The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Nitish Kumar, had a record to make and a historical trend, of not going beyond three full terms, to break.
The elections were held in the backdrop of the pandemic and the adverse impact it had on scores of Biharis who seemed to suffer a lot in the early days and weeks of nationwide lockdown that came into being in March.
And there was a demon called rising joblessness in the state, always lurking in the background but got accentuated following massive economic contraction.
But the NDA overcame all these challenges and created an electoral record of sorts in Bihar, albeit with a wafer thin margin.
What is the political message coming out of Bihar?But let us list the firsts we have witnessed in the just concluded assembly elections. Here are they:
- 1. For the first time in decades, Nitish's Janata Dal (United) is not one of the two principal parties in the state assembly and the Lok Janashakti Party has faced an electoral rout.
- 2. Asaduddin Owaisi's AIMIM has made a dramatic entry by bagging five seats in the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region.
- 3. The Rashtriya Janata Dal, seemingly down and out following total rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, made good grounds despite not doing so well in its erstwhile strongholds like Seemanchal and Kosi regions.
- 4. The three Left Parties- the CPI, the CPI (M) and CPI (M-L)- registered one of the best strike rates among parties. Does it indicate a sign of things to come?
Now to the messages the Bihar verdict is trying to send across to the country.
1) Transition from the politics of social justice to that of caste
Of all the regions in Bihar, the RJD did well in two regions- Bhojpur and Patliputra- which had become one of its weak links in recent elections. The two regions have more urban population than the state average, have been relative prosperous areas and have seen fierce caste battles in recent years.
One of the Left parties, the CPI (M-L) has been a key player in the region, representing oppressed social groups. The relationship between the RJD and the CPI (M-L) has been quite acrimonious in the past. By having an alliance this time round, the two have sought to forge a broad social coalition of socially and economically not-so-privileged social groups.
Is there any message to the proponents of opposition politics following better showing by such a coalition against the all- powerful NDA?
2) The women factor
From a turnout of little under 43 per cent in 2005 to nearly 60 per cent in 2015- women's participation in Bihar's assembly elections has witnessed a quantum jump during the Nitish Kumar years. This time too, women outnumbered men by nearly 4 percentage points. And studies after studies have shown that Nitish and his allies have managed to win more women votes than their rivals all these years.
Women have been at the centre of many of Nitish Kumar government's flagship schemes in the last 15 years. Under his watch, Bihar became the first state in the country to have reserved 50 seats for women in panchayat bodies. His bicycle scheme for school girls is known to have arrested the dropout of girl child. And Nitish is said to have gone for a risky prohibition policy to please women. Women voters, analysts argue, may have helped Nitish Kumar to retain power for a record fifth term.
3) Does economic distress matter and have the people been swayed by the discourse around joblessness?
In the run up to the elections, the country has witnessed a massive economic contraction. The impact on Bihar has been disproportionately high, with the rate of joblessness in the state way higher than other states? Did these factors play any role in the elections? That is perhaps the reason why the NDA witnessed a massive erosion in vote share of nearly 14 percentage points since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Since the NDA has built a formidable coalition of social groups, it still managed to win the elections despite such erosion.
Nitish Kumar is known to have considerable support among a large section of Dalits (he had created a category called Mahadalits and announced several sops for them) and a group called MBCs comprising mostly of less privileged among other backward classes. Together they constitute nearly 40 per cent of the state population. Together with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a party known to have solid support among privileged castes, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has managed to stitch a formidable social coalition in the state.
The social coalition built and nurtured over the years helped the NDA scrape through.
4) Loss of LJP cancelled out by gains for AIMIM
The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had a one-point agenda in the elections- to hurt Nitish Kumar and his party. According to reliable estimates, the LJP likely damaged JD (U)'s prospects in as many as 22 constituencies. The LJP, commentators argue, is the reason the JD (U)'s success rate is well below the BJP and the RJD.
However, what worked in the NDA's favour was good performance by AIMIM and BSP combine. The combine won 7 seats and most of them in areas known as RJD and Congress strongholds. In Seemanchal, for instance, where Muslims and Yadavs, two of RJD's key support bases, together constitute more than 40 per cent and more, AIMIM won five seats. The RJD-Congress combine was reduced to low single digits in their erstwhile bastion.
5) The emergence of generation next
The elections had particular significance for leaders like Tejashwi Yadav and Chirag Paswan, the two leaders who had formidable legacy to carry forward. Chirag Paswan of the LJP took a big gamble by fighting it alone and results have shown that he overestimated his party's strength. Tejashwi, on the other hand, may have enough reasons feel satisfied with his party's performance.
While the feeling of coming so close and yet not able to cross the line may rankle, the RJD under Tejashwi deserves credit for scripting an impressive turnaround after suffering a humiliating rout in the Lok Sabha elections only 18 months ago.