Bihar Elections 2020 : the players, strategies and performance

As the dust settles on the bihar elections and beating the pollsters, as NDA gets the majority, a few points stand out: 

  • RJD emerges as the single largest party, followed by BJP in the second position. 
  • BJP’s ally in the state of Bihar, JD(U) becomes a minor party in the coalition. 
  • Owaisi’s AIMIM is able to bag 5 seats.
  • Congress’s performance pulls the Mahagathbandhan down. 
  • Tejashwi led the RJD and became de facto leader of the Mahagathbandhan but in the end fell short. 
  • JD(U) comes third, as RJD pips it to top spot. 

Keeping the above in mind, lets try to look at some events that shaped the elections and major takeaways from these elections. 

BJP’s master stroke

BJP was able to pull a rabbit out of the hat with CHirag Paswan walking out of the NDA coalition in the state but remaining with it in the centre. It fielded candidates in opposition to JD(U) but not against BJP. This led to the votes of the JD(U) getting divided.

If we look at the statistics then there are about 33 seats in which the JD(U) suffered because of LJP and as we can see, this is the margin of seats won by the BJP over JD(U). The beneficiaries was the RJD and other members of the Mahagathbandhan. One estimate is that had LJP remained with the NDA, the Mahagathbandhan would not have secured more than 90 seats. But such is the politics of coalition that despite winning just one seat for his party, Chirag paswan has performed his assigned duty. He has publicly gone on to state that he is Hanuman of Modiji. The advantage that this gave BJP was that it would cut JD(U) to size and would make them the dominant partner in the government. Had the plan not gone according to expectations, then they would have LJP as the partner. So it was benefitting the BJP in both the scenarios. 

Tejashwi emerging as the de facto leader of Mahagathbandhan 

Tejashwi Yadav led RJD polled in the maximum percentage of votes for any single party (23.11%) and also bagged 75 seats to put the BJP into second position. On the ground, the anti incumbency factor was working against Nitish Kumar. After 3 terms of Nitish led development, people were demanding more from Sushasan Babu. Tejashwi was able to give shape to the people’s frustration but was not able to touch the finish line against the combined forces of the BJP and JD(U).

In the absence of Congress, it was always going to be tough for the new incumbent to stand a chance. That he was able to give a fight to the finish to the winners, bodes well for the politics of Bihar and establishes him as a serious candidate in any future elections in the state. Where he lacked in these elections was that the entire Mahagathbandhan was based on anti Nitish stand, without having a clear projection of their own. Tejashwi still carries the baggage of Lalu Raj which was very well reminded by the prime minister in one of his speeches towards the second stage of the polls. But his stature in the state politics of Bihar would have grown tremendously after these elections and if he is able to give expression to his identity, Tejashwi Yadav can become a force to reckon with in future.  

Performance of Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM 

AIMIM’s performance was a surprise to many and also a factor in the Mahagathbandhan losing clear mandate. It is analysed that the Muslim vote got segregated between Mahagathbandhan and AIMIM, thus giving advantage to BJP in term of seats won. Owaisi has talked about the political parties treating Muslims as a vote bank earlier also. Here, he is trying to establish himself as a fringe but crucial player in the future. He has talked about fielding candidates in the UP elections as well which will take place in 2022. Owaisi clearly positions himself against the policies of BJP at centre than at the state level. This result would give him a boost and help him shape his plans for the coming up elections in other states as well. 

The Congress misfire

The Congress won only in 19 of the 70 seats it contested — a huge contrast to the 75 of the 144 seats won by the RJD. Even the CPI-ML, which was part of the alliance, won 12 of the 19 seats it contested, pushing Congress to the bottom of the list in terms of strike rate.

Officially, leaders responsible for handling the Bihar elections attributed it to “bad ticket distribution, the AIMIM factor and polarization of votes in the third and final phase of voting”.

The only senior party leader who campaigned in Bihar was Rahul Gandhi and his strategy was based entirely on personal attacks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which many leaders said proved counter-productive in earlier elections. The Congress misfire was one of the major reasons that the Mahagathbandhan was not able to form the government.

The Modi factor

Once Phase 1 of the Bihar Assembly election was over, a perception grew that the MGB under Tejashwi Yadav was going to run away with the Bihar crown. This is when the prime minister adopted new spins in his rallies.

For Phase 2, the PM used the spectre of the return of the RJD in power and spoke about the ‘Yuvraj of Jungle Raj’. The idea was to remind the voters about the misrule of Tejashwi’s father Lalu Yadav whose face was kept out of the campaign by the RJD.

For the Seemanchal and Kosi region, which went to polls in Phase 3, the PM unleashed the polarising rhetoric. At rallies in Araria and Saharsa on November 3, PM Modi attacked the RJD, Congress and Left as he accused them of having problems with the chants of Jai Shree Ram and Bharat Mata ki Jai.This was no ordinary or isolated spin. The targeted regions have Muslim population as high as over 65 per cent and in the past, the Hindus have displayed a minority mindset that helps easy polarisation.The PM and the BJP knew that this pitch would create a counter polarisation due to the presence of strident calls for minority vote by the AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi.

Thus Modi and the BJP countered the Mahagathbandhan with astute politics and craftsmanship.

The above analysis tries to show the causes of the events that transpired in the elections. We have to now sit back and figure out what the new government will look like and how will the next CM tackle the basic problems of unemployment, sagging economy and the backwardness of Bihar. 

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