Decoded: Punjab 2017

“Sab Sikhan ko hukam hai Guru Maneyo Granth.”
-        Guru Gobind Singh

On the morning of October 12, 2015, an incident in the otherwise nondescript village of Bargari in Faridkot district set all of Punjab into frenzy - worshippers at the local Gurudwara had found tattered pages from the Guru Granth Sahib strewn across the streets. In a state that had been formed to protect the interests of the Sikhs, the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib, the eleventh Guru of the Sikhs, outraged the local population. Two protesters eventually succumbed to injuries following a conflict with the state police. 

Curiously, a few days later, a similar incident was reported from Tarn Taran district. In the ensuing months, similar incidents followed in Bathinda, Muktsar, Ferozepur and Ludhiana. A week ago, desecration was reported in Lambi, the constituency of the sitting Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal himself. 

The Punjab election story, as it appears today, is about the disintegration of the ruling NDA’s vote bank.


Punjab has historically been a two-horse race between the Congress and the BJP-Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) combine. The Congress is the home of the Dalits, lower classes and the urban voters. The SAD, one of the nation’s oldest political movements, meanwhile stands for regional and Sikh pride – it spearheaded the movement for creating a separate Sikh Punjab. Since then, it has dominated rural Punjab, driven by the radical Sikh Panthic voter base (especially the landowning Jat Sikh caste that the Badals belong to). The BJP, a side player at best, draws its support from urban, trading class Hindus. 

Until 2012, Punjab voted in cycles of anti-incumbency, with the Akalis and the Congress taking alternate turns at forming government. In the 2012 election, the Badals pulled off an upset to retain power, aided by populist government schemes and the presence of marginal third parties that split the anti-incumbency vote with the Congress. 

Five years since the 2012 elections, things in Punjab have turned around. The Akalis are now at the end of increasing anti-incumbency.

  • Despite what the Akalis contend, drug usage and addiction have become increasingly common – the Chief Minister’s own son-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia is often alleged to be the man behind the racket.
  • The underground water table has plummeted ever since the government subsidized electricity for farmers, allowing them to overuse tube wells and tap underground reserves for lower costs. Agriculture is therefore in a crisis. 
  • The NDA Government has doling out subsidies and freebies since 2007. For instance, more than half of Punjab’s population receives subsidized food, though poverty is only at 6.16%. This sort of excessive generosity has hit the state’s finances, to the extent that the government is struggling to pay its employees.
  • Punjab’s once-thriving industries are now fleeing the state. Already facing competition from cheaper Chinese imports, Punjab’s industries also have to deal with higher taxes (to make up for poor state finances) and high electricity bills (to subsidize electricity for agriculture). 

These were the kind of issues that allowed AAP to enter Punjab in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, converting a historically two-horse race into a three-sided slugfest. Even today, the drug trade and unemployment are the AAP’s biggest campaign pitches. It has allowed the party to split the anti-incumbent votes with the Congress – some sections looking to overthrow the Akalis have chosen the Congress, while some have chosen the AAP. Ordinarily, such a situation would have , but what makes 2017 particularly interesting is that the AAP has managed to crack the SAD’s Panthic vote bank. These voters, already upset by the desecrations taking place under the nose of their own government, cannot vote for the Congress given its history as the party that ordered Operation Bluestar and led the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots. The AAP makes the perfect substitute – and its leaders have been flirting with Sikh radicals, especially among the NRIs, ever since 2014. This election, as I said previously, depends on the extent to which these voters desert the NDA.


The rural heartland of Punjab, Malwa is home to both the Badals and Amarinder Singh’s royal family of Patiala. With 69 of Punjab’s 117 assembly segments, it accounts for a lion’s share of Punjab’s assembly seats. In 2014, the AAP showed its dominance here by leading in 34 of the 69 assembly seats, winning in the Lok Sabha seats of Patiala, Sangrur, Faridkot and Fatehgarh Sahib. In Sangrur, for instance, AAP won more than 50% of the vote share in five of the nine constituencies.

