OPINION | Bihar Assembly Polls: State Has Rewritten The Politics of Performance
PM Narendra Modi addresses party workers in Delhi on Wednesday. (PTI)
While this would befuddle social scientists who made their career analyzing politicization of caste, the voters are having the last laugh. Beating anti-incumbency of 15 years was not an easy task. In that sense the victory is significant.
- Last Updated: November 12, 2020, 15:57 IST
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The resounding victory of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar has testified that voters would be guided by development parameters in their voting behavior rather than the primordial loyalties of caste or any such narrow divides. While this would befuddle social scientists who made their career analyzing politicization of caste, the voters are having the last laugh. Beating anti-incumbency of 15 years was not an easy task. In that sense the victory is significant.
The development vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the abilities of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to implement the same has found better echoes than those who were keen to create chaos and had no matching vision or credibility. Credibility is something that you build over long period of time and it has better connectivity.
Bihar presents reasons for Modi’s critics to be upset with themselves since they became victims of their own optics. If you are so much blinded by your own narrative based on negativism, you tend to get delusional. The positive aspects of brand Modi assiduously built on delivering goods to the poor was completely ignored. The image of Kumar as a no-nonsense man who was trying to deliver despite limitations was completely ignored.
The analysts have to now evolve new theories, change their old-fashioned beliefs and find out new ways to oppose the BJP and the NDA. That aspiration for better lifestyles would overcome the various divides was something they had never imagined. The pro-Mahagathbandhan theorists were still trying to see Bihar in terms of old loyalties. And I must say they were caught completely unaware.
The predictions by various exit polls and their analysis exposed them completely. They were in so much glee that the exit polls predicted. They blamed Modi and the BJP for raising national issues rather than focusing on local issues and they complimented Tejashwi Yadav for what looked an impending victory to them. They blamed “mishandling of migrant workers and corona pandemic” as reasons that had added to the NDA’s downfall. During the various TV debates, I used to warn them against this and remind them that a few percentage vote swings would ensure an NDA victory.
They changed their views after the results. They started singing paeans to the PM and his charisma and the various developmental schemes that had reached the people. This was not because of love for Modi but due to their contempt of Kumar who would be chief minister for another five years.
When your bitterest critics do this, there should be reason for worry. And the praise for Modi intended to diminish the stature of Kumar or at least ridicule him for the poor strike rate of the JDU. A foolish Digvijaya Singh was so desperate that he even gave a call that Kumar should walk out of the alliance and join the mahagathbandhan (alliance led by the RJD). It showed they were trying to look at politics with the same prism of secularism-communalism. They forgot that neither the BJP nor Kumar were foolish not to understand their game-plan.
The battle in Bihar was between two alliances representing different ideologies. The Congress that is known for corruption and nepotism joined another family that already had the same image. The Leftists (CPI, CPI-M and CPI-ML) saw a great opportunity to hold on to this alliance sacrificing ideology of shades of Marxism and Maoism. They demonstrated that they were trying to give respectability to the alliance and emerged the biggest beneficiary. The alliance was led by son of Lalu Prasad. While it gave Tejashwi a ready-made support base it also carried a legacy of his father’s bad image Bihar would find very difficult to forget.
As against this the NDA represented good governance and development. The NDA represented hope for people who wanted to build better Bihar. The alliance represented aspiration of new dreams that Bihar would change under the Kumar-Modi duo. Modi has been working to ensure that the poor man was taken care and when he speaks people trust him. The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) had walked out creating some disturbing moments but the choice for people was clearly between the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan or stability and continuity versus chaos. That the victory happened despite the chink in the NDA (because of LJP) speaks volume for the Trust people have reposed.
Tejashwi performed well but could not cross the finish line. He has a lot to learn about people of Bihar. While educational qualification has never been a virtue in politics, the aspiring middle class expects its leaders to be educated. People of Bihar are politically very sensitive. They are inherently opposed to dynasty politics and corruption.
