It would be foolish on the part of arm-chair critics to blame one or two individuals like Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or just one or two factors such as “growing intolerance” or the “caste factor” for the mammoth defeat of the BJP and its allies in Bihar because there are several reasons for this debacle. While some attribute it to BJP’s reluctance to project a chief ministerial candidate when its rival had a credible face in Nitish Kumar, others say Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Chief Mohan Bhagwat’s suggestion that there should be a review of the reservation policy, played a major role. Meanwhile, there are many who claim that Nitish Kumar’s popularity among the state’s voters, as well as his image as Bihar’s Vikas Purush, was one of the most decisive factors for the Grand Alliance’s triumph.
Some others say Nitish Kumar’s ploy to make ‘Bihari versus Bahari’ one of his main campaign themes, by projecting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah as outsiders and asking the state’s voters to choose a ‘Bihari’ and not a ‘Bahari’, made the biggest impact. However, some of the crucial fallouts of the Bihar polls that are worth highlighting are as follows: the Grand Alliance has won more than two-third seats, Rashtriya Janata Dal has emerged as the single largest party with a whopping figure of 80 seats, whereas Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s BJP has suffered its biggest political setback and Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM could not even secure 1% of the total vote share. Meanwhile, the massive defeat of the BJP has lessons for all – for the politicians, the political parties and even for the voters.
Bihari versus Bahari
Why Biharis opted for a ‘Bihari’ and not a ‘Bahari’ has to be studied first. Believe it or not, elections in any Indian state can never be compared or equated with polls in highly homogeneous provinces of the Western countries, where voters hardly have any caste-related issues or communal tensions as topics of debate and discussions. Almost every pre-poll and exit poll surveys by news agencies have repeatedly provided enough evidence to support this truth. Furthermore, the foremost factor that helped the Grand Alliance ride to victory with Nitish Kumar as their projected Chief Minister was undeniably ‘development’. Bijli, Sadak, Pani, and those bicycles to schoolgirls (which significantly lessened dropout rates) are things to cherish in a state where the poor and rural inhabitants decide the future of all political aspirants. Nitish brought these things to the poor.
For Nitish, it was the tag of ‘Vikas Purush’ that insulated him from the disquiet of the famed Modi-wave, whereas for LaluPrasad it was his impeccable social engineering tactics as well asthe caste factor he played up as part of his vote bank politics that revived his fortunes. Though this strategy of Lalu may provedetrimental to the country and its economic prospects, no one, other than the Biharis could have ever thought that Lalu’s comeback would be so grand and so decisive. It now appears that Nitish’s election tagline ’Bihari versus Bahari’ worked the best for his decades-long foe and now the best ally, Lalu. After all, it was not until 2005 that Nitish found contentment in state politics, which he planned to ditch again in 2014. As such, Lalu undoubtedly deserved the ‘Bihari’ label.
Why did the Biharis not pick a Bahari (outsider)? The answer lies within the question. The term ‘Bahari’ perfectly fits the BJP squad that relied unreasonably on the allure of Prime MinisterNarendra Modi and the strategic aptitude of their Party President, Amit Shah. Moreover, Sushil Modi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Shatrughan Sinha and the other local leaders of Biharwere sidelined, and the proven Amit Shah-approach that hadtransformed the trend in BJP’s favor in North India during the 2014 general elections was adopted, but it failed miserably this time. It is a simple and accepted notion in Indian politics that thenational, state and civic body polls are typically fought in unrelated backdrops. But BJP seems to have misinterpreted thistheory. Similar to what happened at the time of the Delhi debacle, where Kiran Bedi was inducted in the very end creating disquiet and chaos among the party workers, in Bihar too, the voters did not know who would take over the BJP command in the state if the BJP was victorious as no chief minister candidate was declared. In this context, the question that begs an answer is: Are the state units of the BJP so incapable that it does not have any competent and deserving leaders?
