New Delhi: The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has retained Bihar in the first major election under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NDA, defying multiple exit polls, sailed past the majority mark, with the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) having to console itself with being the single largest party with 75 seats.
In episode 615 of ‘Cut the Clutter‘, ThePrint’s Editor-in-chief Shekhar Gupta elaborates on six big political takeaways from Tuesday’s Bihar election results.
‘Modi as a leader is unassailable’
Gupta says that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position as a leader continues to be unassailable. This unassailability, he says, has been tested to a large extent in Bihar, a state to which perhaps the largest number of migrants walked home amid the Covid-19 lockdown.
There was a belief that the electorate would be angry and vote against the BJP but the results show otherwise. Uncertainty and job losses aside, the migrants chose to vote for Narendra Modi.
The other test was that of national security. Gupta says it is a big mistake on the part of the opposition, especially Congress, to attack Modi on this front.
“No one is willing to accept that he is compromising India’s interest or national security. What has happened in Ladakh has not impacted Modi’s image… His voters saw him as someone doing his best,” Gupta says, adding that Modi’s voters are forgiving about such issues and don’t suspect his ability in areas of national security.
According to journalists who were on the ground in Bihar, people believe Modi is still doing the best he can or at least better than any other leader at this point in time keeping the larger picture in mind. “To fight him one has to understand his strengths — that’s the first lesson from the election results,” Gupta says.
Also read: Tejashwi’s arrival, Nitish’s tenacity, Shah’s masterstroke — 5 takeaways from Bihar results
Voters don’t think in straight lines
The second lesson from the Bihar elections, Gupta says, is that the ground reality is like nothing that appears on national television or social media. The migrant crisis is testimony to this trend.
“Looking at visuals of blistering feet of migrants, many people presumed they would be angry… Voters don’t think in straight lines, we imagine that they would,” Gupta says.
According to Gupta, the poorest in India are very patriotic and also define the larger national interest. “Some of our reporters found that there is a belief that Modi did this to save lives even if it led to job losses,” he says.
BJP doesn’t need the NDA
According to Gupta, the BJP’s victory has also reiterated that the party no longer needs the NDA. He points out that the Modi cabinet has one non-BJP minister, Ramdas Athawale, who holds the nondescript portfolio of social justice.
Before these elections, Gupta says, the JD(U) was one partner left that the BJP still needed. Even in the Lok Sabha, they were given an equal status.
He adds that this has changed dramatically in Bihar, with the BJP increasing in its numbers while the JD(U) has diminished greatly.
Gupta says that Tejashwi’s RJD and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), headed by Chirag Paswan, ate into the JD(U) vote-share.
Pointing out that the LJP only contested in seats where JD(U) did, Gupta says that the former did damage the latter’s prospects. He, however, termed suggestions that the LJP’s actions were at the behest of the BJP, as a conspiracy theory that cannot be proved.
Gupta also says that JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar will remain the chief minister for the fourth time but adds that this tenure will be weakest of his four innings, and that Kumar will be at the mercy of the BJP.
He, however, also notes that Modi will need Nitish. For one, there is no BJP leader in the state to match Nitish’s stature and two, it is out of character for the Prime Minister to empower a state BJP leader and seek votes in his name.
Gupta says that the BJP is aware of Nitish’s brand value and describes him as the engine that drives the train in Bihar. “His engine is completely secular in terms of who it’s going to couple with,” he adds.
Also read: AIMIM wins 5 seats in Bihar, but hasn’t made a big dent in Mahagathbandhan vote share
Tejashwi Yadav — A leader to watch out for
Gupta says that Tejashwi Yadav has risen as a formidable leader, not just at the state level. He adds that a new opposition will emerge in India with the likes of Tejashwi Yadav.
Gupta says that Tejashwi, as the post-Mandal leader in the Hindi heartland to some extent, can be compared to the rise of Akhilesh Yadav. But while Akhilesh was still in the shadows of his father, party and family, Tejashwi has stepped out of his father’s shadows and carved a niche for himself, Gupta adds.
He also notes that Tejashwi aligning with the Marxists and Leninists such as the CPI(ML) in Bihar was an astute political act.
Chastening for the Congress
According to Gupta, the Congress party has once again proved to be a poor alliance partner and a dead weight around the stronger regional outfit.
It over negotiates, gets too much in the negotiations and then takes the partner down, Gupta says.
He goes on to describe the Congress party as a brand that lives on its reputation, and when customers have lost interest, continues to project itself as a very big brand.
In Bihar, the Congress contested 70 seats but managed to win a mere 19.
There seems to be a pattern to this, Gupta says, adding that in 2017, the Congress got 105 of the over 400 seats in Uttar Pradesh. It won in seven seats for a strike rate of six per cent.
Similarly, in Maharashtra, Congress contested 147 seats and won 44, which amounts to about 30 per cent. Out of 121 seats, the NCP won 54 seats, which is nearly 45 per cent. Hence, Gupta adds, the Congress cannot claim a larger share only on its reputation and its track record.
Also read: Despite the sweet victory, Modi-Shah BJP has a Nitish Kumar-sized problem in Bihar
Resurgence of the Left
Gupta says the traditional political left in India is now dying. They are dead in West Bengal and in fact only survived in Kerala, he says.
Gupta adds that they are divided between the Delhi group and the rest from the day they withdrew support to UPA 1, on the nuclear deal, and their vote share had been going downhill ever since.
According to Gupta, the re-emergence of the Left parties in the Hindi heartland is another important takeaway from the Bihar elections.
“The CPI(ML) is a political Left party but they are to the left of the chic Left,” he says. “Their aligning with Tejashwi Yadav is testimony to that and in fact only two parties have benefitted in the Bihar elections — BJP and the other being ML.”
Today’s naxalites are on their way to becoming tomorrow’s left force in Indian politics, it is only a matter of time, Gupta says.
Watch the latest episode of CTC here:
BJP has passed on all negative action on JDU, voters instead of punishing BJP punished Nitish and his party for lockdown related problems. BJP in that process spoiled JDU and Nitish Kumar’s chance retaining their voters who either shifted to BJP or RJD, LJP was proped up and used to attack JDU even though they were sharing power with BJP who are equally responsible for bad governance. We should not be surprised L from LJP may be replaced with B either upon acquisition or merger as Chirag’s party has no use of its existence in Bihar. As for as confrontation with China, I just want to ask Shekarji, if Congress has mishandled this, will BJP would have spared Congress? They would have been much harsher and used the issue in political stage. Thr voters in India don’t think while voting, it’s herd immunity.
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