The AAP pulled off a shock win in Patiala by defeating Preneet Kaur, Captain’s wife, from her own hometown of Patiala. This time around, Patiala is in particular danger of defecting to the Congress, especially after the suspension of Patialas’s AAP MP Dharamvira Gandhi. The same holds true for Fatehgarh Sahib, post Kejriwal’s suspension of its MP Harinder Singh Khalsa.

District-by –district, therefore, the AAP is strong in Bhatinda, Faridkot, Sangrur, Mansa and Barnala while Congress is counting on seats in Fazilka, Muktsar, Patiala, Mohali, Fatehgarh Sahib and Ludhiana. The Congress strategy for Malwa has been to field its heavyweights in strategic constituencies and count on a ripple effect of their candidature in the assembly segments adjoining their own.

Congress Candidate
Assembly Segment
Ravneet Singh Bittu
Captain Amarinder Singh
Captain Amarinder Singh
Sunil Jakhar
Rajinder Kaur Bhattal
Vijay Inder Singla
Manpreet Singh Badal
Bathinda Urban

During the last week or so of the campaign, the Congress has pulled out all stops in Malwa. Rahul Gandhi, for example, has been campaigning in the following areas - Majitha, Jalalabad, Lambi, Rampura Phul, Talwandi Sabo, Bathinda Urban, Budhlada and Dhuri. Barring Majitha, the rest are all in Malwa. 

In both 2007 and 2012, however, both the NDA and the Congress were neck-to-neck in Malwa. The road to victory lay, instead, through the other two regions of Doaba and Majha.


Located between the rivers Satluj and Beas, Doaba has 23 seats across Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Nawanshahr and parts of Roopnagar district. Dalits form close to 45% of the population in this region, and have voted for Mayawati’s BSP in the past two elections, causing the Congress to face a near-meltdown. In both 2007 and 2012, the Congress was whitewashed in this region, winning merely 4 seats in the first and 6 seats in the second. 

In the 2014 elections, the AAP led in only two segments in this region, but got a respectable vote share (20-30%) in at least 18 others. These eighteen seats are the primary field of expansion for the AAP in Punjab. Given the Congress’s lack of senior Dalit leaders (barring the Chaudharys), the Dalit votes are up for grabs – and the AAP has been aggressively courting them, with the announcement of a Dalit Deputy Chief Minister. Doaba is also the home of a majority of Punjab’s 12 million NRIs, who have been aggressively backing the AAP this election – 2,500 of them have been personally canvassing for the party. 


This region, composed of Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur, Amritsar and Pathankot districts, counts for 25 seats. An erstwhile SAD stronghold (due to the strong Panthic influence exerted by proximity to Amritsar), this region is poised to vote overwhelmingly for the Congress, following Navjot Singh Siddhu’s entry. 

The AAP has found little traction here – during the 2014 Lok Sabha Election, AAP got a voteshare of around 12% and stood third in all of Majha’s 25 assembly segments. It’s been all downhill for the party since then, with its 2014 candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency also joining the Congress and its former Punjab convenor Sucha Singh Chhotepur being expelled from it. Among is few hopes are Batala constituency, where the newly-appointed Punjab convenor Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi is contesting and Majithia constituency where Himmat Singh Shergil is fighting Bikram Singh Majithia (the alleged lynchpin of Punjab’s drug trade). Anything short of a wave election will see the AAP perform poorly in this region.


SAD Votebase

The election results in Punjab may end up boiling down to this one factor – the extent to which the SAD’s core Panthic votebank in rural Punjab has cracked. If the party loses too many voters to the AAP, the latter is all set to sweep. If the Akalis retain the support of the majority, the Congress will benefit.

Source: CSDS-Lokniti Survey
As observed in the graphic above, Punjab is particularly prone to letting the hawa – the public perception of which party is winning - affect its voting choices. The idea is that voters do not like ‘wasting’ their vote on a losing candidate and are likely to vote for a back-up option if they sense that their favored party is likely to lose. Many erstwhile Akali supporters may thus vote for the AAP, given the formers bleak prospects in these elections. 

