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Bihar Elections and the By-Polls: BJP’s Victories Signal New Political Changes

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The return to power of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar marks the steady consolidation of nationalistic forces across the country. While the NDA returned with a majority, it was a closely fought election in which nearly all the exit polls had predicted a massive victory of the opposition-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB). A perception about the popularity, youth and campaign of Rashtriya Janata Dal’s (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav had been created, which did not prove to be accurate on the ground.

National, as well as international media, had also widely made this first post-pandemic lockdown election a referendum on a range of massive changes that had swept across the country – the pandemic, the lockdown, the migrant crisis, the economic slump and the loss of jobs. All these factors combined with the anti-incumbency of 15 years of Nitish Kumar’s rule was expected to dent the NDA. However, defying these assumptions and thoroughly disproving the exit polls, the NDA’s return to power shows how national identity and issues are slowly beginning to dominate over pure regional politics.

Decoding Bihar Results: BJP Strengthens Itself

The Bihar election results have widely undermined the expectations of the exit polls which had predicted a wave in favour of the MGB. However, the BJP’s successful campaign during the later phase of campaigning swung the outcome in favour of NDA.

NDA’s performance was pulled down by JD(U)’s dip in popularity and due to LJP damaging the alliance in JD(U)-contested seats. While many traditional BJP voters stayed away from the NDA in JD(U)-contested seats and many voted for LJP instead, in BJP-contested seats only around three-fourths of traditional BJP voters voted for the NDA(Sardesai, Kumar, & Palshikar, 2020). Had it not been for this factor, the election results could have favoured the NDA over the MGB with a much greater margin. Interestingly, the vote transfer within the MGB was very smooth. Despite this, the Congress performed poorly.

Overall Vote Share:

Party Overall vote share (%) 2015 Overall vote share (%) 2020
BJP 24.4 19.46
JD(U) 16.8 15.39
RJD 18.4 23.11
INC 6.7 9.48
LJP 4.8 5.66
CPI 1.4 0.83
CPM 0.6 0.65
CPI(ML) 1.5 3.16
RLSP 2.6 1.77
HAM 2.3 0.89

 

Total NDA vote share in 2015 (BJP+LJP+RLSP+HAM): 34.1%

Total MGB vote share in 2015 (JD(U)+RJD+INC): 41.9%

Seat Shares:

In these elections, the NDA won 125 seats to the MGB’s 110 seats.

Party No. of seats won (2020) No. of seats won (2015)
BJP (NDA) 74 53
JD(U) (NDA) 43 71
HAM(S) (NDA) 4 1
VIP (NDA) 4
RJD (MGB) 75 80
INC (MGB) 19 27
Left (MGB) 16 (CPI-ML: 12; CPI:2; CPM: 2) CPI-ML: 3
LJP 1 2
AIMIM 5
BSP 1
Independent 1 4

Source: The Indian Express (2020)

While the RJD emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats, the BJP was close behind with 74 seats. The BJP also had the largest contested vote share in these elections.

Contested Vote Shares:

In terms of vote share analyzed by examining the number of seats contested and won, the BJP emerged clearly with the top performance.

Party 2015 contested vote share % (Assembly elections) 2019 contested vote share % (Lok Sabha elections) 2020 contested vote share % (Assembly elections)
BJP 37.5 56.5 42.5
JD(U) 40.7 51.8 32.8
RJD 44.4 32.9 38.9
CPI 3.4 12.8 33.2
CPI(ML) 3.8 14.9 41.3
CPI(M) 3.3 2.9 37.2
INC 39.5 33.6 32.8
LJP 28.8 55.2 10.2

Source: The Hindu (2020)

The BJP increased its contested vote share from the 2015 state elections, while JD(U), RJD, and, Congress saw a substantial decline in their performace. The Left parties – CPI, CPM and CPI(ML) – increased their contested vote share massively compared to their 2015 performace. This shows that being in alliance with the RJD worked very well in making the Left more relevant to Bihar’s political scenario, while contesting alone, as in 2015 and 2019, made them absolutely irrelevant.

