Caste Arithmetic Failed the Gatbandhan

Electoral Analysis: Bihar

The NDA bagged 39 of the 40 LS seats in Bihar by stringing together several social components.

From Anish Ankur in Patna
The outcome of the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar has been unprecedented. The sweeping victory of the NDA winning 39 of the 40 seats in the State has stunned the observers. Riding the Modi wave, the NDA juggernaut has reduced to pulp the entire Mahagatbandhan (MGB) led by the Rashtriya Janata Dal whose supremo Laloo Yadav has been in jail for the last couple of years. The five-party MGB alliance could win just a lone seat of Kishenganj where Congress candidate Dr. Mohammed Jawed registered his victory.
Biggies on the Trash Heap
In the dustbin of the electoral rejects can be seen leaders like film actor Shatrughan Sinha, former Speaker of Lok Sabha Meira Kumar, former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha, former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi and veteran socialist leader Sharad Yadav. The rout of the RJD has come as a shocker and may spell trouble for Tejaswi Yadav, younger son of Laloo Yadav, who is the principal Opposition leader. The outcome has hiked people’s expectation for ‘Development’ from the Nitish Kumar’s ‘Double Engine’ Government (NDA at the Centre as well as in Patna). One of the most talked about personalities in the election, Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU, came second in Begusarai against BJP’s Giriraj Kishore.
The grand alliance’s drubbing at the hustings has been more severe than in 2014 when it could take at least seven of the 40 seats. The seat saw a three-cornered contest and RJD’s Tanweer Hasan even lost his deposit. Such was the magnitude of defeat that the combined count of both the CPI and the RJD is less by a margin of two lakh votes from the BJP rival. Most of the NDA nominees won by an average margin of two lakh votes. An interesting fact about elections in Bihar is that NOTA votes accounted for third highest on 13 seats.
Laloo’s Absence
But why did the MGB fail so miserably? Poll observers link the failure primarily to RJD chief’s absence from the poll arena and then to delay in reaching the seat adjustment and RJD’s strategic ploy to accord priority to smaller allies such as RLSP, HAMS and VIP over the nominees from the Congress in matters of seat allocation.
But even this alliance did not work properly. Says Vinit Rai, socio-political activist: Delay in seat adjustment and rebel candidates of RJD and Congress who contested against the official nominees, be it in Madhubani, Jehanabad, Shivahar and Buxar, spoiled the prospects. Laloo’s elder son Tej Pratap rebelled against his brother sending wrong message across the core constituency of Laloo’s supporters. Even Tejaswi and Rahul Gandhi did not campaign together till the third phase of the election. Cracks were evident in the traditional Muslim-Yadav combination. “Tejaswi lacked his father’s capability to effect vote-transfer among these two important social components”, says social scientist D. M. Diwakar.
Poor Connect
Congress also performed clumsily. According to poll watcher Gopal Sharma, weak organisational structure and over-dependence on ‘imports’ led to the disaster. Some of the imported nominees such as Shatrughan Sinha, Neelam Devi and former BJP MP, Uday Singh fielded by the Congress, failed to connect with the workers who remained indifferent.
Multiplier Effect
Interestingly, even in terms of social components that the BJP, the JDU and the LJP (led by Ramvilas Paswan) represented, the NDA harvested better dividends than the Gatbandhan. They had together taken 30% votes in 2014. But this time round, their combined tally of votes soared to 52.30%. Their coming together had a multiplier effect. In 2014, JDU had contested alone and had to be content with victory on two seats. Having moved to the NDA side, the BJP and LJP sacrificed five seats to accommodate Nitish’s party. Thus, while the BJP and JDU were assigned 17 seats each, the LJP was given six seats. While the BJP brought uppercaste votes, the JDU with deep penetration among extremely backward classes (EBCs), boosted the prospects. The LJP further enhanced the prospects with its Dalit component.
No Counter Narrative
Along with the caste arithmetic, the strong organisational structure and assiduously built electoral machinery over the years, played a decisive role in NDA’s favour. Says educational activist Gajendrakant, with the help of its giant election machinery, monopoly over media and digital platforms and money power, the BJP was able to sell and send its narrative to the voters more effectively. The narrative was centred around development and nationalism, the latter carrying a communal connotation.
Caste turning into Class
Gajendrakant goes on to say that the parties in opposition, despite their rich political experience, were not able to create a their counter-narrative against the BJP. It is buttressed by Ghalib Khan who travelled extensively during the elections, says the fight was almost one-sided. “The NDA was much ahead of the Gatbandhan. He says, the political weight of the neo-rich rural class has increased considerably in recent years and it is they who control and direct the electoral behaviour of the poor who work on their farms. “It is entirely new phenomenon which cannot be understood through coloured glasses of caste. In my view, it is the victory of the new capital,” he asserts.
Future Imperfect
What does this success mean to Bihar? Will the new NDA Government respond to Nitish Kumar’s old demand of special status to Bihar? Incidentally in the last phases of elections Nitish started raising the issue of special status. The questions now uppermost in minds are: How the Parliamentary elections will impact the prospects of 2020 Assembly elections? Will the Grand alliance partners remain within the RJD fold till then? Will Bihar Assembly elections be fought with the same combination or a new set of equations will emerge?

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