Voter turnout may actually be the best indicator of how this factor plays out - a lower turnout may indicate that disaffected Akali supporters have chosen not to exercise their vote at all, rather than vote for the AAP. The Congress would benefit – it does not need to depend upon the votes of erstwhile Akali supporters, having its own loyal votebase (no opinion poll has shown its support slipping beneath 32%).

Derai Politics

Desecration is not the only incident that has caused heartburn among the Akali’s panthic vote base. In 2015, the SAD offended its voters by expressed its support for a pardon to Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (of MSG fame), who had offended Sikh sentiments in 2007 by donning clothes similar to those worn by Guru Gobind Singh. 


Because Dera Sacha Sauda, the religious organization headed by Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, has about 35 lakh followers across Punjab. 

Punjab’s elections are heavily influenced by religious organizations like this one, the deras as they are called. The gurus heading these deras have devotees whose numbers run into hundreds of thousands, devotees whose votes they can easily influence. To give an example of the influence they cast, the following is table of the election results in the Malwa region of Punjab.

2007 Assembly Elections
2012 Assembly Elections

The difference in the two results can be explained by one important factor – the Congress won support from the Dera Sacha Sauda in 2007, while it was the NDA in 2012. 

This time too, the Dera is supporting the NDA. There are two possible ways in which this may impact electoral outcomes - 

  • In addition to attracting new voters, the Dera’s support may also have a broader ripple effect. Elections are not only determined by the number of supporters a political party’s ideology has, but also their level of motivation. A Panthic voter in rural Punjab, who has already resigned himself to the SAD’s loss, may not even turn up to vote or may end up voting for the AAP. The Dera’s announcement will help cut such losses. In such a scenario, the Congress may benefit. 
  • On the other hand, given how controversial the Dera is, it could consolidate the already disenchanted Panthic voters against the NDA and towards the AAP. 

The Dera Sacha Sauda, while the largest, is only one of the many deras that influence voting patterns. Some may even have given their verdict through their followers, away from the media hype.

BJP Voters

When the results for the Lok Sabha elections trickled in on 16th May, 2014, there was one Congressman who had reason to smile – Amarinder Singh. He had defeated Arun Jaitley in Amritsar, a city that had voted in the BJP in both 2004 and 2009. Consider the implications of this result –the Congress managed to steal an urban seat from the BJP, at a time when nearly all of India had turned saffron. And this was no ordinary competitor –everyone knew Jaitley would be an important minister in a BJP Government that was certain to be formed. 

Delving deeper into the campaign, three major inferences can be drawn from this single election result –

  •   Sidestepping its tallest Sikh leader Navjot Singh Sidhu to promote Jaitley cost the BJP
  • As an ex-army man, Amarinder Singh may be the natural second choice for erstwhile BJP voters.
  • The BJP lost because of the extensive Badal campaign for Jaitley, and not due to a lack of enthusiasm for Jaitley’s candidature. It indicates how deeply unpopular the Akalis have become with even BJP voters.

As a minor party, BJP has the lowest stakes in these elections - and it has entirely given up hopes of retaining it. This is evident from the lackluster campaign it has run, with the Prime Minister barely addressing two rallies for it. This time around, it is almost entirely certain that the BJP votebank will crack -

  • Demonetization has most adversely affected the Banias, the urban Hindu trading class. The Banias form the backbone of the BJP’s support base and are likely to abandon it.
  • It has already lost Navjot Singh Sidhu to the Congress
  • Its state unit is mired in internal squabbling, with the state unit chief Vijay Sampla apparently threatening to resign.
  • Anti-incumbency against Badals, already strong in 2014, will peak this time around.
  • NDA’s certain defeat: As described previously, if BJP voters are convinced that the party will not win in 2017, they may vote for other alternatives

The BJP voters are likely to swing towards the Congress, as contradictory as it sounds. In fact, there have even been reports of the RSS machinery covertly aiding the Congress, out of a desire to keep the AAP out of power. The unlikely alternative that some sections of the media have been claiming is that the Banias may rally behind the AAP because Kejriwal himself is a Bania. Given that the BJP barely contests three seats in all of Malwa, the effect of any such movement will be best observed in Majha, in the BJP bastions of Pathankot and Gurdaspur.

