AS IT does a postmortem of the results that left it just short of a win, the Mahagathbandhan will be particularly disappointed with the results from the third phase of voting, where it won 21 of the 78 seats. In contrast, of the 71 seats that voted in the first phase, the Mahagathbandhan got 47; and did reasonably well even in the second phase, that included NDA strongholds, by winning 42 seats of 94.
The results were even more surprising for the Mahagathbandhan as it was in the third phase, with its high number of Muslims, that it hoped to make gains. The AIMIM hit it hard here, winning five seats. The NDA got as many as 52. RJD, Congress and Left leaders say their pre-poll calculations were they could win if they got even 85 seats in the first two phases (they got 89), requiring them to win 37 in the third for the half-way mark. But it was here that the alliance tumbled.
“In the first two phases, our performance was fantastic, driven primarily by the stunning numbers in the first. In the second phase, we held our own. It was in the third where we have really been shocked,” a senior RJD leader said.
However, the BJP might have been, again, ahead of the game. Just before the second phase — put on alert by the traction Tejashwi Yadav was getting — the BJP sent out its cadres to fan the “jungle raj” fears associated with the Lalu regime, a senior BJP leader in Bhagalpur told The Indian Express. Photographs and videos of Tejashwi’s crowded, raucous rallies, ironically, helped do this, even as the RJD gained heart from them. The BJP’s efforts could have also consolidated the silent women voters, already a Nitish Kumar vote bank, behind the NDA. The second and third phases saw a higher turnout by women than the first.
“The image of Yadavs being a caste that does not behave well in power persists in villages, as a daily experience,” a BJP leader said.
An RJD leader admitted that it was facile to blame the AIMIM for chipping away the Mahagathbandhan vote in Seemanchal. Asaduddin Owaisi built his party over the last five years, voicing fears of people at the height of the anti-CAA protests, the leader said.
Even the legacy of Seemanchal’s biggest political name, the late RJD leader Mohammed Taslimudin, couldn’t withstand support for the AIMIM. His younger son Shahnawaz Alam, standing on AIMIM ticket, defeated elder brother Sarfaraz Alam, contesting as an RJD candidate.
An RJD leader also blamed seat selection. “Many of our candidates were multiple-term MLAs who were seen as not having done much for their constituencies. You have to offer something more than just keeping the BJP out.”
Where the Mahagathbandhan made gains was in Bhojpur and Magadh, particularly areas of Left influence. The CPI (M-L), which joined an alliance with a mainstream party for the first time, won 12 of its 19 seats. However, as an Opposition leader said, in the long term this meant that SCs and other marginalised voters were turning to the Left rather than RJD.
While the Mahagathbandhan managed to put up a cohesive front, cracks are beginning to show. An RJD strategist said the party, for example, had warned the Congress not to give the Jale seat to former AMU student union president Maqsoor Usmani, accused by the BJP of being a supporter of Jinnah, fearing “counter-polarisation”. “In Darbhanga, we should have got 4-5 seats out of 10, but we got wiped out except one… Usmani carried baggage… without benefits. He was not known, did not have the organisation backing him either…The CPI(ML) too was attacked on nationalism and communalism card. But they had years of work and good candidates. That was the difference.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines