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NDA Victory in Bihar Indicates Electors Continue to Repose Faith in PM Modi & Nadda's Leadership

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Nitish Kumar during a rally in poll-bound Bihar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM Nitish Kumar during a rally in poll-bound Bihar.

The headline of the day is the improved performance of the Left, which was not part of the mahagathbandhan in 2015. After decades of leading social movements and mobilizing youth, students and women, it used a leg-up from the RJD to parley its existing base into a respectable tally.

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Bhavdeep Kang

The NDA has won the first round of elections and by-elections held after Covid-induced disruption, signaling that electors continue to repose faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP president JP Nadda can breathe easy; the hairs-breadth victory in Bihar and the triumph in the by-elections is his first success since taking charge.

The NDA was incoherent, in contrast to the well-coordinated mahagathbandhan, implying that caste arithmetic played a significant role even in the face of anti-incumbency, post-pandemic blues and internal differences.

Given the precarious majority, both the winners and losers will confront serious challenges in the aftermath of the election.

For the BJP, resolving internal contradictions is at the top of the list, now that it has emerged as the dominant partner in the alliance. From the outset, it was evident that JD(U) leader and chief minister Nitish Kumar did not enjoy the confidence of the Bihar BJP. The impression that he was being deliberately undermined and would be ousted after the election gained ground.

The revolt of LJP leader Chirag Paswan (who has now got his comeuppance) muddied the waters further and as many as 17 BJP rebels contested on LJP tickets. This, along with the overweening confidence of BJP leaders who swore the party would win close to a hundred seats on its own, sent mixed signals to the electorate and party workers.

Even after the BJP central leadership unequivocally declared Nitish as the chief ministerial nominee and sacked nine of the rebels, rumor was rife that he would be moved to the Centre and supplanted by a BJP leader in a matter of months. As a result, coordination between the BJP and JD(U) on the ground was poor.

The election results have shown that the BJP cannot do without Nitish, at least for now. The arithmetic of the alliance – upper castes plus upper-and lower-OBCs – still holds good. But his unpopularity with the BJP's own cadres cannot be ignored, particularly in the light of the NDA's slim majority.

The alliance partners need to keep their respective flocks together and up their game in terms of managing expectations of caste groups, elected representatives and party workers. Whether this will eventually involve a 'succession plan' for Bihar remains to be seen.

For Rashtriya Janta Dal leader Tejashwi Yadav, as much as the NDA, the immediate challenge is holding on to his MLAs and ensuring that his alliance partners, notably the Congress, do the same. He must also keep his ambitious siblings in check. In the long run, he is likely to work towards expanding the RJD's vote base beyond the 'M-Y' or Muslim-Yadav combination, given that parties like AIMIM (which won five seats) tend to split the minority vote.

The young RJD chief has proved that he has political acumen and is a formidable opponent. However, his crowd-pleasing rhetoric didn't have the desired effect. Making populist promises, like 'one million jobs', is easy – selling them to the electorate is another matter. He will also need to assess the extent to which his alliance partners were able to transfer votes.

The headline of the day is the improved performance of the Left, which was not part of the mahagathbandhan in 2015. After decades of leading social movements and mobilizing youth, students and women, it used a leg-up from the RJD to parley its existing base into a respectable tally.

Among the Left parties, the CPI-ML Liberation (denounced by political rivals as “naxal supporters”) made the biggest contribution to the mahagathbandhan, not just in terms of MLA seats but in mobilizing crowds for Tejaswi's rallies. But whether it was able to transfer its mahadalit and EBC votes to the RJD is debatable.

The Left will function as a pressure group in the Bihar assembly, where it is likely to be extremely vocal on economic justice issues and wrongfoot the CM on his development agenda. After the success of the mahagathbandhan, the far Left may be positively disposed towards alliances with centrist parties, which could impact the political scenario in some states.

For Nadda personally, the win will serve to silence critics who sneered at his 'report card', specially in light of the fact that Home minister and election specialist Amit Shah was missing in action. Critics had pointed out that under Nadda's stewardship, the party had lost Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi and barely scraped through in Haryana.

The result is also a fillip for general secretary and Bihar-in-charge Bhupendra Yadav, cementing his position as an election strategist. So far, he has been known mainly for his lawyerly skills, which he has brought to bear as head of various parliamentary committees.

Bihar 2020 also bears testimony to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's continuing popularity, in that he was the star campaigner. So, despite 15 years of incumbency, a high unemployment rate and the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bihar hitched its wagon to the Modi-Nitish "double engine" rather than Tejashwi's 'youth express'.

Disclaimer:The author is a senior journalist. Views expressed are personal.


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