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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