Strike Rate:

In terms of strike rates, the BJP’s performance was the best. Within the NDA, the BJP managed to win 7 out of every 10 seats it contested. Its strike rate was 67.3. The JD(U) managed to win just 4 out of every 10 seats it contested. Its strike rate of 37.4. Within the MGB, the RJD managed to win almost half of every 10 seats it contested, with a strike rate of 52.1. The Congress managed to win just 3 out of every 10 seats contested, with a strike rate of 27.1.

Victory Margins:

In terms of victory margins, the smaller parties – such as communist parties and AIMIM – had higher victory margins, although amongst the major parties, BJP’s victory margins were better than the rest.

Source: Verniers, Kumar, & Agrawal (2020)

 

Caste-wise Voting Patterns:

In terms of caste-wise voting patterns, there was a clear and expected mobilization of the Muslim-Yadav vote behind the MGB, while the Dalit vote got comparatively more divided.

Caste MGB (vote share %) NDA (vote share %) LJP (vote share %) GDSF (RSLP, AIMIM, BSP, and others) (vote share %) Others (vote share %)
Brahmin 15 52 7 1 25
Bhumihar 19 51 3 < 1 26
Rajput 9 55 11 4 20
Other Upper Castes 16 59 < 1 < 1 24
Yadav 83 5 2 3 6
Kurmi 11 81 3 < 1 5
Koeri 16 51 6 8 18
Other OBC/EBC 18 58 4 3 18
Ravidas 34 27 9 13 18
Dusadh/Paswan 22 17 32 3 27
Musahar 24 65 1 1 8
Other Dalits 24 30 4 7 34
Muslims 76 5 2 11 6

Source: Sardesai, Kumar, & Palshikar (2020)

Amongst the divided Dalit vote, only Ravidas community and Dusadhs voted more for the MGB than for the NDA. Here too, Dusadhs are the traditional vote-bank of LJP. Had LJP not acted as a vote-cutter for the JD(U), the MGB’s performance among Dalits would have been much worse.

During the final phases of voting, the Dalit vote turned in NDA’s favour, due to non-Yadav Hindu consolidation behind the NDA. The Muslim vote in the Seemanchal area got divided due to AIMIM’s rising popularity among the Muslims.

Gender and Youth Voting Patterns:

In terms of youth voting preferences, the perceived media popularity of Tejashwi Yadav among the youth turned out to be a myth. The NDA was equally popular among young people and far more popular among women.

Age Group MGB (vote share %) NDA (vote share %) LJP (vote share %) GDSF (vote share %) Others (vote share %)
18-29 years 37 36 5 6 16
30-39 years 37 39 5 4 14
40-49 years 35 36 7 5 16
50-59 years 38 38 5 4 14
60-69 years 41 36 5 3 14

Source: Sardesai, Kumar, & Palshikar (2020)

Age-wise voting patterns show that no significant insight can be drawn from these patterns. The MGB showed no advantage among young voters. It is the caste and community axis that matters the most.

Age group by gender MGB (vote share %) NDA (vote share %) LJP (vote share %) GDSF (vote share %) Others (vote share %)
18-29 years (men) 39 33 5 5 18
30-39 years (men) 39 39 6 4 12
18-29 years (women) 36 40 5 7 12
30-39 years (women) 34 39 5 5 17

Source: Sardesai, Kumar, & Palshikar (2020)

Amongst women voters – both young and middle-aged – BJP was ahead of MGB. However, amongst young men voters (18-29 years), MGB was substantially ahead. The women vote as well as larger women turnout (almost 5% more than male turnout), due to factors like liquor ban, and, special schemes for women, played a significant part in the NDA’s overall victory.

Migrant Voting Patterns:

One of the most-watched issues of this election was the reaction to the migrant crisis triggered during the COVID-19 lockdown, which forced thousands of migrants to walk back home – many from Bihar and UP. However, anger due to this crisis had to be borne by the JD(U) instead of the BJP. Vote shares across low migrant and high migrant constituences reveal this.

The RJD’s average contested vote share rose from 37% in the low migration constituencies to 41% in the high migration constituencies. Against the RJD, the JD(U) dropped from a 46% strike rate in low migration constituencies to a strike rate of just 24% in high migration constituencies, while the BJP’s strike rate was very good in both low (71%) and high (58%) migration constitutencies (Sircar, 2020).