Khalistan and Terrorism

There is something rotten in the state of Punjab – and everyone knows that. Aside from the suspicious string of desecration incidents, a lot of noise has been made this time around about the AAP’s support base among NRI Khalistanis. The recent blast at a Congress rally in Bathinda district has only made these rumors seem more real. How this will play out is anyone’s guess – one possibility is that it may galvanize the Hindu votebank (that bore the brunt of the previous Khalistani agitations) and the moderate Sikhs into supporting the Congress.

Punjab is the most interesting of the  five states that are going to election in the next few months. A Congress victory, the first since May 2013, could spark the party's resurgence while a victory for the AAP could cement its future in the Indian polity. For Punjab, the stakes are far greater: given the explosive situation the state is in, political uncertainty in the coming months may spark a return of the  unrest witnessed in the 1980s and 90s. In a state where religious extremism, separatism, drugs and terrorism coincide, the current political deadlock between the Congress and the AAP portends ill.

How AAP is Transforming Education in Public Schools

The differentiating factor between capitalism and crony capitalism is always the presence of a robust public education system. In India, unfortunately, successive Governments have failed to improve the quality of education in Government schools – perpetuating the inequality of opportunity that pervades this country.

To be fair to our politicians, however, we must also concede that education at the school level is unimaginably difficult to transform – what happens in each classroom on a daily basis must change and it is impossible to stem a rot so deep without roping an army of ground-level officials to facilitate the process.

What the Delhi Government has done through the Mentor Teacher Program is precisely this – set aside, after careful screening, an army of 400 experienced Mentor Teachers to help transform Delhi’s schooling.

As a volunteer with the Government, I was able to document a 15-day workshop where groups of Mentor Teachers were sent to different schools across Delhi and made to teach there. I will begin by acknowledging that the Education Department has done commendably in selecting the Mentor Teachers. I can confidently state that the Mentor Teachers were putting a far greater effort to facilitate learning – conducting activities, facilitating class participation, encouraging academically weak students to involve themselves in class, making effective use of the blackboard and so on.

One teacher encouraged the students to put up skits based on the chapters in their textbook, one taught them how to build a miniature windvane, some held quizzes and some role-plays. They actually took learning beyond the dreary world of textbooks and the impact it has had on the student’s willingness to learn is the real take away from this exercise.

The feedback on the impact the Program has had on regular schoolteachers however, is mixed. The Mentor Teachers had urged schoolteachers to begin teaching basic Mathematics and Hindi to students in the substitution periods – this has been done in certain schools (I personally witnessed an art teacher teach students addition in her free period). Some teachers observed the classes of the Mentor Teachers and began to emulate their teaching strategies. One teacher also remarked that since the Mentor Teachers were observing their classes, he had been forced to begin attending class on time (for the first time in his career)!

I will, however, concede that there were difficulties faced – a majority of the schoolteachers, seem to have misunderstood the Pragati curriculum introduced to complement the program. Instead of imparting the students the skill to solve the exercises in the textbook, they solved them on the board and made the students copy it down. We also faced resistance from the Principals who were unwilling to allow ‘outsiders’ to take such an active part in school affairs. Training sessions are being conducted with both to rectify these problems.

What this Program has also achieved is to recognize the teachers who have delivered over the years. One teacher I met, who went to Columbia University for a teaching program, had never been recognized by her Principal, until the Government did the same.

One final anecdote that I feel compelled to share before concluding - it is a tale of a teacher who tasked the students with imagining themselves to be Health Ministers and drafting an action plan to solve the public health situation in India. The result was frightening - the overwhelming majority agreed that the best solution was to nationalize private hospitals and end the disparity between healthcare facilities accessible to the rich and to the poor. It set off the warning bells in my mind – if eighth graders are so beginning to think along these lines, it is indicative of some deep-rooted angst in society.

I leave you now with a compilation of the results of the baseline and endline test conducted before and after the 15-day workshop. I think we have some reason to celebrate.


Number Recognition (1-9)
Number Recognition (10-99)
Baseline Test
Endline Test

Revolutionizing Governance: Mohalla Sabhas and the Delhi Government

It is a universally accepted truth that Indians tend to have clustered, spaghetti minds – full of minutiae and intricacies, appearing to be neatly segregated even while really being chaotic and clueless. What I learned through a five-week internship with the Delhi Government was that this conclusion holds true for the Indian administrative set-up as well.

Our administrative set-up is riddled with multiple issues – an alphabet soup of agencies and departments, an excessively hierarchical top-down structure and sarkaari officials too caught up in their own importance.

Delhi, for example, has DUSIB, DSIIDC, DDA, PWD, DJB, DISCOMs, and Local Bodies among other agencies to maintain the city. On paper, there seems to be a very neat distribution of responsibilities among them. Depending on where you live, the potholed road outside your house could be maintained by PWD (if it is wider than a certain length), DUSIB (if you live in the slums), DSIIDC (an industrial area), DDA (in developing colonies on the city’s outskirts) or the local body (if none of the above). On ground, however, things spiral out of control – forget the common person, even the officials may be confounded as to which assets they are responsible for. And this confusion isn’t limited to roads - think of all the grievances that a citizen may face on a daily basis, from schools to hospitals, parks, streetlights, sanitation and community toilets. One official even told us that the bulb of the streetlight and the pole are maintained by different agencies – which was fortunately, untrue (but the fact that he even contemplated something this obnoxious is telling). 

The top-down structure is also responsible for the inordinate delays in delivering basic services. To illustrate with an example – a complaint made by a citizen through the PGMS of the Delhi Government, moves down from the Chief Minister’s Office to the Head of Department, to the Chief Engineers and down three more levels of hierarchy before finally reaching the Junior Engineer – the man who is typically responsible for executing projects on the ground. Unsurprisingly, this process can take weeks to resolve even the most basic grievances.

Finally, the attitude of our officials. A lot of my work actually involved dealing with them and I realized that the primary issue is that the officials just want to prove to us how indispensable they are to our purpose - which is indeed, why they are so overly fond of paperwork, files, official correspondence and such. There is an accountability deficit – the officials are only responsible to their seniors and not to the public.

To someone who is unacquainted with these matters, getting a first-hand experience of the administrative inefficiency riddling our country would be intensely disheartening. Happily, for me, I made these observations while working on the project that is all set to resolve this administrative mess – the Mohalla Sabhas. 

To those who are unaware, Mohalla Sabhas are monthly gatherings of the registered voters of an area to raise grievances, execute minor projects, and identify beneficiaries for welfare schemes (among other tasks).

How is the Mohalla Sabha going to be different from traditional complaint forums? It is about the accountability of Government agencies – Mohalla Sabhas will be allowed to summon officials from agencies if officials are unresponsive or if the people are dissatisfied with the quality of work. Moreover, each Mohalla Sabha also has a separate Swaraj Fund to carry out any minor projects it may want to execute.

An equally important tool in this drive towards accountability is being developed currently through the ongoing agency mapping process – which I was part of. Once completed, the agency mapping exercise will ensure that the common-man will now be able to access the ownership and maintenance details of every asset in his area, through an online app. Thus, people will now know which asset is maintained by whom and will be able to contact that official directly, effectively circumventing the alphabet soup of agencies and the hierarchical bureaucratic process discussed earlier.

I must also mention the team of interns who have been doing such tremendous work to ensure the success of this project. The AAP Government in Delhi, I think, is one of the few Governments that have creatively leveraged the dynamism, talent and energies of the youth. Indeed, this team has been drawn from across the country – while in Delhi, I met volunteers from Kerala, Indore, Assam, Chennai, Chandigarh and Hyderabad. Over the past one year, this team has been carefully laying the groundwork for the project – defining the boundaries of each of the 2972 Mohallas, training the Mohalla Coordinators, conducting the gargantuan agency mapping process. What would have taken years under a bureaucracy has been achieved in this relatively short span of time. And these are some of the brightest youth in the country – IIT graduates, IIM students, one soon-to-be IAS Officer and students bound to Oxford and Harvard.

