A journalist with a major TV news network shared a video before the polls ended for Bihar, where the journalist speaks to a family in a village. The husband speaking on his voting preference says that he has been a traditional supporter of the ‘lantern’ (RJD symbol) while the wife who is standing next to him says that she likes Modi. When asked why, she says that Modi has given them ration, gas and other amenities. The husband then changes track and says when the lady of the house says Modi, Modi it will be his choice too. Therein lies the story of Bihar elections!
The Bihar elections results and the results of the by-polls across the country is indeed a shot in the arm for the BJP. Though Nitish Kumar is set to retain his position as CM of Bihar, he and his party seem to have lost steam. The RJD under the young Tejashwi did remarkably well, as the Congress bites the dust yet again. Amid all the clutter, the one fact that stands out is the image of PM Modi as the only true kingmaker of Indian politics today remains intact and has in fact solidified in the post-Corona era.
Nitish Kumar has been in power for fifteen years which is a long time. Obvious that a certain fatigue has set in among the voters of ‘Sushasan Babu’. Nitish’s third term was run of the mill with no major, far reaching decisions except tasked with implementing the central schemes well. Bihar also suffered from devastating floods and the Corona pandemic this year. Nitish had flipped-flopped between NDA and UPA due to which his image took a beating. Hence it will not be wrong to say that these elections were a test of both Nitish popularity and his working style. Many opined that if the voters can vote out leaders like Raman Singh, Sheila Dixit, and Shivraj Singh Chowhan, Nitish’s term as CM was nearing its end and BJP was risking by going along with him this time too. In a rightly assessed pre-elections arrangement, the JD(U) climbed-down and agreed to contest fewer seats than last time and allow BJP to take the heat. These elections were indeed a battle of image for Nitish as also it was a battle for his survival.
The RJD with its leadership in jail, the onus was on young Tejashwi Yadav to deliver for the RJD. His campaign, the issues he raised, refusal to get into a cat fight, and finally the results show that he was no push over. Along with the issues Maha Ghatbandan (MGB) raised, it also banked primarily on anti-incumbency and the handling of the Corona pandemic. The hardships of migrant workers and how they were received, quarantined, and rehabilitated was raised majorly by the opposition parties. Getting the Left parties into the MGB fold was a calculated move on the part of Tejashwi Yadav which played a major role in the results we see now. Further, the promise of 10 lakh jobs by the MGB helped them build a momentum against the ruling alliance.
The same was reflected in the surveys conducted by several pollsters and TV channels who almost gave the verdict in favour of the MGB. Many were ready to pounce on Modi after the exit polls and wrote about his fading image in national and international news portals. The exit polls in favour of MGB gave the usual suspects a chance to revel in the imaginary loss of PM Modi who attributed it to the downturn in the economy, imposition of lockdown due to corona, farm distress and migrant problem. The joy was short lived however.
In the absence of Lalu Prasad Yadav in Bihar elections, Tejashwi Yadav and MGB put up an intense fight and emerged as the single largest party. Despite victory and retaining his CM position, Nitish and JD(U) have lesser voteshare and seats in Bihar now. It is evident that BJP and Modi pulled up the alliance wherever it failed. BJP has several reasons to the happy with the results though they will not have a CM from the party again. Some statistics (see below) show that the BJP has outperformed its alliance partner in all aspects.
- No. of BJP sitting MLA’s who won – 30
- Constituencies retained by BJP with different candidate – 7
- BJP Won from previously INC constituency 10
- BJP Won from previously JDU constituency 2
- BJP Won from previously LJP constituency 2
- BJP Won from previously RJD constituency 23
The statistics also show that whatever anger people of the state had with the government was directed at the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar while they supported BJP and PM Modi all along. The LJP under Chirag Paswan did cause severe damage to NDA, especially the JDU. The ruling party lost in constituencies like Raghopur to the RJD while the LJP stood second. The performance of LJP shows that the NDA needs better seat arraignment and avoid a clash of egos as it has happened in the case of LJP.
The return of Left parties and the rise of Owaisi in Bihar is a cause of concern in various quarters. While some worry about the rise of communal politics in Bihar due to the inroads made by Owaisi’s AIMIM, many worry about the increase in anti-national and anti-Hindu sentiments in the state due to the regaining control in as many as 16 seats.
The Left parties got seats under a seat-sharing agreement in the MGB. In a impressive result, they won 16 out of the 29 seats the Left parties contested. This is significant as after the 2015 elections, the Left was said to be on the verge of extinction. In 2005, the Left parties won from 9 seat but managed to win only 1 in 2010 and 3 in 2015. The CPI (M-L) alone won 12 seats.
The JDU lost to CPI(M-L) and CPIM in 7 seats, while the CPI(M-L) retained all the 3 seats it won in 2015. They successfully wrested 13 seats from other parties. The reasons for their performance in Bihar when the Left is failing elsewhere has to be studied closely.
The AIMIM has won from 5 seats, all from the Seemanchal region which was considered as the RJD-Congress stronghold. It is also one of the most backward regions in Bihar and has a considerable Muslim population is all the constituencies. The AIMIM and Owaisi’s campaign concentrated on this region and as the results show has been successful in consolidating the Muslim votes. This is also another factor that helped the NDA alliance and hurt the MGB. Results show that AIMIM won from 5 seats which were earlier held by INC, JDU or RJD.
As division of Muslim votes between MGB and the AIMIM, helped the NDA in many seats. Owaisi has promised to repeat this performance in the 2021 West Bengal elections. It has to be noted that Bihar has 19 Muslim MLA’s in its assembly now.
The next round of election battles will be fought across the country again during April-May of 2021. From communists-ruled Kerala and Dravidian party ruled Tamil Nadu in the south, to the eastern states of Assam and Bengal, country will witness another round of electioneering, trading of charges, petty politics, high decibel rallies, claims and counter-claims a few months from now. While the BJP will test its waters in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, it looks to retain Assam and form a government in West Bengal for the first time. None of these looks easy for the party as of now.
The opposition parties ideologically opposed to the BJP will seek to stop the Modi-Shah duo from conquering new states. The performance of the MGB in Bihar polls is indeed a cause for concern for the NDA and it would do well to stich alliances wherever needed. The Congress is a spent force and with no alternate inspiring leadership arising from within the party, they will remain ‘also rans’ at the best or turn into liabilities at worst, as happened in Bihar. The Congress could win only 19 seats out of 70 seats it contested and contributed to the loss of the MGB.
All parties, both ruling and opposition cannot bank upon their top leaders as performance in the state and the connect of the local leaders with the masses matters much more than the charisma and performance of their leaders in Delhi. While parties like the AIADMK, TMC look to retain their states based on their performance, AIMIM and BJP will seek to make fresh inroads in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. Charges of EVM tampering have impacted the image of the parties making the absurd claims and will no longer hold water with the voters.
The next few months will be crucial for the parties and while they look for fresh ideas, performance and addressing people’s concerns will remain the key. While perception management is important and will matter a lot, that alone will not save the day when the states goes to polls. The advent of social media, and with different ways to communicate with the people, every move of the political parties is being watched by the voter. The Bihar election results showed us that no party can take the vote of the citizens for granted as it clearly showed that people voted for performance and issues that matter to them and the nation at large not for any brand names.