November 27, 2020

Bihar by-poll results are a rude wake up call for BJP and Nitish Kumar

The outcome of the recently concluded by-polls in Bihar, which ended up maintaining the electoral status quo in the state, clearly makes a statement. The RJD retained its Araria Lok Sabha constituency and the Jehanabad Assembly seat, whereas the BJP held onto its sitting Bhabhua Assembly seat.

The by-polls for the three seats were held following the deaths of the sitting public representatives. Araria Lok Sabha seat was held by RJD leader Mohammad Taslimuddin, who died in September 2017, necessitating the by-election.

Now, his son Sarfaraz Alam, who left JD(U) to contest the seat on RJD ticket, has won the seat. In Jehanabad, RJD candidate Kumar Krishna Mohan alias Sujay Yadav, son of RJD MLA Mudrika Yadav whose death forced the by-poll, won by a comfortable margin. Rinky Pandey, the widow of Anand Bhushan Pandey whose death in November 2017 necessitated the by-poll, won the seat for the BJP.

But, the real takeaway of the election is not in the arithmetic but the electoral chemistry that signals a major setback for the ruling JD(U)-BJP combination in Bihar. What holds crucial significance is the fact that the by-polls were the first elections held in Bihar after Nitish Kumar snapped ties with the Mahagathbandhan last July. Also, the RJD had its back to the wall with Lalu Prasad in jail and unavailable to campaign for the party following his back-to-back conviction in fodder scam cases.

In addition to Lalu’s conviction, central agencies are snapping at the heels of the RJD’s first family with disproportionate asset charges against Rabri Devi and Lalu’s politically active children. Unlike the BJP-JD(U) robust coalition, the RJD was seen as facing an existential crisis in Bihar. Yet, the party has performed well.

The bigger worry for the NDA is that the Extremely Backward Caste-Mahadalit social equation, which Nitish has so assiduously created after coming to power in 2005, doesn’t seem to have worked this time.

Worse still, the BJP-JD(U) combination, which together registered landslide victories in 2005 and 2010 Assembly polls and 2009 Lok Sabha elections, looked rusty at the ground level. The results also prove that while Yadav, Muslims and even other backward caste voters preferred the RJD over others, the BJP’s attempt to invoke “Hindu unity” did not cut much ice.
Clearly, the by-poll outcome has divested the NDA of its perceived invincibility tag in Bihar, a state that gave it 31 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The by-poll result also hints that united social justice forces, which Nitish and Lalu together had achieved in 2010 Assembly polls, can upset the saffron apple-cart in Bihar.

But the BJP was not oblivious to the challenge. Its desperation was visible when BJP state president Nityanand Rai made a provocative speech during the by-election campaign for the Araria Lok Sabha seat by claiming that Araria would become a “den of the ISI” if RJD candidate Sarfaraz Alam won. It obviously failed to polarise voters.

There are other reasons too that undid NDA’s prospects in Jehanabad and Araria. A senior BJP leader said it was the combination of overconfidence and bad planning. “The chaos was visible even before the nominations, as two NDA constituents, with Jitan Ram Manjhi of Ham Secular (no longer with NDA now) and Upendra Kushwaha of RLSP staking claim for the Jehanabad seat while Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) decided to not to contest.”

As the BJP apparently failed to pick between Manjhi and Kushwaha, they made a reluctant Nitish field a candidate in Jehanabad. It was clearly late and Nitish had to pay the price for agreeing to his alliance partner.

The decision also cost the BJP a crucial ally in Manjhi, as the sulking Mahadalit leader switched sides to join the Lalu camp. It had a bearing on the poll result in Jehanabad, a district where the Mahadalit leader holds sway over his caste men. Manjhi succeeded in transferring his core votes to the RJD, a fact which can further trigger fresh political churning in Bihar ahead of the general elections next year.

Courtesy: Mail Today

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