Mainstream, VOL LIV No 13, New Delhi, March 19, 2016
Bihar Assembly Election Verdict 2015
Sunday 20 March 2016
by Sujit Lahiry
The verdict in the Bihar Assembly elections in 2015 has some politically significant impli-cations not only for regional politics, but also for national politics. The Grand Alliance won 178 seats — out of which JD (U) got 71 seats, RJD got 80 seats and Congress got 27 seats. Despite a high-voltage, high-octane poll campaign by the BJP, the Grand Alliance won the elections by a thumping majority and was able to secure a three-fourths majority in the Bihar Assembly. This paper seeks to examine how the pre-poll electoral alliance of the two main political coalitions—the Mahagathbandhan/Grand Alliance and NDA—has fared in these elections. This paper has been accordingly divided into two sections. The first section probes into the reasons of the rise of the Grand Alliance and downfall of the BJP-led NDA. It also delves into how the Grand Alliance has swept the polls, clearly decimating the BJP-led NDA to a mere 58 out of 243 seats. Out of these 58 seats, the BJP won 53 seats, LJP two seats, HAM one seat and RLSP two seats. The second section ends with a brief conclusion.
The declaration of the election results in the Bihar Assembly on November 8, 2015 after five phases of polling has once again reaffirmed the firm hold of Nitish Kumar and Laloo Prasad Yadav in Bihar. What are the reasons for the downfall of the BJP-led NDA? To begin with, we can argue that the Modi magic has completely lost its relevance. Despite PM Modi himself addressing 30 plus rallies and trying to muster support of the electorate, the BJP-led NDA failed miserably in the Bihar elections.
Modi himself indulged in a personal and negative campaign by accusing Laloo and Nitish of ignoring the developmental issues in Bihar. Some of the props which can be identified by the BJP in this regard are the DNA jibe, Bihari versus Bahari, Tantra-mantra and three Idiots.
Let us examine all these one by one. In the heydays of the election campaign, Modi accused Nitish of betraying friends and allies like the BJP and argued that this is ingrained in Nitish’s DNA. Taking strong exception to this argument, Nitish sent DNA samples (hair and nails) of the ordinary people of Bihar to Modi in order to defend the Bihari ‘asmita’ (pride). Moreover, the BJP failed to provide a credible face of the Chief Minister and took upon himself the responsibility of steering the BJP through in Bihar. The ‘Bihari’ versus ‘Bahari’ jibe was part of this concealed manipulation by the BJP. Further, Modi referred to the Grand Alliance coalition as ‘three Idiots’, comprising of the JD (U), RJD and Congress. All these reflect the depths to which a current Prime Minister can stoop in a personal and bitter campaign against the Grand Alliance. However, not only Modi, but BJP President Amit Shah addressed some sixty rallies and camped in Bihar for the entire October 2015. Despite such aggressive campaign, the Grand Alliance was able to register a landslide victory in Bihar. These arguments testify to our obser-vation that the people have rejected the Modi-Amit Shah model of governance.
Moreover, there was a strong wave of dissent among the party workers as well as senior leaders of the BJP, who were annoyed with the autocratic, dominant and authoritarian attitude of Modi and Amit Shah. All the senior leaders of the BJP, like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar, were disillusioned with Modi. All of them were sidelined ever since the NDA Government took office in May 2014 and placed in the ‘Margdar-shak Mandal’, which has not yet met ever since then. In other words, the BJP seniors were virtually sent into oblivion. After the Bihar debacle, all the BJP seniors have since expressed their apprehension over the future direction of the party. They contended that if the BJP wins the election, all credit goes to Modi and Amit Shah. But, if the BJP loses the election, as has been in Bihar now, the discredit won’t be directed against the Modi-Amit Shah duo, but will be shared by the entire party, that is, the principle of collective responsibility is being enforced.
Apart from these developments, there was a strong wave of communal polarisation unleashed by the BJP. The lynching of a Muslim man, Mohammad Ikhlaq, at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh over alleged beef-eating by the Hindu fanatics resulted in his death and sparked a national outrage. A pertinent question which arises here is: how can the Hindu terrorists decide what a Muslim will eat or not? The dominant majori-tarian Hindutva brigade and the Sangh Parivar have created a reign of terror in the country and led to a fear-psychosis among the minorities. The minorities, especially the Muslims, are not feeling safe in India under the Modi Government. They fear that their rights will be trampled upon if they criticise these fascist tendencies of the Modi Government.
These developments have raised the debate about the growing intolerance in the country. The intolerance debate is about the non-acceptability of secularism as a tacit ideology in our country. This debate has essentially spanned from a series of murders of rationalists like Pansare, Kalburgi and Dabholkar. Some BJP and RSS leaders have openly advocated the need to remove the word ‘secular’ from the Preamble of our Constitution. They have vociferously advocated the need to create a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. In other words, the BJP is trying its best to ensure the creation of a militant and aggressive Hindutva. A galaxy of renowned academics, scientists, artists and film-makers have returned their awards in protest against the diminishing freedom of speech and expression in the country. Starting with Nayantara Sahgal, it has grown into a movement. The recent outburst of the Hindu fanatics against film actor Aamir Khan for speaking about the rising intolerance in the country is testimony to our observation. These developments essentially pose a challenge to the multi-cultural and pluralist ethos of our country. These, in part, also tilted the scales against the BJP.
