Where did the BJP Go Wrong in Bihar?

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Seated in the opposition, the BJP should now do serious introspection and start rebuilding in Bihar. Start with the candidates. The BJP reportedly imposed candidates from the top. Campaigners, including the RSS 'pracharaks' fanned out in the villages much before the election days, complained that the BJP candidates fielded were very weak. The selection of candidates should have followed a process that took the local voters and leadership into consideration.

Endorsement of the base and not a nod from a party boss was important. The BJP’s dependence on its allies destroyed the chances of many of its devoted cadres. Young dedicated BJP workers could have been better candidates than what their alliance partners brought up. Even defeat of the BJP candidates would have paved the way for their success and that of their party in future.

One interpretation of the results could be that the voters of Bihar expected transparently clean politics and change from Narendra Modi and his party. But, they figured, if they had to vote for candidates with criminal and shady records and on the basis of caste, they would rather vote for the same types of candidates sponsored by Nitish and Lalu. Jitan Manjhi (HAM), Ram Vilas Paswan (LJP) and Upendra Kushwaha (RLSP) weren’t agents of change. Voters of Bihar may be ridiculed, but they expressed their apathy or frustration. Cleanliness and public morality will have to be restored at some point in Bihar. The BJP once again failed to stand the test of history.

Seeds of defeat of the BJP in Bihar were partly sown in its victory at the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Capitalizing on Modi’s reputation, the BJP had successfully turned the last year’s election into a presidential election. Rahul Gandhi was beaten by Narendra Modi in one-on-one match, but in Bihar the BJP had no candidate to match Nitish Kumar. The party got hamstrung by internal conflict. The BJP should have resolved the leadership issue much before and then gone into the election with full force. Any face would have been good enough to rally the cadre behind the party. Projection of Shahnawaz Hussain as the Chief Ministerial candidate -- discussed faintly in the party earlier -- would have been a master stroke not only for Bihar but for other states as well. Unfortunately, the party fell prisoner to the likes of Giriraj Singh and Ashwini Choubey.

Not familiar with the caste and communal dynamics of Bihar politics, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah team exposed its vulnerability. Looks like their closest advisers from Bihar also didn’t have a firm grip on how rural Bihar works. Furthermore, age, maturity and experience in politics do matter; Amit Shah might have taken a lesson from Bihar. Possibly in a fit of anger, Amit Shah is reported to have advised everyone in the party above sixty to retire. Although he retracted that statement, he must have realized Lalu and Nitish -- both above sixty -- outsmarted him in Bihar.

Nitish-Lalu team successfully raised the noise-level and projected the BJP as anti-Muslim, pushed the NDA in the corner on multiple issues from DNA, Swabhimaan, and reservation to beef consumption or on Bihar vs. Bahari debate. Rather than having a dialogue on Nitish’s non-performing governance since his walking away from the NDA in 2013, it centered around the sixteen-month performance of Modi’s federal government. The election turned out to be a referendum on Narendra Modi and not on Nitish Kumar.

The greatest fallacy of the BJP strategy was its assumption that the more it turned up the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the more votes it would be able to gather. It seemed oblivious of the socio-communal composition of Bihar, overconfident of repeating its 2014 performance in UP Lok Sabha election. It’s bewildering because it was known the riots during Narendra Modi’s Chief Ministership in Gujarat would be played up by Lalu to consolidate his Muslim-Yadav alliance.

When the BJP strategists go back to the drawing board, they should consider turning their RSS army into a force with the message of Hindu-Muslim (or, broader communal) unity. If the BJP has to stay as an all-India umbrella mainstream party, it will have to grow into an image that looks like India. National politics in a country like India can’t be sustained on just being pro-Hindu. Good Muslims have to be taken along to defeat bad Muslims, just as ideal Hindus have to be picked up to fight soulless Hindus. The BJP must have learnt the hard way how the Bania among the Hindus -- its base -- didn’t favor when they hiked the price of pulse during the election. The communalists and extortionists have to be separated from the ideal citizens.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). He has authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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