Monday, November 09, 2015
The Bihar verdict cannot be interpreted as a victory of secular forces over reactionary trends. Nor can it be extrapolated on to the national scene to predict assembly elections in other states due next year
The percentage vote share of BJP remains ahead of every other party, followed by that of RJD. Like in the Delhi assembly election, the BJP seems to have retained its percentage share of the vote though this is not reflected in the number of seats. The percentage vote share of Janata Dal (United) is closely behind that of its main alliance partner, the RJD. The limited inference that is possible is that the people voted for known local leaders – Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav – and that Nitish Kumar’s record of good governance had proved to be a winning card. The BJP had deprived itself of the advantage of its share in Nitish Kumar’s good governance by attacking its former ally in harsh language.
There is the intriguing fact of the stupendous success of Lalu Prasad Yadav. What seems to have revived the political fortunes of Yadav after a decade in wilderness in the state is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on the need to review the reservation policy. The clarifications and denials offered by the BJP leaders did not seem to be reassuring enough. The Grand Alliance leaders took a strategic advantage of the BJP’s unforced error, unforced because it was RSS chief’s remark and the BJP was left to explain it away. Obviously, BJP failed to distance itself from the remark.
The Muslim vote in Bihar seems to have gone in favour of the Grand Alliance because of the intemperate statements of many BJP leaders and the party’s ideological affiliates about the issue of beef. Somewhere, the killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri echoed in Bihar’s election, especially among the Muslims.
The second question that arises out of this verdict is whether the people have rebuffed the right-wing majoritarian ideology of the BJP, and that this is a victory for the secular forces. There is a temptation to read the Bihar verdict in ideological terms. It would however be inaccurate to see the electoral outcome through the ideological prism alone. It is quite clear that the rural Bihar voter – victory of the Grand Alliance is due entirely due to the poor, unsophisticated Bihari villager – has preferred a working government of Nitish Kumar over that of the grandiose promises made by Prime Minister Modi on behalf of his party.
If there is an ideological element in this verdict, it is the urban-rural divide. Rural Bihar wants a share in the economic changes that are taking place, and the voter felt that Nitish Kumar is the man for the job.
The puzzle whether Nitish Kumar was riding piggy-back on Lalu Prasad Yadav’s popularity will remain a teaser because there are no easy answers. It appears that Lalu Yadav had steered this tremendous victory but the number of seats won by JD (U) and RJD show that each of them has reinforced the strength of the other. The JD (U) and the RJD had contested 100 seats each, where they considered themselves strong. Nitish Kumar seemed to have attracted quite a number of upper caste and middle class votes. Each party – JD (U) and RJD -- had done well in its own stronghold. In the complex caste-class structure of Bihar, there was a need for tactical alliance between different segments, which include the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) as well as the middle classes. Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav managed to reach out to all the segments of Bihar society.
There is a temptation to extrapolate the Bihar assembly poll verdict on to the national scene and on to the assembly election prospects in other states. As a matter of fact, many of the political pundits are eager to project Nitish Kumar as a potential prime minister candidate of an anti-BJP national alliance in the 2019 general election. The fact is that the Bihar assembly poll verdict is about Bihar alone, and people of other states going to election next year in Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu will make their own decision bases on the local challenges. It would be useful to remember that the Bihar electorate did not trust either Nitish Kumar or Lalu Yadav during the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The argument that had there been a JD (U)-RJD alliance in 2014, the result would have been different remains a speculative argument. Similarly, the assembly poll outcomes in other states would not be a pointer as to who would win the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Secondly, the political base of both Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) and Lalu Yadav’s RJD is really limited to Bihar and it cannot be a winning factor across the country.
The expectation that the BJP would draw appropriate lessons from Sunday’s defeat in Bihar and that it will do a course correction in its mode of campaign in the other elections or that it would temper its language and approach may turn out to be misplaced. The BJP knows that it cannot abandon its right-wing politics because its identity is that of a majoritarian hue. It is also unlikely that there would be any change in the grand style that Modi has created for himself in the one-and-a-half year as prime minister. Modi and BJP president Amit Shah will fight the state assembly elections in the only way they have mastered: a no-holds-barred belligerent approach. In West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress rules the roost as does Chief Minister J.Jayalaltihaa in Tamil Nadu. BJP cannot hope to pull off victories in these two states, and this has nothing to do with its defeat in Bihar. The only state that BJP can hope for victory is in Assam, but it is not an assured one. The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are not going to be easy either because people in that state too will make their choice based on local needs and challenges.
Bihar verdict remains important in spite of the fact that it may not have a ripple effect on elections in other states. It sends out the clear image that the BJP’s belligerent campaign mode has created a sense of revulsion in Bihar as well as in the rest of the country. Both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav had maintained political decorum which seemed to be disappearing at a dangerous pace. It is a lesson not just for the BJP but for all political parties across the country.
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