Before the results, BJP president Amit Shah had promised two-third majority in Bihar and to have answers to all questions “by 2 pm on November 8”. On Sunday, as the NDA won 58 seats in a House of 243, Shah was nowhere to be found. The BJP leaders left to field questions had little to offer on what went wrong. Many admitted that the worst they expected was 120 seats for the NDA.
As per the party’s initial assessment, “the turning point” could prove to be RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on September 21 seeking a review of caste reservations. “Although the entire leadership, including adhyakshji (Shah) and Narendra Modiji, repeated that the party’s stand on reservation remains unchanged, Lalu Prasad succeeded in using it against us,” said a party leader. “It was an election on development vs casteism. The backward castes rallied behind them.”
Another leader added that its impact was compounded by the “general atmosphere” in which BJP leaders were seen as justifying the Dadri lynching of a Muslim man over allegations of cow slaughter on September 28.
One more crucial factor was the inability of partners to win own seats or to rally their supporters behind BJP candidates.
Privately, BJP leaders also felt that the party machinery had failed to translate the charisma of the Prime Minister and his government’s “good record” into votes. “I feel the BJP failed to take its message to voters,” general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya said.
Some of the anger was directed at Shah, with many leaders saying the state set-up was “neither happy nor confident” about the BJP chief bringing his team from the Centre.
“The chemistry did not work, but the arithmetic worked. Our opponents relied on arithmetic,” quipped a party leader from UP, taking a swipe at BJP leaders’ claim that rather than the Mahagathbandhan’s caste equations, Modi’s charisma would swing votes.
In reality, while the Mahagathbandhan worked, the BJP alliances largely failed. “Our decision — in fact it was an afterthought — to give so many seats to allies has proved utterly foolish. While Nitish’s allies, whether the RJD or even the Congress, have an impressive strike rate, our allies not only lost but also did not transfer their votes to our candidates,” a party leader said. The Lok Jan Shakti Party and Hindustani Awam Morcha managed to win just about 7 per cent and 4 per cent of the seats they contested.
While speculation was rife that RSS would consider changes in BJP leadership after the defeat, senior BJP leaders ruled this out. “Nothing will happen to Amit Shah. The organisational elections will happen and he will get another term,” Vijayvargiya said.
Road ahead for the BJP
The defeat in Bihar is likely to make the BJP leadership review its strategy for West Bengal and Assam, two key states heading for polls in 2016. The BJP leadership Sunday held a meeting on West Bengal at Amit Shah’s residence. Sources said the party has already divided constituencies into different categories. “There will be a detailed meeting on strategy and inputs will be taken from the Bihar experience,” said a leader.
The immediate consequence will be reflected in the Parliament. Poor performance in Bihar has dashed the party’s hopes to overcome the “Rajya Sabha handicap”, needed to expedite reforms and legislative agenda. “Unless we win UP polls by a grand margin, there may not be any scope of us getting a majority in Rajya Sabha now,” a party source said.
Party sources said there could be a cabinet reshuffle and the performance of the party in regions under Union Ministers’ constituencies could be reviewed. “Most Union Ministers failed to deliver on their respective areas and consolidate votes from their own community,” said a source.