It seems that the Bihar election was yet again another test ofNarendra Modi’s policies, and its conclusions may go a long way to making the Prime Minister better understand the pulse of the Indian voters. The BJP, as well as our beloved country,cannot afford the Indira Gandhi-Janata Party like rift in the present conditions when we are all aiming at inclusive development, employment, and eradication of poverty. Claiming that the BJP and its top squad had misread the Bihar scenario would only lead us towards distorted findings. In India, the common man has the pivotal say, if not in the economy, at least in the political sphere. For instance, if you ask a common man from Bihar, who voted for the Grand Alliance or any other person from a different state of India as to how much he feels elated to know that India has overtaken China in GDP growth rate, you would draw a blank. Similarly, an ordinary Indian may not know that India has pulled ahead of China and the US and has emerged as the world’s number one destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2015.
On the other hand, if you ask him why parties like the RJD and the BSP get the support of the public despite their leaders being involved in massive corruption scandals, you will get some convincing and insightful replies. That tells us social engineering works very well in India, where the common man feels more empowered. Even though such empowerment may be delusive or short-term, Indian political leaders reap immense political gains from such a scenario. For example, Tamil Nadu’s current Chief Minister, who was sentenced to four years in prison, enjoys enormous public support because of the freebies and perks she distributes from the public exchequer. Hence, leaders like Nitish, Lalu, Mulayam, Mamta, Mayawati and Arvind Kejriwal enjoy such a strong backing as state leaders that any party contesting polls against them in the name of a national leader is unlikely to win any election in their states. Though no one can ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to adopt the strategies or gimmicks of the said leaders, it is important to ensure that the benefits emanating from his sincere efforts and good work should percolate and reach the common man.
Shift in Voters’ Perception
What was it that made Narendra Modi the Prime Minister of India? What was the sole factor that aided the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) secure a landslide victory in Delhi? And what brought a third term for Nitish Kumar in Bihar? It seems, lately the voters’ perception has been changing rapidly and radically; and they have started favouring incorruptible and effective leaders. Had it been a non-performing chief minister in Bihar, the BJP wouldnot have failed so drastically. The BJP knows that in Bihar, people from all castes had voted for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in a bid to free the country from the clutches of corruption and inefficiency. These voters, a substantial number of which are very poor and reside in remote and rural areas, expect tangible results from their leaders as well as from their government. In this scenario, the soaring prices of pulses and other essential commodities coupled with the dire economic conditions of our country’s farmers ruined it for the BJP.
Here it is worth recalling that as a social repackaging exercise and in response to Lalu Yadav’s Dalit cluster in Bihar, someyears back Nitish Kumar had coined a new term ‘Mahadalit’, while referring to the extremely weaker castes. Roughly translated, it means the most oppressed or the ones on the last rung of the social and economic ladder. The Mahadalit Commission was also set up in the state in 2007 adding to Nitish’s acceptability among the traditional vote bank of Lalu. However, it is hard to understand why the BJP government at the Centre or in any of the states, especially in Maharashtra, has not yet set up such dedicated Commission for farmers, hundreds of whom have opted to commit suicide to escape grinding poverty and mounting debts, rather than seek government help.
The BJP leaders should know that the demand-supply reasoning is very hard for the common man to understand. When one saysthat bad monsoon caused the deficiency of essential commodities, the common man wonders why the government in power cannot formulate appropriate policies to alleviate the resultant sufferings emanating from such developments. They prefer to hold the government liable and are not willing to accept even valid justifications. Roads, power, and housing may not be the direct obligation of the central government, but the common man does not think along those lines. He perceives the government to be an all-powerful entity with unlimited resources at its command. He believes that if the government desires, it can execute or implement whatever needs to be done. Because of this, the BJP should explore avenues to strengthen its state units and promote devoted workers in a bid to reach outand create awareness among the general public. The party cannot hope to win all the elections just by riding on the Modiwave.
Polarization Worked Against the BJP
If communalism had been a factor in Bihar, the BJP as well as the AIMIM, which is the self-proclaimed rescuer of Muslims, would not have suffered such humiliating defeats. What the Grand Alliance used as their punchline was ‘Development with Peace’, something that was the need of the hour. Prevention of cow slaughter, though an essential topic of discussion, need not have been made an election issue. Even the question of minority-based reservations by the Grand Alliance shouldn’t have been raised as a point during the election rally. Had the BJP projected the Bihar polls as Modi’s governance and development model versus that of Nitish, the post-election scenario for theBJP would have been significantly more encouraging and rewarding. But here too, Prime Minister Modi’s massive poll promises seeking noticeable returns for the common man would have fallen short of Nitish’s deliveries so far. Meanwhile, blaming the RSS or Mohan Bhagwat’s suggestion for a review of the reservation policy on economic grounds also does not make any sense. In view of the above, it is time for the BJP leadership to do some introspection.
