In what was seen as a nail-biter of an election in Bihar, several narratives received spotlight, several legacies altered and most importantly, the rarity and significance of Assembly elections in India being reinstated. This article addresses the National Democratic Alliance’s path to victory, the factors that played a role in the journey and how the depiction of a national party subjugating regional legacy has strongly cemented the BJP’s foundations in Bihar for the upcoming years.
Rohit Kumar V
For a party that has in the past 6 years become one of the most influential and dominant political groups to ever step foot in the domain of Indian politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continues to grow from strength to strength each day, regardless of the on-ground impact it holds and the controversial form of governance it brings to the table. The party continued its winning glory with a successful political season in the Bihar Assembly elections of 2020. Emerging victorious in 74 seats, the party secured fort for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to return to power in the State with Nitish Kumar at the helm for a fourth consecutive term.
Bihar has not seen a national party dominate its political arena since 1960 when the Congress pulled off a victory by turning more than 40 per cent of the votes polled in its favour. This is exactly what makes this election so important for the BJP as this victory sets a solid foundation for the party to grow in Bihar. With just one seat short of being declared as the single largest party, the BJP outperformed its opposition as well as its own allies in the race to the State Assembly. All of which was a direct result of the influence that one man possesses – Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Right from the initial days of the election season up until the final phase before polls, the NDA ran its campaigns on the charismatic image of PM Modi.
Given that this election saw Bihar’s ‘Sushasan Babu’ Nitish Kumar contest in the State elections for the last time, the Janata Dal United’s (JD(U)) performance was at its worst in the last 15 years. One of the primary reasons for this being the strong anti-incumbency factor that Nitish Kumar faced as the Chief Minister and chief of the JD(U) , which certainly had a huge hand in removing the JD(U) as the big brother in the NDA. With the BJP ahead of it with a massive margin of 31 seats, one can only expect an environment of scepticism and hardship ahead for Nitish and his party in the current coalition.
Phase-wise Seat Share and Party Strike Rate
The BJP, if anything, has seen a positive increase in its seat share percentage in the last three elections in Bihar. In this election alone, the NDA managed to project a positive seat share percentage in the three phases – 29.1 per cent in phase one, 52.1 per cent in phase two and 66.7 per cent in phase three. The interesting point to note, however, is that the NDA’s best performance came in the phase that had the least percent of its traditional vote bank and its worst performance came in the phase that was home to most of the JD(U) voters. The BJP, by holding its ground in phase two and beating the RJD’s seat share of 46.8 per cent, cemented its voter base amongst the upper castes and Baniya communities, who are largely concentrated in the regions under phase two.
Given that a national party rarely has any impact on the State in comparison to the regional players, the BJP performing at a stellar strike rate narrates the rise of a new age of politics in Bihar. Within its coalition, the BJP was decimating the JD(U) with a difference of almost 30 per cent in the respective party’s strike rates – the BJP striking at 67.3 per cent, winning almost 7 of 10 seats it contested in and the JD(U) at 37.4 per cent scraping through victories in 3-4 of 10 seats it contested.
In the analysis of party-against-party comparison on ground, the BJP yet again finished way ahead of its ally. It maintained a strike rate above 50 per cent against all three fronts of opposition – 61.7 per cent against the RJD, 80.6 per cent against the Congress and 58.3 per cent against the Left parties and others. No other party was able to replicate this success. The JD(U), on the other hand, found success only against the Congress with a strike rate of 60.7 per cent, while the RJD and Left parties broke down the party’s strike rate to a mere 29.6 per cent and 31.3 per cent, respectively.
Magadh and Bhojpur Affect NDA’s Popularity
Like all its previous elections, Bihar maintained a low voter turnout percentage this season as well – 57 per cent. In the three phases of polling, the first phase — which had regions of central Bihar, Magadh and Bhojpur — witnessed the lowest turnout. Mahagathbandhan’s (MGB) strike rate against the NDA was the highest in phase one. One might almost call these two regions of Bhojpur and Magadh the game changers of the elections. The NDA’s former tally of 24 seats (JD(U) –14 & BJP –10) in Bhojpur got reduced to a mere 11 seats (JD(U) – 2 & BJP – 9), with RJD walking away with 26, the Congress and the Left parties with 7 each. Magadh portrayed a similar narrative as the NDA got reduced to 21 seats (JD(U) – 7, BJP – 11, HAMS – 3) from its earlier position of 28 seats. Yet again, the MGB dismantled the alliance with the RJD winning 21 seats, the Congress 3 and the Left Parties 6 seats.
