New Delhi: The National Democratic Alliance is set to beat a resurgent opposition and 15 years of anti-incumbency to retain power in Bihar, which means Nitish Kumar is all set to take oath as CM for the seventh time.
It was a cliffhanger election marked by a valiant challenge from 31-year-old opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav, who made unemployment and economic distress the centrepiece of his poll campaign and drove the poll narrative. In the end though, the NDA looks to have edged past the majority mark of 122 in the 243-member assembly. At midnight, the NDA’s tally read 125 (including wins and leads), while the Mahagathbandhan led by Tejashwi’s Rashtriya Janata Dal was set to win 110 seats. But all results are not final yet.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has emerged as the dominant partner in the NDA. Going by the available leads, its 74 seats are 31 more than what Nitish’s Janata Dal (United) looks to have managed, and just one less than the RJD, which seems to have emerged as the single largest party with 75.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his congratulations to workers from the BJP and its allies, and expressed gratitude to the people of Bihar.
“With the blessings of the people of Bihar, democracy has won again. BJP and NDA workers have worked with overwhelming determination and dedication. I congratulate all these workers and express heartfelt gratitude to the people of Bihar,” Modi wrote.
बिहार में जनता-जनार्दन के आशीर्वाद से लोकतंत्र ने एक बार फिर विजय प्राप्त की है।@BJP4Bihar के साथ एनडीए के सभी कार्यकर्ताओं ने जिस संकल्प-समर्पण भाव के साथ कार्य किया, वह अभिभूत करने वाला है। मैं कार्यकर्ताओं को बधाई देता हूं और बिहार की जनता के प्रति हृदय से आभार प्रकट करता हूं।
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) November 10, 2020
The results mean that the BJP won’t play second fiddle to the JD(U) any longer and may look to consolidate its gains and expand its footprints in Bihar, even at the cost of its alliance partner. Nitish has been the face of the JD(U) and the NDA in Bihar since 2005, except for a 3.5-year period when he had left the alliance. He had announced his impending retirement from electoral politics in his last campaign speech.
How the battle was won and lost
The story of the Bihar election was, however, Chirag Paswan, leader of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and son of its founder, the late Ram Vilas Paswan. He was instrumental in bringing down the JD(U)’s tally by at least 40 seats, as analysed by ThePrint. Of the 137 seats on which Chirag Paswan fielded candidates, 110 were those contested by the JD(U). However, the LJP won just one seat.
Given that JD(U) leaders suspected the BJP’s role in pitting Chirag against Kumar, the JD(U)’s underwhelming performance is likely to cast a shadow on the equations between the two ruling partners.
If Chirag, an NDA renegade, was instrumental in undermining the JD(U) in the ruling alliance, the Congress could be responsible for dragging the opposition alliance down — and possibly denying it power. The Congress had managed to secure the right to contest 70 seats in a hard bargain with the RJD, but ended up losing 51 of them. The Congress won 19 seats, eight less than what it had won in 2015. Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM also ate into the opposition alliance’s votes and seats, winning five seats.
Within the Mahagathbandhan, there was another surprise in the form of the resurgent Left parties, who together won 16 seats.
What the future could hold
Despite his failure to dislodge Nitish Kumar from power, Tejashwi Yadav may come home satisfied. Despite his father Lalu Prasad being in Ranchi jail and many senior leaders quitting the RJD just before the elections, the young leader managed to give the NDA a scare. He has emerged as a young politician with sharp political acumen, who has to be watched out for in the future.
Although Nitish Kumar has retained the chief ministership, there could be uncertainty looming large over his continuance for the full term, given the BJP’s numerical superiority in the ruling coalition. He is likely to come under pressure from his alliance partner, which will be mindful of the growing impatience of the people over lack of job opportunities in the state that has failed to attract investors.
Whether Kumar will be able to deliver in what’s his last stint in office before retirement is a question that only time will answer.