Bihar Verdict: Voters’ Message!

Statistically speaking, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not swept polls in Bihar. Apprehensions about saffron brigade having gained more ground to propagate its Hindutva agenda may thus be dismissed. Rashritya Janata Dal (RJD) has gained more seats and votes than BJP in 243-member Bihar assembly. Besides, Covid-phase has made people more conscious about their economic grievances and political rights.

Even though Nitish Kumar has taken over as chief minister for another term, he cannot remain oblivious of the dismal performance of his party, Janata Dal-United (JD-U). The situation may have been different if the vicious coronavirus had not struck. If coronavirus had not spelled socio-economic tensions for people at practically all levels, RJD may not have been able to politically cash on its impact by laying stress on its economic agenda. Bihar-polls may have then witnessed Modi-wave leading to BJP dominating the electoral-scene.

While BJP has won 74 seats and 19.4% votes, RJD has secured 75 seats and 23.1% votes. JD-U has won 43 seats and 15.4% votes. Not surprisingly, the present scenario in Bihar is being described as one in which BJP has emerged as a big brother to JD-U in NDA alliance. Kumar no longer enjoys the earlier dominance his party had in Bihar assembly as well as state politics. Compared to 115 seats JD-U won in 2010 elections, 71 in 2015, this time the party has lesser seats. In 2010, BJP won 91 seats, followed by 53 in 2015. During these polls, while BJP’s performance has improved against its gains in 2015, the same cannot be said about JD-U.

JD-U’s performance in 2010 and in 2015 was not based on its friendly relations with BJP. Rather, the case was totally different in the preceding polls. Defeated by BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, key regional parties of Bihar did not wish this scenario to be repeated in assembly polls held in October-November 2015. Political luck favoured Grand Alliance with BJP winning only 53 of the 157 seats, the party contested, securing 24.4% votes. BJP’s allies, Lok Janshakti Party (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 from, JD-U 71 of 101 seats and Congress 27 of 41 seats they contested. While RJD secured 18.4% votes, JD-U – 16.8% and Congress got 6.7% votes. BJP may have performed well in 2015 if the Grand Alliance had not been formed. It may be noted that 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% while the vote share of BJP and its allies was around 40%.

JD-U decided to part company with Grand Alliance on July 26, 2017 and align with BJP. 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.

Three years of friendly ties with BJP have not enhanced political gains for Kumar in his own home state. If Covid-phase had not descended, his party may have won more seats.

Young voters have not totally written off socio-political value of religion and caste. But electorally, they have begun giving greater importance to economic claims laid by politicians. Tejashwi Yadav (RJD leader) focussed primarily on what Bihar and its citizens really need, more economic opportunities, jobs and better education. His electoral strategy cannot be dismissed as a flop. It is also possible, had Covid-19 not struck, the average Bihari voter may not have been moved by an electoral campaign laying stress on economic development.

Notwithstanding the stress spelt by Covid-phase at various levels practically all over the world, the electoral-verdict in Bihar is just a mild indicator of it having virtually forced voters to seriously consider claims placed before them by politicians. Rather than be taken by a ride for image linked with even experienced and senior politicians, Bihari voters appear to have opted for evaluating the same from what they perceive as important from their angle. Tight political race is just a pointer to their having refused to be swept by any political wave. The same is marked by Left-bloc not having been written off totally in these assembly elections.

Of course, an attempt was made to use the Ayodhya-card but it hasn’t spelled any major gain. LJP leader Chirag Paswan even claimed that he wanted Sita temple in Sitamarhi bigger than Ram temple in Ayodhya. This didn’t help him. During his campaign, Prime Minister Modi touched on the Ayodhya-card but didn’t succeed in turning the electoral tide totally in favour of BJP.

Though NDA has returned to power in Bihar, the dismal show put up by its key ally JD-U is least likely to be ignored by other regional allies of BJP. With pandemic here to stay for quite some time, prospects of it having greater impact on Indian politics cannot be ignored!