Numbers game in Bihar
In the past two days, the election results in Bihar have been dissected across various news and media platforms. The discourse on these election results has boiled down to certain basic observations made across the ideological spectrum. With the BJP pitted against a recognisable and affable Chief Ministerial face, the party made the mistake of going to the polls banking only on the “charisma” of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which miserably failed to cut ice with voters in the state. Suffice to say, the voter in Bihar was in no mood to have Patna governed by the leadership in New Delhi. True to form, the BJP also indulged in probably the worst kind of majoritarian and communal politics witnessed in recent years, led by the Prime Minister himself. And of course, there is the question of development. Prime Minister Modi’s promise of more jobs, industry and the economy was not visible on the ground to the average voter. At least with Nitish Kumar, the voters had seen some tangible progress in their lives through the targeted application of many social schemes directed for the poorest of the poor. In light of the overwhelming number of seats garnered by the Grand Alliance, such explanations do seem plausible. However, there is the question of vote share. Here are some basic facts: the Nitish Kumar-led Grand Alliance cornered the largest vote share of nearly 46 percent as against NDA’s nearly 34 percent. On the single-party basis, however, the BJP managed with a vote share of nearly 24.8 percent — higher than individual shares of 18.5 percent for the RJD and 16.7 percent of the JD (U). BJP’s NDA allies — the Lok Jan Shakti Party and the Hindustani Awam Morcha (secular) — could manage only meagre vote shares of 4.8 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. The Congress, which fought elections as part of the Grand Alliance, also could manage a vote share of only about 6.7 percent.
Back in the 2014 general elections, the BJP-led alliance had secured 31 Parliamentary seats out of 40 in Bihar. Although the RJD, JD(U), and the Congress secured only eight Parliamentary seats, it’s combined vote share stood at 44.3 percent. In a first past the post system of electoral politics, it is clear why the BJP-led alliance secured a massive seat share. Despite securing 28 seats, the LJP-BJP alliance secured a combined vote share of only 35.8 percent. Suffice to say, a marginal drop in vote share resulted in a dramatic fall in the number of seats for the NDA alliance. What added to the BJP’s success in last year’s Lok Sabha elections in Bihar was the split in the Muslim and OBC votes across disparate opposition parties. The Muslim vote, which makes up for 17 percent of the voting electorate in Bihar, was split across the JD (U) and RJD –Congress combination. With both parties coming together, there was a clear consolidation of the OBC-Muslim vote in the state. The single biggest lesson the BJP can take from these elections, purely from a numbers standpoint, is that it cannot depend on a fractured opposition and voter class anymore. The BJP’s decision to depend on a fractured voter class in Delhi backfired immensely, with many overwhelmingly siding with the Aam Aadmi Party. At first look, these are some of the important lessons that the NDA alliance can learn. There is no disagreement that certain voters, who had earlier backed the NDA alliance in the 2014 general elections, were disillusioned with Prime Minister Modi’s unkept promise of more jobs and industry, his party’s divisive poll tactics and the absence of a local face. The marginal fall in the NDA alliance’s vote share can probably be explained by these factors. However, such a massive swing in the number of seats against the NDA alliance cannot be explained away by such factors alone.