One primary reason for the fall of the NDA in these two regions was the severe dissatisfaction of the people over the work of the JD(U) MLAs and Nitish’s leadership in resolving the unemployment crisis. This issue was as real as it gets for the NDA, given that most of the JD(U)’s vote bank— the Dalit and EBC voters — hail from these regions. Besides this, the Nalanda and Patna districts are the home-ground of Nitish Kumar, where having a decrease in popularity could only imply trouble for the NDA’s CM nominee. One could argue that this had a direct implication on the voter turnout rate where the voters did not want to bring back the JD(U) to power, at the same time hesitated from voting for the MBG. Either ways, the JD(U) pulled the NDA down to the losing end in the contest of phase one.
LJP Factor Increased Hardship for Nitish and JD(U)
The journey of the LJP in this election was nothing less than a case of a ‘struggled-failure’. Following the death of the former LJP chief and political stalwart Ram Vilas Paswan, the ambitious opposition against the JD(U) that Chirag Paswan ran his election campaign on, certainly did not reflect in the party’s performance. While the LJP managed to only win the one seat of Mathihani in the Begusarai district, it had a colossal impact on marginalising the vote bank of the JD(U). Given that the party de facto walked out of the NDA alliance owing to differences with Nitish and his party, LJP fielded candidates in all the constituencies that the JDU contested from. Besides this, the LJP had a strong hand in defecting prominent leaders, politicians and all prospective candidates that the BJP did not provide a ticket to contest, into the party – most of whom belonged to the upper castes. The JD(U) had the task of subjugating these upper caste candidates representing the LJP, which was a main reason for its vote bank getting divided. Adding the X factor of Tejashwi and the RJD to this mix was the final nail in the coffin, which made it a three-way battle for the JD(U) to overcome. Thus, in any possibility, the LJP factor ensured that the JD(U) was never a frontrunner in this election.
Victory Margins Tell the Story
Assessing the performance of the NDA in the victory margins front, the BJP certainly emerged at the top, showing a complete dominance in 30 of its 74 seats, which were won with a margin of more than 20,000 votes, beating the RJD’s tally of 26 seats under this category. The JD(U), on the other hand, equalled these stats in just 9 seats. In the seats that were won with a margin of less than 1000 votes, the regional parties performed poorly in comparison to the BJP. While the RJD scraped through winning 3 seats with such a margin, the JD(U) managed to secure a struggling victory in 4 seats, two of which were won with a margin of just 113 and 12 votes in the constituencies of Barbigha and Hilsa. The BJP, on the other hand, had only one such victory under a margin of 1000 votes which came in the constituency of Bachhwara, with 484 votes – a constituency that voted for a CPI and Congress MLA in the past two elections.
Days after the win, Sushil Modi became the first BJP politician to attain a seat in all four houses of the parliamentary setup – the Lok Sabha, the State Legislative Assembly, the State Legislative Council and now, the Rajya Sabha. A feat that was earlier held only by Nagmani Kushwaha and Lalu Yadav. This unopposed election of Sushil Kumar Modi to the Rajya Sabha is just an example of the kind of stronghold that the BJP now has over the NDA alliance and the State government.
As we close the election chapter in Bihar, focus now turns towards the BJP’s ambitions of securing victory in the upcoming Assembly elections of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu in 2021. Whether the Modi factor will aid the BJP to repeat the narrative of a national party subjugating regional legacy is an uncertainty only time could explicate and clarify; but for now, the ‘Double Engine Sarkar’ is on track in what seems to be a bumpy road ahead in Bihar politics.
Rohit Kumar V is Research Intern at the Centre for Public Policy Research. Views expressed are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.
Featured Image Source: Business Standard