting day. ( Source: Express Archive)

Why did the NDA, which had a substantial lead in our pre-poll survey conducted in the last week of September, lose so badly? A comprehensive analysis of survey data and aggregate results point to three important factors: the unravelling of the social coalition of extremes that the BJP was trying to build, the poor performance of the BJP and an even poorer performance of its allies, and the NDA losing track of its campaign narrative on governance and economic issues.

To be fair, the NDA entered the election lagging behind the combined vote base of the JD(U), RJD and Congress. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA had secured 38.8% of the vote, whereas the combined total of the grand alliance was over 43%. The BJP leadership was perhaps aware that 2014 was a high point that the party might struggle to reach, as its vote share had declined by 6-8 percentage points in most assembly elections since then. Inducting Jitan Ram Manjhi into the alliance was an attempt to build a coalition of upper castes, lower OBCs and Dalits to counter the Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi consolidation behind the grand alliance.

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However, while there was indeed upper caste polarisation in the NDA’s favour, data indicate that its social arithmetic did not click on the ground, especially in the way that our pre-poll survey reflected.

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The pre-poll survey indicated that the NDA would win massive support among Dalits, and make serious inroads among OBCs. Analysis of post-poll data shows that while the NDA managed to largely retain its vote base among the lower OBCs and Kurmi-Koeris, its voteshare among Dalits and Yadavs declined significantly.

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This was unexpected, as the BJP had hoped to do well among Dalits with the help of Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi. While the BJP performed poorly in many of the 160 seats it contested, Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party, Manjhi’s Hindustan Awam Morcha, and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party fared even worse. There was a 10 percentage point gap in the NDA’s voteshare between BJP-contested and allies-contested seats.

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The NDA failed to penetrate rural Bihar. In urban pockets, it led the grand alliance by 3 percentage points, but in the villages, it trailed by more than 10 percentage points.

The differences in the pre-poll and post-poll data unambiguously suggest that BJP and its allies completely lost their campaign narrative by the first week of October. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on reservations gave new impetus to the maha gathbandhan’s campaign.

From there onward, the NDA made a series of mistakes. A campaign that should have talked about the economy, infrastructure development, job creation, the poor performance of Lalu Prasad as chief minister, etc., instead chose rhetoric on Pakistan over performance, and gai (cow) over governance. Modi and Amit Shah loomed so large in BJP hoardings that its state leadership was completely eclipsed, and provided fodder for the Bihari vs Bahari campaign.

In the battle between Modi-Shah and Nitish-Lalu, the former somehow became the incumbent and the latter the opposition. Nitish-Lalu left no stone unturned to underline the Modi government’s alleged failure to deliver on the promises made during the 2014 campaign. The survey data suggest that although levels of satisfaction with the central government was high (72%), these were higher for the Bihar government (80%).

Contained in the data is the message for the BJP: It needs to deliver on promises made during the Lok Sabha campaign, strengthen commitment to an inclusive model of economic development, and rein in the extremists in its ranks.

Rahul Verma and Nitin Mehta are with Lokniti-CSDS

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