The Bihar assembly elections have seen a resounding defeat handed to the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). The electoral contest was bitterly fought between the BJP-led coalition consisting of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAMS) and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) on the one hand, and the Grand Alliance consisting of the Nitish Kumar-led JD (U), the Lalu Prasad-led RJD and the Congress on the other hand. Out of the 243 member assembly which requires 122 seats to form the government, the BJP-led coalition managed to win only 58 seats with 34.1% vote share, while the Grand Alliance won a landslide tally of 178 seats with a 41.9% vote share.
In what comes as a major shock to the other major regional parties who contested elections in Bihar this time, the NOTA (None Of The Above) option was widely exercised by the electorate and managed to garner about 2.5% of the vote share1 – more than the vote share of well-known political parties like HAMS, Communist Party of India (CPI), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM).
What went Wrong?
The BJP’s defeat in the Bihar elections was not expected, yet the reasons for the failure became clear even as the poll campaign was going on.
First, the BJP failed to mobilize the rural voters. Bihar is the second least urbanized state in India. Only 11.3% population of Bihar is located in urban centres, while 88.7% of the population is rural. Out of the 53 seats that the BJP won, 27 seats or 51% of the seats were from urban areas, indicating that half of its seat-share came from just 11% of the state’s population.2 Afflicted by agricultural crisis and caste divisions, even the development agenda of PM Modi failed to mobilize the rural working age population of the state.
Second, PM Modi’s development agenda seemed to compete with the development policies of the incumbent Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar. The latter is widely considered to have held a good development record in the state, with positive interventions in areas like education, infrastructure etc. PM Modi was not bringing in anything new with his development rhetoric. Moreover, the hefty fiscal packages promised by the PM in his rallies received negative publicity for trying to ‘buy’ the electorate through money.
Third, there was no local face in the BJP campaign, with the PM Modi conducting most of the rallies in Bihar. This negatively impacted the electoral prospects, since, beyond the glamour of personalities, many voter sections, like women, seek to base their choice on more practical local leaders’ promises.
Fourth, all the odds were arraigned against the BJP. It’s weak coalition partners, with very little say in constituencies, were pitted against the alliance of strong parties like JD (U) and RJD. These parties have their set vote-banks who vote by default, such as the Yadavs, Muslims, Dalits and OBCs. In states like Bihar, with strong community loyalties, people still vote on the basis of group preferences. Due to a weak individualistic social fabric, even the so-called development agenda is structured on the basis of sectarian choices.
Fifth, there was lot of incoherence within the BJP. The negative comments against reservation made by the RSS chief, the silence of the party on Dadri lynching and the ‘motor mouth’ comments on the Dalit killings, were all heavily politicized against the BJP in the Bihar election.
Fragmented Politics: A Weak Confrontation
Even though the Grand Alliance managed to secure a landslide victory, the immediate future of Indian as well as Bihar politics appears more fragmented than before.
The opposition unity in the aftermath of the Bihar debacle will obstruct the legislative process even more in the upcoming winter session of the Parliament. Since early this year, opposition parties, led by the Congress, had already begun to exploit the vote-bank of discontented farmers, caste and religious minorities and vested interests in social sectors like education and environment, resulting in a wash-out of the monsoon session of the Parliament. Now, this confrontation will become worse as the Bihar election has supplied more ammunition to the opposition parties. The Congress has already declared its intention to obstruct major bills like Goods and Services Tax (GST) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) proposals in media and defence.3
This has given rise to speculations of an impending struggle against the present government. Already, the so-called public intelligentsia, including writers and artists, have started a movement by returning their national awards to protest against religious ‘intolerance’ in the country. The media is only too happy to contribute to this movement. And, with the opposition political parties propagating the same discourse of psuedo-secularism, there will certainly be a broad struggle against the government in the next few months.
Not only will this hostility present challenges to the government in the Parliament and infiltrate the mind of the working age urban voter, but will also, if not mitigated, hinder the chances of the BJP in the upcoming assembly elections in several states in 2016 and 2017.
However, the importance of the struggle must not be over-emphasized. The coalitions that are protesting against the ruling dispensation are internally divided and united only by short-term objectives to maximize their narrow interests.
It seems quite certain that the Nitish Kumar-led government will not be able to sustain itself for long in Bihar. Since the RJD supremo, Lalu Prasad Yadav, has won the larger number of seats in the coalation, his grand come-back in politics will make him an obstruction to Nitish Kumar’s autonomous working. The grand alliance is a patchwork coalition which is divided in terms of interests and functioning, marking it as dysfunctional in the long run.
There is also no scope for uniting on the basis of secularism for any long term gains. The secular alliance has been convened numerous times in the past against the BJP. It is just a temporary formation incapable of translating any plank into policy. What secularism and caste justice can the grand alliance talk about? In Bihar, the Dalits are mainly oppressed by the OBCs, especially the Yadavs, rather than by the upper castes. So, who are these secular forces fighting against when the enemy sits within?
Thus, while the verdict against the BJP is strong and will ensure political struggle in the days to come, the lack of a viable political alternative will take the edge off the opposition’s attack.
- Livemint. November 9, 2015. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/RBf9tHZULZBkA7AgEnnoTL/Bihar-election-results-NOTA-bags-more-votes-than-many-parti.html (accessed November 13, 2015).
- Times of India. November 11, 2015. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/bihar-elections-2015/news/Bihar-election-BJPs-campaign-found-no-resonance-in-villages/articleshow/49742959.cms (accessed November 14, 2015).
- The Indian Express. November 14, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/winter-session-congress-plans-to-force-vote-on-fdi-proposals-may-yield-on-gst-bill/ (accessed November 15, 2015).