In the run-up to the announcement of election results, we invariably forget that exit polls and the insights of journalists do not determine the outcome of elections but votes in the ballot box do. Going purely by the party-wise seat share, the Bihar election results have not quite panned out the way the opinion polls predicted. Against all expectations, Nitish Kumar and the NDA have beaten the much-trumpeted anti-incumbency factor and retained power.
NDA spokespersons are now crowing that the results are a vindication of the remarkable performance of the government in the last three years. Like Tiger Woods once observed, “winning solves everything”, but I would add that winning also obscures one’s failures, albeit temporarily. Nevertheless, a closer scrutiny of the results would indicate that the majority of the people of Bihar had actually voted against the ruling combine and, more particularly, against Nitish Kumar and the JDU.
The statistic of vote share of the contending parties would bear me out. The NDA got only 37 per cent of the ballots cast and that too because it was shored up by the performance of the BJP. It is significant that parties clubbed under the rubric of “Others” garnered 25 per cent of the votes. The fragmentation of votes among the various party formations was the paramount reason for the NDA’s electoral victory.
For the LJP, the results are a disappointment, but it would be a mistake to write off Chirag Paswan and his party on the basis of this showing. Nitish Kumar, who was so dismissive of the LJP and its president, was given a bloody nose, if not a knock-out blow. The poll analysis shows that the LJP was instrumental in ensuring the defeat of the JD(U) candidates in more than 50 constituencies. But for the Prime Minister’s magic wand in support of Nitish, the JD(U) would most certainly have been annihilated.
It is important to mention the personal angle to this deep hostility. When Ram Vilas Paswan lay critically ill in hospital, Nitish did not make even the pretence of solicitude and concern for his ailing colleague.
In his first major foray on the big stage as leader and talisman of his party, Chirag Paswan has captured the attention of an entire nation. A doer in the real sense, he has worked relentlessly for the people of his constituency as MP . His rallying slogan of “Bihar first, Bihari first” has struck a chord with the people of the state, which is reflected in the LJP’s vote share of roughly 6 per cent in a confoundingly multifarious field of parties. In politics, setbacks and criticism are part of the territory — and the lessons learnt will make him stronger. A significant indicator of his political relevance is the sustained media focus on him.
In a social milieu where caste and community have dominated the political arena, a ray of hope for those yearning for a truly egalitarian society has been the stellar performance of the Left parties, in stark contrast to the dismal showing of the Congress. The Left won 16 of the 29 seats contested against the Congress tally of 19 out of 70 seats. It is apparent that the poor, the unemployed and the working class prefer the Left to the Congress. There is also the hint that bread-and-butter issues have competed for voters’ attention against the customary monopoly of money power, caste and Ram Mandir.
Asaduddin Owaisi and the AIMIM reigned supreme in the Muslim-dominated areas of Seemanchal region, winning five seats and severely damaging the Mahagathbandhan in 11 others. As a Muslim, I find it deeply worrying that he is using his considerable influence among Muslims to corral them into a separate political bloc. His dangerous communal and divisive agenda threatens to further alienate and isolate an already beleaguered Muslim community.
Finally, the Election Commission needs to be commended for the smooth conduct of the election at the time of a pandemic. Those who have complained about the EVMs are, to quote Chirag Paswan, looking for scapegoats for their own failure. In this context, I remember an all-party meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner some years ago when he offered to place an EVM in the Constitution Club and dared any party to hack it. Until now, no one has taken up the challenge.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 17, 2020 under the title ‘Beyond the victors’. The writer, a former civil servant, is Secretary General of the Lok Janshakti Party. Views are personal
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