New rules of the game
THE WEEK|November 22, 2020
Beyond political machinations, the Bihar election results mark a subtle break from the past
PRATUL SHARMA

A raging pandemic and an economic slowdown had hit the people hard. The loss of livelihood had particularly squeezed the middle class and the poor. And the election was their opportunity to express their opinion.

When the votes were counted on November 10, it was clear that they had largely reposed their faith in the ruling dispensation, not just in Bihar, but also in eight other states where by-polls were held in the 59 assembly seats and one Lok Sabha constituency. The BJP retained its edge over the rivals. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in particular, saved the day for the National Democratic Alliance in Bihar.

The saffron party, which had suffered several setbacks in states since 2018, has regained some of the lost ground in the assembly polls. It won 41 of these 59 assembly byelections, mostly at the cost of the Congress. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh is now in comfortable position (out of 28 seats that went to the polls, the BJP won 19). In Gujarat, the party won all the eight seats. It won six out of seven seats in Uttar Pradesh and five in Manipur. The victory in the Dubbaka

FACE OF THE CAMPAIGN

While Nitish Kumar was the leader of the NDA in Bihar, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who pulled in the votes constituency in Telangana has provided the party with a crucial entry into the state.

In Bihar, the BJP emerged as the dominant player, winning 74 seats, 21 more than what it won five years ago. For the first time, it is within striking distance of having its own chief minister in the state. For now, the BJP has said Nitish Kumar would continue as chief minister as it had promised before the elections.

The Bihar story, however, is far from a linear one. Nitish’s diminished appeal (his Janata Dal (U)’s tally is down by 28 seats) has opened the doors for Tejashwi Yadav, whose Rashtriya Janata Dal is the single-largest party with 75 seats. The RJD bettered its vote share from 18.3 per cent in 2015 to 23.1 per cent, polling nearly 18 lakh more votes than 2015. The BJP dropped from 24.4 per cent to 19.5 per cent, polling 11 lakh fewer votes. Surprisingly, the JD(U) polled almost the same number of votes as 2015.

The good show by Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and the left parties has created a new dynamic in the state. The main takeaway for the opposition parties to counter the BJP is to keep the issues local and find a narrative that takes the attention away from national issues.

Nitish has just managed to survive. “It was an attempt by some of our people, and some rivals to harm Nitish Kumar,” said K.C. Tyagi, senior JD(U) leader and a close associate of Nitish. Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party played a crucial role in ensuring an upper hand for the BJP. The LJP, which was part of the NDA, had put up candidates in 143 seats against the JD(U) and in five seats against the BJP. The LJP is said to have hurt the JD(U) in some 30 seats, even though it could win only one seat and 5.6 per cent of votes.

Despite never having a majority of his own, Nitish survived the rough Bihar politics through careful manoeuvring. He needed the help of the BJP or the RJD to be in power. He had a brush with propriety in 2005, when his alliance did not have the numbers. During a meeting of some leaders at fellow socialist and party man George Fernandes's house, a suggestion was made that money be arranged to win over legislators. Nitish refused to be part of it. In 2014, he took the moral responsibility of his party’s disastrous defeat in the Lok Sabha elections and resigned from the post of the chief minister. He will be closely watched this time, too.

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