There were also other volunteers I met during the course of my stay there – adults, who have actually given up their jobs and dedicated themselves to the cause of the people. One of them, now living in a room in Chandni Chowk after giving up his career at an NGO, is crowd sourcing his expenses through his former colleagues. Tales like these give you hope – hope that people do care and that things can change.

Personally, I have always viewed the AAP with distrust and scorn, thinking of it as a party more willing to engage in controversies and theatrics than in anything constructive. The fact that I built this image is not surprising – sitting in Mumbai, all I ever saw of the AAP were its anti-Modi Twitter tirades and dharnas. My internship exposed me to another side of the AAP – as being the only party actively looking to devolve power and responsibilities to the citizens. 

There is also, I have noticed, a marked humility in the conduct of the MLAs of the AAP. Most of them are political greenhorns and lack the cultivated arrogance of our mainstream politicians. The AAP Government also has a tendency of engaging with the public a lot more – the Deputy Chief Minister recorded an automated voice call to all teachers, thanking them for their support. His adviser, Mrs. Atishi Marlena walked into a feedback session held with Government teachers on how to improve the current education programs. Small efforts, we may think, but it has some impact on the people.

I will also concede that there is a probability that the Mohalla Sabhas may not be immensely successful. And if it does, it will not be due to lack of effort on the side of the Government but due to the project’s immense reliance on public enthusiasm and participation (which is, as always, fickle and prone to losing momentum). If citizens just fail to turn up at Mohalla Sabha meetings, what can the Government do?  

I say this due to my own experiences in dealing with the Mohalla Coordinators at the Orientation Sessions we held with them to acquaint them with their responsibilities. Mohalla Coordinators are the ground-level officials who will be conducting these monthly Mohalla Sabha meetings and doing all the back-end logistical work of organizing them. They are the crucial centerpieces to the program and yet, I have observed that quite a sizable number are cynical regarding it. Their primary query is regarding how the Mohalla Sabhas are any different from traditional citizen complaint forums. No amount of explanation can actually satisfy them.

Can we blame them? These coordinators are the foot soldiers of the AAP – the erstwhile activists who used to run from pillar to post, scrambling to resolve the grievances of their people. The system has consistently been failing the people for the past 70 years and I cannot blame them for not being hopeful.

Regardless of however it turns out, by the end of this year, Delhi will have witnessed the first real attempt by any Indian Government to devolve powers to the people. Democracy will have evolved to its logical conclusion. 

Analyzing Bihar 2015

Fifteen reasons why the BJP faced a washout in Bihar -


1. Firstly, people who voted against the tide are more likely to stick to the side they picked in comparison to those who voted with the tide. Simply put, it means that the voters who picked the JDU, RJD or Congress in 2014 are more likely to stick with the Grand Alliance than those who voted for Modi and the NDA.

2. Secondly, the fact of the matter is that, traditionally, people pick a regional party over a national party in any state election. This is exacerbated in this case for various reasons, the most important being that the BJP didn’t project a regional leader as its Chief Ministerial candidate but chose to contest on Modi’s appeal. This was a massive strategic error – it turned the election into a presidential contest between Nitish (Bihari) versus Modi (a Bahari). Besides, both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav are immensely popular. The BJP’s stunning performance in 2014 was a product of an anti-Congress wave as well – when faced with regional stalwarts, the BJP has never been all that comfortable. We saw this phenomenon in Delhi, where it crumbled in face of an onslaught by a popular Opposition figure and we saw it in Bihar yesterday.

3. The split voting factor. Let us keep in mind that a large chunk of those who voted for Modi in 2014 also stated that they preferred Nitish Kumar in Patna. When faced with a choice between a popular Chief Minister and a widely-respected Prime Minister (who would go back to Delhi when the elections are done), the voters chose the former.

