Bihar Elections – Insights and Perspectives
The Grand Alliance led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav registered a landslide victory over the team of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. As the Grand Alliance won with two-third majority, one cannot dismiss that BJP, led by Modi, put up an aggressive campaign. While Modi addressing over thirty rallies, his deputy and party president Shah consistently monitored and led the election campaign from the front. Nitish Kumar came to power for the third term in the high-profile Assembly elections in Bihar, while the predictions of Lalu Yadav’s 190 seats came very close.
The result throws up several questions as well as insights on many critical questions after all sorts of speculations created by the media hype and the pre poll and exit poll. Interestingly most of these pre and post poll predictions turned to be wrong. The Grand Alliance won 178 (73.25%) which went beyond all media pundits. Several researchers and scholars have already questioned the tools, techniques and data that emerged. There were critical polarisations at the very onset of the survey, which accounts the methods being applied.
It is also clear that the BJP and RSS went wrong on the hitherto engineered methods of media management and manufactured stories. Certainly Rastriya Janata Dal makes a historical comeback, where the alliance rode on the back of caste equations and new promises of secular polity and social justice. Kanshiram’s Forward-Backward equation of 85-15 fits perfect in Bihar; where the OBCs constitute 51%, the Dalits and Mahadalits together constitutes 16%, Muslims 16.9%, Adivasis 1.3% and Others 0.4%. The Forward Castes including 6% Rajputs, 5% Brahmins, 3% Bhumihar and 1% Kayasth constitutes 15%. Managing the different socio-political equations through existing models of vote transfer and management of voters never happened as anticipated by BJP. This also shows the sensibility of the voters in Bihar not to flood with the rhetoric and slogans of Digital India as propagated across the world. To them the questions of poverty, dignity, freedom, right to live, livelihood and expression were more important.
The victory of JDU-RJD-Congress alliance could be credited to BJP’s development policies, the hate campaign of RSS and its allies, the unnecessary targeting of Muslim under the pretext of beef eating in Dadri, the violence against Dalits in Sunpedh and other places, and whirlwind of anti-reservation which irked all the non-forward sections. With the presence of nearly 300000 cadres and workers, this loss in the elections is not an ordinary shock to the arithmetic of BJP-RSS combination. Therefore, rather than calling it as a victory of Lalu-Nitish twin, it is the defeat of the communal, casteist and anti-developmental politics of BJP-RSS combine.
It needs no reminder that Prime Minister Modi has turned off from a strong front-foot position to a helpless back-foot position. The grudging within the party by R.K. Singh and Shatrughan Sinha give strong indication of internal dissent with regards to the way the party engaged with the Bihar elections. NDA’s one of the key alliance partner Shiv Sena has also taken an about turn off and on in recent times.
Even during the election campaign there were instant shifts by Modi in terms of his identity. While BJP consistently claimed to have campaigned on development question, caste somehow surfaced time and again in their entire campaign. Modi’s identity shifted from that of backward class to most backward class to the son of a Dalit. Further the clubbing of Ramvilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi were also part of the caste equations to allure the 16% Dalit voters. Neither Paswan nor Manjhi could pass the litmus test. Thus, as much as the Grand Alliance banked on the caste factor, NDA also beefed on the same. Further the incidence of Dadri and Sunpedh (Faridabad) lynching had a huge impact on the elections in terms of the communal casteist political. India’s national ruling party lost to the regional alliance in Bihar which indicates that more than the victory of Lalu-Nitish alliance it is the defeat of Modi-Shah combine.
The limitations of BJP do not end here. No single face of Bihar BJP leadership like Ravishankar Prasad, Sushil Modi and Shatrughan Sinha were projected as the Chief Ministerial candidate. Nor leaders like N.K. Singh and Sanjay Paswan were involved in the campaign programme. BJP’s central leadership were entangled in the chemistry of jungle raj versus the algebra of mangal raj. In this rush people’s mandate was swept under the illusionary carpet of saffron development. This is where Lalu-Nitish combine capitalized to address people’s mandate through small public meetings. No doubt New Delhi cannot dictate the politics of Bihar.
Historically, the Bihari population had always responded to critical social questions with appropriate political answers. The question now is will this trend be able to sustain the long run and whether the scope of such alliances be looked at for future state elections. Lalu announced Nitish as the Chief Minister and to go to Benaras to start a national movement for secular democratic polity. This could be challenging at the national level.
The challenges of governance and development would not be less in Bihar. The mandates of people cannot be aired in flimsy slogans and rhetoric. It needs critical engagement and establishment of participatory democracy and people’s involvement in governance. The question is how Nitish would evolve a mechanism to address people’s mandate.