The results of Bihar elections have been announced and they have proved all pollsters wrong. Contrary to predictions, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) managed to buck the anti-incumbency trend.
In a nail-biting finish, the NDA bagged 125 seats in comparison to 110 for the Maha Gathbandhan (MGB). The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has emerged as the senior partner in in the NDA in Bihar with 74 seats to the Janata Dal (United)’s 43.
For Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Tejashwi Yadav, who ran a tight campaign focussed on unemployment and jobs, it’s a tale of so near yet so far. The RJD emerged as the single-largest party with 75 seats. The Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) could win only one seat.
It is one of the rare elections where opinion polls proved to be correct and exit polls proved to be wrong.
The NDA’s strategy of easing out the LJP and it contesting against the JD(U) worked to divide the opposition vote and boosted the JD(U)’s chances in seats where it could have otherwise lost.
With unemployment emerging as a top election issue, the NDA managed to douse the anger among the youth, by countering Yadav’s offer of 1 million jobs by promising 1.9 million jobs.
As per a CSDS opinion poll, the unemployed youth vote was split equally between the NDA and the MGB. The ‘bharosa’ statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have worked.
Yadav focussed on young voters, but he forgot that half of the voting population was above the age of 40 years. This group clearly remembers what is referred to by RJD’s detractors as the ‘jungle raj’ under his father’s rule. The traditional supporters of Lalu Prasad in this age group were also annoyed with Yadav for disowning Lalu and keeping him out of the campaign.
After the LJP sowed seeds of mistrust and dented their performance in Phase 1, the NDA went into damage control mode. Modi’s reiteration that Nitish Kumar would be the Chief Minister irrespective of the seats tally, cleared the confusion among core supporters.
Hope and fear works well in elections across the world. The NDA tried to conjure the fear of return of ‘jungle raj’ among its core voters who were considering switching sides. The media coverage of Yadav’s campaign and large crowds at his rallies may have created fear of the return of Yadav raj.
Kumar’s famed social engineering and his core silent voter comprising of Most Backward Castes (MBCs), Non-Yadav Other Backward Castes (NYOBCs) and Mahadalits seems to remain intact. The JD(U) bagged 15.4 percent votes, a tad lower than what it recorded in the 2014 general elections contesting alone.
The women voter which has always backed the NDA due to popular government schemes seems to have stood behind them despite reports of anger due to handling of migrant crisis and rampant corruption in the prohibition policy. Also, the improved law and order situation worked as a plus point for the NDA in this election.
The NDA was cognisance of Kumar’s unpopularity due to voter fatigue and anti-incumbency — thus it relied heavily on the Modi factor.
People’s satisfaction with work done by central government became the main voting consideration of NDA voters and swing voters in Bihar, thus neutralising the fall in Kuamr’s leadership ratings.
The pandemic has made people poor and jobless. The dependency of people on the State has increased during the period. In these trying times voters looked up to the central government to provide relief.
The double engine growth story worked well here. Voters probably didn’t want to install an opposition government which would be at war with Centre, thus impacting assistance from central government, given the precarious state government’s finances.
The BJP’s core vote base remained intact though there was dissatisfaction among a section of upper caste voters for inadequate representation in power. They also backed the party in anticipation of change of guard at the top in case the JD(U) scores way less than BJP and leaves the chair citing moral reasons. Also, the BJP's last mile connectivity with the voter and its massive election machinery gave it an edge.
The NDA executed a neat plan for the decider Phase 3 where counter polarisation, the ‘Owaisi factor’, and ‘non-minority influenced’ seats helped it to breach the MGB stronghold.
There are multiple reasons why the exit polls went wrong. COVID-19 may have affected direct one-to-one interviews and access to rural populace (89 percent). Historical data — turnout, new voters, consistency / composition of booths — on which a lot of reliance is placed, didn’t work out as many new polling booths were created.
This is the second state after Maharashtra where the BJP has emerged as the big brother after being a junior for years. It gives confidence to the party that with right strategy and patience it could now expand its footprint in states where it has relied heavily on allies, such as Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir.Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba. Views are personal.