4. Anti-incumbency against the Modi Government – this factor was mainly spurred by the astonishingly high rates of food inflation (Dal anyone?). The women voters outnumbered the men in all the five phases and being the constituency most affected by the rising prices, they voted accordingly.

5. While we are talking about women, let us also keep in mind that Nitish Kumar made a dedicated effort to cultivate a caste-neutral women voter-base for himself during his 10 years as Chief Minister. Reservation in Panchayats, bicycles to girls, improved law and order and a promise to ban alcohol – all measures taken by Nitish Kumar to consolidate the women in his favor. It seems to have paid off – and the BJP’s efforts to stoke up the threat of Jungle Raj do not seemed to have cut much ice with the voters. Trust in Nitish > Fear of Lalu Raj.

6. 250 + 230+18 ~ 500 rallies by the top three leaders of the Mahagathbandhan in comparison to 30 rallies by Narendra Modi (Amit Shah rallies do not count – who is he to the voters of Bihar?) and 100 odd rallies held by Sushil Modi (the BJP’s only credible face).

7. All the argument about the lack of chemistry between the constituents of the Grand Alliance came to naught – analysts overlooked the fact that the vote base of the RJD and the Congress (which came to about 28% in 2014) was the base for the Grand Alliance. There was never a doubt about whether these voters would be loyal to the Grand Alliance – the entire debate was about whether Nitish Kumar would be able to attract his floating voters from the EBC-Dalit communities (given their antipathy to Lalu).

8. What helped Nitish garner support from these communities was the Mohan Bhagwat reservation controversy. Mohan Bhagwat’s role was significant in this context – these were the groupings whose votes were the most significant and these were also the groupings to have been most influenced by his statements (given that their political loyalties are not cast in iron).

9. Without the crutches provided by the Dalits and EBCs, the NDA was essentially left with a voter-base consisting primarily of the Upper Castes. This was opposed to the massive consolidation of the Yadav, Kurmi and Muslim votes in favor of the Grand Alliance.

10. The Mahagathbandhan also had a well-thought out strategy. Lalu picked up the social justice plank (and milked the OBC votes using Mohan Bhagwat’s statements to justify his claims that the BJP wanted to dilute reservations), Nitish endorsed development and the Congress picked on the failures of the Modi Government. Each did what they were best at.

11. In contrast to Modi, who committed the mistake of over-exposed himself in a state election (which was seen by many as unbefitting of his stature as PM) and of making statements unbecoming of his post (attacking Lalu and his daughter, branding Nitish as arrogant, raising the bogey of quota for minorities), Nitish was suave, gentlemanly and soft-spoken.

12. BJP has limited infrastructure in large swathes of Bihar where it has rarely contested before – this factor could have been overlooked in the wave-like atmosphere of the 2014 elections but 2015 was a different ball-game. Two of the BJP’s allies were also fledgling affairs – the HAM(S) and RLSP. In contrast, the RJD has strong organizational machinery throughout Bihar.

13. BJP also gave about 83 seats to its allies – their strike rate in the elections has been dismal. These allies may have been crucial to letting the BJP stay in the fight but their ability to win seats was severely diminished in the lack of a 2014-like wave.

14. The JMM, NCP, AIMIM, SP, BSP, Left, Pappu Yadav – all the vote-katwas supposed to be harming the Grand Alliance's prospects turned out to be duds.

15. As mentioned before, the floating voters in the election were the EBCs and the Mahadalits and it was widely expected that these caste groupings would be attracted to the BJP due to the presence of Manjhi (a Musahar, a sub-caste of the Mahadalits), Paswan (a Dusadh, another Dalit grouping) and Narendra Modi (who has declared that he is an EBC). Unfortunately, for the BJP, this didn’t really go this way – the Dalits in Bihar have never consolidated in favor of a party. Different sub-castes vote for different parties and while Musahars and Paswans favored the NDA, the Ravidas community, for example, is said to have gone for the Grand Alliance. The case with the EBCs is even more complex – it is a conglomeration of 50+ communities, who have been artificially banded together by the Government. They don’t vote as a solid monolithic bloc and it’s wrong to consider them as such.

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