Now that the Grand Alliance has tasted the never-anticipated triumph, it would be interesting to see how Nitish’s mode of governance (and his national ambitions) synchronizes with Lalu’s style of functioning, termed as Jungle Raj by his critics. An inapt combination in the state can halt the reform process and even lead to some law and order related issues, with the remote control of the government lying in the hands of Lalu.The Bihar verdict has boosted the confidence of the non-NDA parties, which may transform into a major challenge for Narendra Modi in the 2019 polls, with Nitish wanting to project himself as the common leader of the Opposition parties and a worthy contender for the top position.
For the BJP, the takeaways are many. Rhetoric politics and governance promises by themselves are no longer acceptable to the masses. Only proven and tangible results can fetch the much-needed votes and support. While state units have to be strengthened, leaders and workers need to be recognized andmotivated. They should also be paid for efficiently discharging their work with full commitment. Corrective measures should be initiated wherever necessary, sooner than later. Required help should be extended to the farmers in terms of providing them high-yielding seeds and easy credit facilities. Special schemes for the poor and the backward, making essential commodities easily available as well as child education are areas craving for immediate attention. And the best way to connect with the public on these issues is to nurture and create effective local leadership, an area the BJP seems to have neglected so far.
Moody’s, as well as the IMF and the World Bank, may have a positive outlook for the Indian economy, stalled projects may have been given the required boost, curative actions may have been initiated for dismantling obstructive laws, but the general public is craving for something else. Prime Minister Modi hasn’t been able to diagnose and find out what they really want. Meanwhile, the land bill hullabaloo hasn’t brought anythingpositive for the Modi-led NDA government, except the agitation of farmers. Had Nitish won the election with the BJP as an ally, had Lalu not been tagged as the originator of Bihar’s Jungle Raj, had the Grand Alliance not become a reality and had the castefactor not played any role in Bihar’s political firmament, then the verdict of November 8 would indeed have been a cause for celebration for the BJP. However, the reality is otherwise, and the post-poll scenario in Bihar has brought immense cheer to the Sahitya Akademi awardees who protested by returning their accolades. Their ploy to defame the Narendra Modi and the NDA government by raising allegations of “growing intolerance” seems to have worked.
Now the lesson for the general public is concerned with the segregation of Hindu votes based on castes and sub-castes, which in turn has helped political parties like the RJD dominate despite being disgraced for their past failures. Such parties have also been able to capitalize on the prevailing casteist and communal hatred, and they have managed to lure the Muslim votes and thereby emerged as strong challengers to the BJP. In fact, the humiliating defeat that the BJP suffered in the Bihar election can be attributed to this factor. Though, on a single-party basis, the BJP’ vote share of 24.8% is higher than the individual shares of 16.7% of the JDU and 18.5% for the RJD, it has not actually translated into any gain in terms of winning seats. Hence, it is disappointing to note this is how things work in India. However, if we want our future generations to land up respectable jobs and live good quality lives, it is high time we started shunning caste-based and community-based voting practices.
Bihar, the state where Nitish commenced ‘Vikas’, craves for many more development-oriented initiatives to enable itself to come out of the grip of underdevelopment and scarcity. For that to happen, a BJP-JDU collaboration would be in the best interest of Bihar and Biharis. So if both the political parties are willing to forsake their respective egos for the sake of the nation and in their own self-interest, then there is a bright future awaiting all the players. In the process, they can also set a unique examplefor other political parties to emulate. Meanwhile, if during the next five years the JDU and the RJD can maintain the same harmony that they had displayed prior to the announcement of the election results, then their government can show a splendid performance in Bihar in the coming five years. Meanwhile, the BJP can also learn a lot from what all went wrong in the Bihar elections and shun arrogance and over-confidence in future, which will help the party reap rich dividends in the forthcoming Assembly elections in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, UP and other states.
Meanwhile, only time can say if Biharis have made the right or wrong choice by voting for the Grand Alliance. We can only hope that the newly-formed Nitish-led government is able to fulfill all the promises made to the people of the state