Tejashwi, courtesy his father, inherited a social base and political legacy that brought him to the chair of deputy chief minister of Bihar in 2015 at the age of 26. If he had known his people well and wanted to build his political innings he would have definitely tried to present image of a no-nonsense administrator. His father gave him a good opportunity by making him deputy of the man Bihar knew as 'sushashan babu'. He frittered away the opportunity and acquired image of another corrupt politician. Lalu as chief minister had become very popular by conducting raid against corrupt people and taking people-centric decisions. But when VP Singh gave him the magic wand of Mandal, he did not feel the need of pushing himself too much.
Tejashwi’s worst decision was to align with decadent forces like the Congress and the Left. His father had cultivated the Naxals and the Left and Tajashwi fell into the same trap. Why are the regional parties not aligning with the Congress in other states- Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Padesh? This is because they would be finished sooner rather than later.
Tejashwi’s image got further dented with the alliance. Those who are aware of what Naxals did in rural Bihar and the kind of fear they emanate among common people should know the anti-thesis this would produce in the class that aspires for a better Bihar.
It was much easier for the NDA to revive the image of jungle raj and what would happen if the mahagathbandhan was voted to power. So the political attacks against the NDA were misguided by the Congress and Leftist narratives. The crowd that came to watch Tejashwi was also due to curiosity to see Lalu’s son. Who is he and what he speaks. The common refrain was they had come to watch but would not vote for him. The mahagathbandhan and their supporting analysts construed this to be support.
This was a contest between promises and performance. Successive elections have shown that people do not believe in tall promises. The Congress made similar promise during assembly elections in Gujarat but people chose Modi. Bihar being politically very astute, every issue is debated on the streets. Would Tejashwi be able to deliver was the main issue. People also knew that whatever jobs would come would come only for those who would pay the bribe.
As against this, the NDA promised employment through participation of private sector in development of Bihar. Jobs would come through building new hospitals, new agro-industries, fisheries, better agriculture, better infrastructure, development of small industries and better amenities. Bihar had definitely embarked on the road to development and it needed a big push. People decided to give the NDA another chance.
Let us also see why the criticism launched by Mahagathbandhan on issue of Migrant workers, Corona and prohibition did not cut much ice. The migrant workers had suffered due to apathy of Congress governments in places they worked. They built cities like Mumbai but when the crisis came, they were not taken care of and this was an insult to their dignity. Modi government has come out with better schemes for these migrant workers for their dwelling, upkeep and security. Life promises to be better.
The central government provided trains to take them to their destinations and provided schemes to give them employment and cash directly into their bank accounts. They were given free ration so that they were secured during the festival season. The Nitish government ensured they were taken care of. Organising quarantine centres and taking migrant workers to their destinations was not an easy task for any government. People expect more but they also appreciate the work done by the central and state governments during the crisis.
It is to the credit of the Nitish government that he did not succumb to the pressure of lifting prohibition when this becomes a key source of revenue for the state. Women in particular were very happy. They were also the beneficiaries of the schemes launched by the state and central governments. They had no reason to vote against the NDA.
While the Opposition tried to criticize the Modi government on alleged “mishandling” of the Corona crisis, the whole world was appreciative of the way India has been handling the pandemic. The PM is an expert in handling disaster drawing from his experiences in Gujarat. It needed a lot of guts to close the economy for two months yet ensuring that the supply chain was not disrupted.
Modi decided to save lives. The time was used to build Covid-19 related medical infrastructure. It is not that Corona has stopped impacting health. But the country is much better prepared emotionally and health-wise to fight the disease. This appreciation was seen in the Bihar mandate. They trusted that the Prime Minister had done his best to save them. The Opposition argument did not cut much ice.
The Bihar mandate has put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the NDA to deliver the promises. People have become aggressively aspirational for better lifestyles. Indian middle class that would further increase in number wants the country to develop fast. This has put a great burden on policy makers. The agenda has been set that those who would work sincerely for people would be given the mandate. Those who don’t get their lessons right would become redundant.
(The author is national panel spokesperson of BJP and an author. Views expressed are personal.)