Further, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on caste and reservation was like a bombshell. Bhagwat contended that there is a need to rethink about the current reservation policy and caste-based reservation should be winded up. In a deeply class and caste-divided society as in Bihar, the caste factor cannot be ignored. The election results clearly show that Muslims, Yadavs, Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) and Dalits have voted en masse for the Grand Alliance. Out of 243 seats in the Bihar Assembly, 61 Yadavs, 38 SCs, two STs, 23 Muslims, 20 Koeris, 20 EBCs, 19 Rajputs, 16 Kurmis, 16 Bhumihars, 14 Vaishay, 10 Brahmins and 4 Kayasthas have won the elections cutting across party lines.1 Thus, the caste arithmetic was well utililised by Laloo.
Lastly, the prices of ‘dal’, especially arhaar dal, and onions have skyrocketed under the NDA regime and it has made a dent into the pockets of the migrant labourers and poor people, who have to fight for making the two ends meet. It definitely makes and leaves them vulnerable before the ‘corporate class’, whom the BJP patronises. Modi talks about ‘Sabka Saath and Sabka Vikas’. But, the Modi Government is neither for all, nor does it talk about development for the vast majority of fragmented minority and the poor and downtrodden sections of society. The Modi Government has removed all social security measures further and has given a massive boost to bring foreign direct investment in all sectors of the economy. In other words, there is a ‘patron-client relationship’ between the capitalist class and the Sangh Parivar. This has further led to the broadening of a wide gap between the ‘haves’, who comprise a small section of the corporate and elite class, and the ‘have-nots’, who comprise a wide arena of underprivileged, deprived and marginalised sections of society. The have-nots are at the receiving end of this government.
Union Minister of State for External Affairs and former Army Chief General V. K. Singh has equated Dalit children with dogs. Is Singh a human being? By such statements, the Modi Government has lost all moral right to continue in power. The Hindutva goons are trying to create a dominant majoritarian and Brahminical social order. Rather than criticise such virulent remarks, the Modi Government has not shown even an iota of sympathy and empathy for the Dalits and other marginalised sections who have been increasingly pushed to the periphery. In other words, class and caste distinctions have accentuated further with the present dispensation.
This election in Bihar has clearly demonstrated that the Modi-wave has dissipated and the results are definitely a referendum against the Modi Government. The projection of Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial candidate was a big boon for the Grand Alliance, as Nitish has a clean image and there have been no reports of corruption cases pending against him in the last two decades. There had been no anti-incumbency against Nitish. On the other hand, the BJP-led NDA failed to provide a credible face as the CM before the electorate. At the same time, Laloo’s social justice programme was well-accepted by all sections of society, especially the Muslims, Dalits and marginalised migrant workers in Bihar. Laloo Prasad Yadav had quite emphatically declared during the election process that this election was a battle between forward and backward castes. And accordingly, this election was regarded by Nitish-Laloo to be a victory of the backward castes, the triumph of secularism over the communal Sangh Parivar and also the victory of social justice and economic development planks. This election also witnessed the rise of the Congress, which has been able to increase its seat-share seven times, from a meagre four in 2010 to 27 seats this time in 2015. The ‘Fasivad Virodhi Manch’, a civil society grouping comprising academicians, activists and others, was formed recently as one of the platforms through which the anti-people policies of the BJP Government can be curtailed and religious orthodoxy of the Sangh Parivar controlled. We just hope that the policies of secularism, tolerance, multiculturalism and pluralism prevail in our country.
Multiculturalism essentially teaches us to have tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions, while at the same time strengthening the insight into one’s own religion and culture. It essentially celebrates cultural diversity, which arises from language, region, race, ethnic and religious differences. Similarly, the ideas of ‘secularism’ have been ingrained in our Constitution through the Right to Freedom of Religion, as envisaged in the Fundamental Rights (Articles 25-28). It allows every Indian to freely practice any religion and also set up minority institutions for propagating such religion. However, the present dispensation under Modi is averse to such ideas of India and is bent upon establishing a homogenous and hegemonic Hindutva over the minority religions and cultures, especially Islam. These anti-national and anti-secular forces need to be defeated in order to lay down the basis of a more humane India. We conclude by arguing that it is our ardent hope that the Grand Alliance experiment will be repeated in other States as well to protect the basis of a secular, plural and multicultural India.
- Hindustan Times, New Delhi, November 10, 2015.
Dr Sujit Lahiry is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, Panjab University Regional Centre, Sri Muktsar Sahib (Punjab).