The overall analysis of key data shows that,

First, there was significant community mobilization during the final phase of voting, and, there was the dominance of caste-based voting patterns.

Second, the victory margin of the NDA over the MGB would have been much higher if LJP had not dented the JD(U). LJP played a spoiler in nearly 34 seats for the JD(U). It also dented the NDA vote-bank among the Dusadh/Paswan Dalit community.

Third, strong assumptions about 15 years of anti-incumbency, migrant crisis during lockdown, economic decline, joblessness and the raging pandemic did not bear out on the ground and did not dent the NDA.

Finally, women vote played an important role in propelling the NDA’s victory.

New Political Equations

The results of these elections have signaled the emergent new political equations in the state. The BJP has emerged as a key player in Biharpolitics and the erstwhile regional dominance of JD(U)-RJD rivalry is now being replaced by BJP-RJD contest.The decline of JD(U), Congress and LJP has been palpable, while the rise of AIMIM and the Left parties is more contextual than anything else – the Left has been proven to be more successful as a result of the alliance rather than when it contests alone, while the AIMIM is an exclusively Muslim party.

The immediate implications of the new political equations are that the stranglehold of regional parties in a key north Indian state has been broken to some extent, and BJP has expanded its base in the state. This is important asregional parties have often deviated from issues of national interest and tend to support such issues only if it satisfies their own political ambitions.Within the NDA, despite Nitish Kumar being the Chief Minister, the BJP, rather the JD(U), will dictate the terms of the alliance. It may also ensure that JD(U) lends the necessary support during the passage of key bills in the Parliament, without indulging in politics.

The political game of exploiting and amplifying caste divisions that has traditionally been the mainstay of regional parties in Indian states is increasingly coming under challenge in these changing times. In key northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, national as well state election trends show that majority of Hindu castes are able to come together under a common religious and national identity when the need arises. In the Bihar election, this was prominently visible, as BJP was able to successfully forge a non-Yadav Hindu alliance in the later phases of the election. This caste-religion dynamic has trumped all other vote-banks – such as youth disgruntled with economic and employability issues, which RJD had sought to mobilize.

Conclusion

The present round of elections has been significant, politically, in consolidating the position of the ruling party, despite unprecedented and unpredictable national and global challenges. The most obvious indicator of the changing mood of the people is that the worn-out edifice of secularism is clearly crumbling, political regionalism is weakening and nationalism is increasingly taking its place. The results also indicate that one cannot repose one’s faith in appearances alone, as presented to us by public forums such as media.

In an era of rampant fake news, skewed/biased exit polls, media-amplified burning nation-wide protests (as in Hathras case), much ado over the economy and the pandemic and other such seemingly unnerving appearances, it is easy to lose sight of the larger direction in which the country is inevitably moving. India is moving more and more towards gathering her fragmented energies for national consolidation.The era of blackmail politics which had become dominant during the last 3 or 4 decades – whether by regional parties or by lobbies of vested interests – is increasingly under challenge. As the present round of elections indicate, despite serious obstacles and setbacks, the movement towards nationalism is now gradually becoming more steady.

Bibliography

Sardesai, S., Kumar, S., & Palshikar, S. (2020, November 19). Retrieved from https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/decoding-the-close-bihar-election-verdict-7048328/

Sircar, N. (2020, November 11). Hindustan Times. Retrieved from https://www.hindustantimes.com/bihar-election/bihar-assembly-election-2020-with-superior-poll-strike-rate-bjp-may-call-the-shots-in-nda/story-REOAbzOoVOLvhYSUW8SuDJ.html

The Hindu. (2020). A matter of alliance cohesion. New Delhi: The Hindu.

The Indian Express. (2020, November 11). New Delhi: The Indian Express.

Verniers, G., Kumar, M., & Agrawal, N. (2020, November 15). Scroll. Retrieved from https://scroll.in/article/978521/decoding-the-bihar-results-in-32-charts-turnouts-vote-shares-victory-margins-and-more

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