In the sharply polarised election the Bhartiya Janata Party-led the National Democratic Alliance’s victory in 125 seats of 243 seats of Bihar assembly will add to the aura of Narendra Modi. The Prime Minister’s total identification with the “last mile development” projects all over India is bearing electoral benefits. Even after six years in power, he continues to resonate with aspirational politics of his supporters.
The Jan Dhan accounts, direct bank transfer mechanism, free grains distribution to poor during Covid lock down, Rs1000 deposit in each migrants account during the pandemic, drinking water scheme Jal Jeevan mission and the increased participation of women in Panchayati raj has started impressing people, majorly women voters. This has translated to BJP having the competitive edge.
The anti-BJP politics of activists, secular forces and the opposition parties has fallen short, once more. This was visible in Bihar, where voters generally have a special kind of sociopolitical consciousness. The Bihari voters are difficult to please and until now they had not bought “Hindutva politics” — the variety that the BJP practices. The Bihar victory is opening up the new chapter of the Hindutva politics of BJP in Bihar.
Modi's personality cult and mass connect
Bihar election was, actually, driven by the agenda set by the rival leader Tejashvi Yadav of Rashtriya Janata Dal, which has emerged the biggest party with 75 seats, but Modi could, still, lift up the election with help of his personality cult and direct connect with the masses.
In electoral history of Bihar, the BJP used to be either inconsequential or the junior partner of the Janta Dal-United, within the NDA. But, now BJP’s long-cherished dream has been fulfilled to rule Bihar without doing the pillion riding. Even though BJP’s ally Janta Dal-United has won just 43 seats (110 contested) its leader and incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who has been weakened through election, is set to be sworn-in fifth time.
Pertinently, Tejashvi single-handedly gave the BJP jitters in the election campaign. Team BJP, more shrewd than Tejashvi’s team, made many controversial moves to divide the votes in the opposition space and succeeded. However, the most heartening aspect of this election is that marginal and voiceless people have got the parties and representation in Bihar assembly.
Hindustani Awam Morcha, Vikasheel Insaan Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist-Lenin and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen are parties of poorest Mushhar community, landless labourers or minorities (These parties bagged more than 25 seats). Congress, ally of the RJD continues to be lacklustre winning 19 seats out of 70 it contested.
Of course, in all seats where elections were held, besides the Modi factor local issues, caste arithmetic, mood of the people and the candidates played a role. Many expected the impoverished people to send a strong message to Modi through ballot boxes.
But, on the contrary, by the evening of November 10, it was clear that BJP had won impressively not just in Bihar but also in bypolls (around 40 of 59 assembly seats in the states including in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Telangana, Karnataka and Manipur).
By giving the power again to the NDA with a slight margin, the Biharis have spoken. They have problems with the governance of last five years so they revived the RJD, accepted the milder avatar of the party and its leader Tejashvi Yadav but they have continued to trust the Modi-led BJP more than Nitish Kumar.
Bihar's complicated results
This is a kind of complicated result Biharis are quite capable to deliver.
India has seen many elections, but the assembly election of Bihar 2020 is the textbook case to study how profound the Indian voters are.
The voters of Bihar have hit the incumbent chief minister hard. The message is clear: You are not popular but again not out of favour completely. Probably, the NDA ally LJP led by Chirag Paswan, who allegedly had tacit support of BJP in initial stages, harmed Nitish more than the voters.
Modi-fans of Bihar have helped BJP emerge as the second biggest party in the state where the party doesn’t have any regional leader leading from the front.
The secular voters of Bihar have given RJD a lifeline. The party’s founder Lalu Prasad Yadav is in jail on charges of corruption and young generation has faint idea of Lalu’s fight for social justice in 80s.
The BJP lately found the challenger Tejashvi Yadav quite prepared. He is one of the most privileged dynasts in Indian politics. He knew well what all he shouldn’t do.
First, he didn’t make mistake of aiming at PM Modi. Two, he didn’t highlight his parents, both former chief ministers of Bihar — Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi who are having mix legacy. He didn’t give long speeches while campaigning so avoided revealing his actual calibre. He has charisma for sure and that would take him a long way. He smartly exploited the discontent in unemployed youth. He sold big dreams, like Modi did in 2014.
A cool, calculated player
He copied Arvind Kejriwal and kept the election campaign — through his 250 plus well-attended rallies — quite decent but tightly focused on unemployment. He may be a school dropout, failed cricketer, or not known for any administration ability but he is wise enough to know what not to do in elections.
Single-handedly, with strategic help of his father, he has revived his party and established his leadership within the party. However, he should not be overestimated because what he has earned through this election is mainly because he arrived at the right time, in the right place when his main rivals in the power were a divided lot.
Alternately this election would kick-start the resetting of the state BJP which is confused, divided and not matching its steps with the headquarter. The biggest problem for the state BJP was that it has been merely a pillion rider of the JD-U driven government in Bihar, depending mostly on the upper caste votes. In last 15 years it could not emerge as an independent entity and could never throw up a mass leader who enjoyed consensus within the party.
Saibal Gupta, social scientist recently said in the TV talk that Sushil Kumar Modi is quite “secular” and not in the BJP mould! He is in awe of Nitish Kumar. The State BJP was confused and never spoke strongly on exclusive BJP issue as Nitish and JD-U spoke on the issues that mattered to them. Weather it’s about Citizenship Amendment Act or on Article 370, the JD-U articulated its position unfailingly so that they retain “secular votes.”
Bihar’s victory is important in BJP’s scheme of “go East” to consolidate its position in the East and in states of the North-east. However, the real and raw political battle is five months away in neighbourhood of Bihar. The fight for power in Patna was a kind of semi-final which would help the BJP in West Bengal election. If the BJP wins Bengal it will revolutionise Indian politics beyond recognition.
Sheela Bhatt is a senior Indian journalist. She is based in New Delhi.