What explains NDA’s better-than-expected performance in Bihar?

At 3 pm on Tuesday NDA seems to be putting up a much better performance in Bihar than was expected. While it is anybody’s election, how does one explain the swing against the tide?

What explains NDA’s better-than-expected performance in Bihar?
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Uttam Sengupta

Anger over the lockdown, migrant crisis, high prices and unemployment do not seem to have deterred a large number of voters in Bihar from reposing their faith in the BJP and the NDA. Not even the NDA’s duplicity in pitching Chirag Paswan against Nitish Kumar appears to have upset them; nor the less than satisfactory performance of the JD(U)-BJP government in the state.

Sparse and listless crowds at NDA rallies, hecklers and slippers and onions thrown at Nitish Kumar, the absence of Amit Shah (or was he really absent?) from the scene—nothing mattered. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words—that Bihar would repeat the poll outcome in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 despite having ‘Double Yuvarajs’ in both the states, would seem to have been prophetic in hindsight, if the NDA does finally win.

The result, as several observers have pointed out, would defy the mood on the ground. There was widespread anger against the status quo and people cutting across age and caste seemed to be rooting for change. Badlav became the rallying cry of the people, leaving both pollsters and journalists and researchers on the ground in no doubt about the outcome. At least one polling agency predicted a landslide for the Maha Gathbandhan or the Grand Alliance (180 seats) and even CSDS-Lokniti, which had predicted a tally of 135 and more seats for the NDA last month, changed its forecast after November 7 and predicted the MG to bag 139 seats or more.

It is therefore not surprising for some observers to smell a rat. It is also tempting to float conspiracy theories and cast doubts on the integrity of the election. The Election Commission has itself to blame for this because if it had agreed to the demand for tallying VVPAT slips with the EVM count in 25% of the booths, such doubts would have been set to rest.

Such doubts are also strengthened by the surge of the Left Parties. In 2010, Left Parties had bagged only one seat and in 2015 just three. This time they contested in 29 seats and, at the time of writing, seemed to be putting up a good fight in 15 to 20 seats. If the Left could take advantage of the public sentiment against the incumbent government, why couldn’t the RJD and the Congress?

But the question is whether there are other reasons that could have prevented the Tejashwi Yadav led alliance from taking full advantage of the strong undercurrents of anti-incumbency in the state? While a fuller analysis will have to wait, some of the factors that could have played a role in dampening the enthusiasm on the ground for change could be the following:

1. It is known that a large number of political parties, new parties and smaller parties were contesting the election this time. There were also rebels in the fray, making many of the contests three or four cornered. In such a crowded contest, a few hundred or a few thousand votes polled by completely unknown and untested candidates and parties can swing the election either way.

2. While Tejashwi Yadav did draw large, enthusiastic and energetic crowds in his 247 rallies, that may not have translated into votes for a variety of reasons. Many of those who attended his rallies might not have even cast their votes because their names might not have been on the electoral rolls.

3. The relative absence of a ground level organization, although RJD claims to have set up booth level committees after the last Parliamentary elections, might have damaged RJD pospects. Conversely, BJP cadre and the RSS pracharaks on the ground would have been more effective.

4. What is more, Tejashwi Yadav’s spectacular sprint and the remarkable campaign might have come a little too late. Three weeks might not have been enough to convert the fence sitters and the sceptics. His campaign appears to have taken off around October 15 whereas the BJP had been working on the ground since long before. Seat adjustments with alliance partners were also possibly left till the last moment, keeping candidates and parties on tenterhook.

One hoped for a clear and decisive mandate in Bihar for either side. While the results are still far from clear, it does seem that a thin majority will decide the winner.

If that happens, Bihar will again be the loser and can forget possibilities of any significant change.

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