Updated: November 10, 2015 9:41:22 am
The victory of the grand alliance was categorically an endorsement of the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar — his track record over the last decade, his clean image and focus on development. Data from the Lokniti-CSDS poll indicates that in the leadership sweepstakes, Nitish was way ahead of his rivals. If four of every ten respondents favoured Nitish Kumar as their next chief minister, his nearest rival was Sushil Modi who was mentioned by around 14 per cent of the respondents. Other prominent state leaders (Lalu Prasad, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Ram Vilas Paswan) secured single-digit support. These figures need to be seen in the backdrop of the fact that no name was offered to the respondents and they were asked to indicate their choice of who was their preferred chief minister. It is useful to record that among those who voted for the grand alliance, over three-fourths named Nitish as their preferred CM. Among those who voted for the NDA, a little over one-third expressed their preference for Sushil Modi and another one-fourth for Manjhi and Paswan. The fact that the grand alliance projected a chief ministerial face made a visible difference.
Nitish was not merely the clear choice for the chief ministership, but more than half the respondents considered him the best chief minister the state has had. While the incumbent does gain the advantage of visibility, the gulf between Nitish and the next most popular chief minister was huge — over 40 percentage points.
Many saw the Bihar election as a popularity race between the prime minister and Bihar chief minister. How did the voters in Bihar rate the two leaders on different indicators? The post-poll survey asked respondents to rate them on their effectiveness from five different perspectives. Nitish scored over Narendra Modi on all five dimensions with the difference ranging from nine percentage points to 22 points.
On who would be more effective for Bihar’s development, in maintaining Hindu-Muslim unity and stopping kidnapping and hooliganism, more than half the respondents favoured Nitish and he was ahead by more than 20 percentage points over Modi. It is important to note that all three issues were directly relevant to the daily lives of the people of the state. On the two leaders’ perceived effectiveness to removing unemployment and maintaining harmony across caste groups, Nitish once again was seen as more effective than Modi but the gap between the two leaders was narrow.
The battle for Bihar was a contest over whom the voters had greater confidence in to lead their state government. With Nitish projected as the united face of the grand alliance, it was a huge advantage that worked in their favour, both in terms of a leader at the state level to lead the alliance and also his image and track-record. For some time now, but particularly since the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national scene, elections are often being turned into a plebiscite on a leader. That this strategy backfires was demonstrated in the Delhi assembly elections and now Bihar too, has demonstrated the same thing — with a positive vote favouring a state-level leader.
Sandeep Shastri is Pro-VC, Jain University, Bengaluru and the National Coordinator of Lokniti network; Vibha Attri is a Researcher at Lokniti, CSDS
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