Patna: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Saturday suffered a major and unexpected defeat in the by-election to Bihar’s Bochahan Assembly constituency (reserved), which it had tried to snatch away from its erstwhile ally, Mukesh Sahani’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) trounced the BJP candidate by a huge margin of over 36,000 votes — while the VIP, contesting separately from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), took away more than 29000 votes.
According to local politicians, what has hurt the BJP the most is that the upper-caste Bhumihars, who are part of its traditional base and have a sizeable presence in the constituency, were lukewarm towards the party. They estimate that a significant portion of the community — perhaps 40 per cent — voted for the RJD candidate.
BJP leaders were stunned. “I knew things were bad, but I could not visualise a defeat on this scale,” said a party MLA who had been camping in the constituency.
BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal attributed his party’s defeat to a sympathy wave for the RJD candidate, Amar Kumar Paswan — the son of the late VIP MLA Musafir Paswan, whose death in November last year triggered the by-election.
“The defeat is also because of our core voters’ anger against the party,” he said, emphasising that the party would look into the reasons for its defeat.
Celebration time for Mukesh Sahani
For Mukesh Sahani, founder and president of the VIP, it was a time for celebration. His supporters were distributing sweets, despite the fact that their candidate, Geeta Devi, had come third.
“It proves that my support matters in alliances. In the 2020 assembly polls, the then VIP candidate Musafir Paswan had won because of the support of the Mallah (fishermen) community…This time, the absence of that support led to the crushing defeat of the BJP candidate,” Sahani, a leader of the Mallah community, told ThePrint.
Last month, in the wake of its victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, the BJP moved against Sahani, who, while part of the NDA in Bihar, had contested the UP polls separately and made statements against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Not only did the BJP get all 3 VIP MLAs to defect to it, they had Sahani, a Member of the Legislative Council, dropped from the ministry, where he had been minister for animal husbandry and fisheries. The BJP deciding to field its own candidate in Bochahan after the death of the sitting VIP MLA had been another bone of contention.
BJP leaders ridiculed Sahani’s claim that he was a leader of the Mallah or Nishad community, claiming that they had a bigger leader in Muzaffarpur MP Ajay Nishad.
But the Bochahan Assembly segment falls in the Muzaffarpur seat, and now the BJP leadership appears to be aware that they were wrong.
“Perhaps we should have delayed the action against Mukesh till after the polls,” remarked a BJP MLC who was there for three days during the campaign, when some 40 legislators from the party, as well as Union ministers such as Giriraj Singh, had set up camp in the constituency.
“The Mallah community voted against us with a vengeance, saying that we had insulted their leader,” added the MLC.
BJP candidate Baby Kumari got just 45,000 votes, compared to the RJD candidate’s 82,000. According to BJP leaders, this is because three groups of core voters deserted the party — Nishads because of Mukesh Sahini, Paswans because the RJD candidate belongs to that community, and the upper-caste Bhumihars.
Speaking to ThePrint, a senior BJP leader who did not wish to be named said, “The Bhumihar community were angry against BJP minister Ram Surat Rai, who was made in-charge of the election, and his utterances against leaders of the community who he dubbed ‘Mafia’. It was not surprising that several influential leaders such as former minister Suresh Sharma and Amar Pandey openly rebelled against the BJP candidate and worked for her defeat.”
“In every election, we took the Bhumihar votes for granted. This poll showed that we cannot do so any longer,” he added.
The BJP was able to convince Chirag Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), son of the late Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, not to field a candidate — but this does not seem to have helped the party secure Paswan votes.
The victorious RJD, on the other hand, has expanded its base of support. Two years ago, party leader Tejashwi Yadav had spoken about the need to make it an “A to Z party”, and has tried to move beyond the traditional coalition of Muslim and Yadav voters.
Since then, Tejashwi has given tickets to upper-caste, Other Backward Class (OBC) and Extremely Backward Class (EBC) candidates from communities perceived as NDA votebanks. In the MLC polls held earlier this month where Panchayat members voted, five of the RJD’s six victorious candidates belonged to the Bhumihar caste.
“It is a warning signal for the NDA that it must woo back its traditional votes,” said the BJP MLC.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)