Bihar Assembly Polls: Calculating Grand Alliance's chances

Interestingly, though Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had performed well in gaining seats from Bihar during 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls, to this date, the party has not had a chief minister from its ranks to head the state government. True, the present Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s party (Janata Dal-United) is an ally of BJP. However, several factors regarding this alliance cannot be de-linked from the present assembly elections and preceding ones.

It may be noted, during 2010 polls, BJP finished second in the race for power winning 91 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly. JD-U won 115 seats, while RJD-22 and Congress got four seats. BJP performed well in Bihar even though at that time, it was not in power at the Centre and its campaign did not rely on Modi-wave.

The results of 2014 Lok Sabha polls leading to BJP with Narendra Modi heading the Central government had a definite impact on subsequent politicking indulged in Bihar. Stumped by BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, key regional parties of Bihar did not wish this scenario to be repeated in the assembly polls held in October-November 2015. The anti-BJP parties wished to retain their political hold in Bihar. With this vision set before them, a Grand Alliance (Mahagathbandhan) was reached primarily between JD-U, RJD and Congress to fight assembly polls.

BJP may have performed well in Bihar assembly polls if Grand Alliance had not been formed. It may be noted, during the preceding 2010 Bihar assembly elections, JD-U, RJD and Congress had contested as rivals. Their total vote share, 22.50, 18.85 and 8.9% respectively, was more than 50%. The vote share of BJP and its allies was around 40%. Besides votes of Yadavs and Muslims, the Grand Alliance banked on cashing on Mahadalits’ votes. In addition, with Congress in their team, the alliance was optimistic of gaining votes of the high caste Hindus as well. Of course, there prevailed the risk of high caste Hindus, Mahadalits and a significant percentage of Yadavs opting to give BJP a political chance. This clearly marks the importance borne by the caste factor in Indian elections. This also throws questions about Modi-wave’s success in this direction during 2014 and also 2019 parliamentary elections. Though chances of Muslims’ political approach preferring BJP were dim, speculations were raised about the possibility of it being divided because of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)’s decision to contest a few seats for Bihar assembly.

Political luck favoured the Grand Alliance with BJP winning only 53 of the 157 seats the party fought for. BJP secured 24.4% votes. BJP’s allies, LJP, Hindustani Awam Morcha and RLSP won only five out of the 86 seats they contested. The Grand Alliance won 178 seats, with RJD securing 80 of 101 seats it contested, JD-U 71 of 101 seats and Congress 27 of 41 seats they fought for. While RJD secured 18.4% votes, JD-U – 16.8% and Congress got 6.7% votes.

Bihar politics witnessed a major U-turn when JD-U decided to part company with the Grand Alliance on July 26, 2017. A political handshake between JD-U and BJP brought the latter from opposition to power and pushed Congress and RJD to opposition. JD-U chief Kumar stayed the chief minister. Given that JD-U had not witnessed any threat from either RJD or Congress, the party’s decision to turn its political back towards them was certainly not welcomed by the latter two. In addition, considering the strict stand displayed earlier by Kumar towards the Modi-led government, his changing his political priorities spelled quite a shock for his former associates. Within less than two years, Kumar re-calculated BJP’s political moves as well as possible gains in future and shifted his priorities in keeping with the same.

Would it be fair to state that Kumar’s political calculation was well-timed, around two years ahead of 2019 parliamentary polls? Considering Lok Sabha seats won by BJP and JD-U in 2019, it may be said that Kumar acted shrewdly, probably out of fear of meeting the same fate (or even in worse) in 2019 Lok Sabha elections that his party had faced in 2014. However, at this point, it is difficult to ignore the manner in which BJP was stumped by the Grand Alliance in 2010 Bihar assembly polls. It is possible, BJP may not have performed as well as it did in the 2019 elections from Bihar if Grand Alliance had not split. BJP’s gains in 2014 Lok Sabha elections cannot be de-linked from the fact that during that period there was no Grand Alliance. The division in anti-BJP votes probably helped BJP cash on it in the 2014 polls. But emergence of the Grand Alliance went against BJP in the 2015 assembly polls and its division apparently helped BJP as well as its allies in 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar.

The present scenario is witness to the re-emergence of the anti-BJP Grand Alliance but without JD-U. The member parties include RJD, Congress, CPI, CPI(M) and CPI(M-L). It is to be watched whether this alliance changes Bihar’s political destiny or not!