The groundswell of support for the BJP was unmistakable in the state elections held in February, 2017 that secured 325 of the total 403 seats in the U.P. Vidhan Sabha. In the neighboring Uttarakhand, the BJP captured an astounding 57 of the 70 assembly constituencies. This phenomenon could certainly be read as an extension of the support the BJP enjoyed during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when it bagged 73 of 80 seats in U.P.
Upon the surprising results of the U. P. Vidhan Sabha elections on 11 March 2017, the political observers must have scratched their head wondering why the performance of the BJP was so dismal in Bihar barely sixteen months ago.
First, the coalition making. Unlike Bihar, the BJP didn’t go in for alliance with the large recognized parties in UP; it made minor seat arrangements with smaller political outfits at local levels only. At one time in UP, the BJP had alliance with the Scheduled Caste based Bahujan Samaj Party led by Mayawati, but this time around they decided to go alone.
The BJP didn’t have the similar guts in Bihar to shun Lok Janshakti Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha or Rashtriya Lok Samta Party led by Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitan Manjhi, and Upendra Kushwaha respectively. If the BJP had taken a calculated risk and contested elections fielding its own candidates, results would have been different. The voters of Bihar were ready to write off the discredited leaders. Eventually, they preferred the sinners sponsored by Nitish and Lalu.
The leadership of Narendra Modi was a considerable factor in the elections of both Bihar and UP. In Bihar, overexposure of Narendra Modi didn’t work out but in UP, it did. The BJP strategists, led by the party president Amit Shah, calculated in Bihar that they would profitably encash the popularity of Narendra Modi. All the walls in Patna were initially plastered with the posters of Modi and Shah ignoring the state level leaders. They didn’t realize they were up against a formidable incumbent Chief Minister who had formed alliance with the RJD and the Congress effectively preventing triangular contests.
The anti-BJP forces in U.P. weren’t able to stop triangular contests that offered direct benefit to the BJP. A case in point: With 40% of the votes cast, the BJP grabbed around 315 seats; whereas, the BSP could get around 20 seats only with close to 23% of the vote share. As a predominant party, the BJP assumed the place of the Congress; it reaped the advantage of the votes divided against it.
Furthermore, the grand alliance, the Mahagathbandhan, as it was called, had very tactfully turned the Bihar election into a referendum on the performance of Narendra Modi’s one year old government. The grand alliance campaign was backed by such sub-nationalist moves of Nitish Kumar as “swabhimaan (self-pride) rally” and “Bihar vs. Baahar (outsider)” slogans. The propaganda orchestrated by the Congress party and the Left at the national level bearing the accusation of “intolerance” and the symbolism of the return of the awards (“award waapsi”) also added to the momentum.
The BJP leaders could have made a better issue out of the failure of the Nitish government following the serial bomb blasts conducted in Patna (October, 2013) by the Indian Mujahideen. However, they couldn’t cut much ice in the face of the regrouped Muslim-Yadav alliance under Lalu Yadav.
The BJP seemed to have galvanized the Hindus in U.P. on the question of the construction of the Ayodhya Ram Janmabhumi temple. Its communal appeal to the Hindus was unrepentant and complete, not a single person from 19% of the Muslim population (40 million voters) could get nomination from the BJP. On their part, the Muslims also, by and large, voted against the BJP. Some Muslim women are said to have voted for the BJP because, in their opinion, this was the only party that raised certain social issues concerning them, including ‘triple talaq.’
In terms of social engineering in U.P., the BJP took a leaf out of the strategy book of Karpoori Thakur and Nitish Kumar in Bihar where they had created a category of the Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) undermining the predominance of the Yadavs (OBC) and the Paswans (SC). In U.P. the BJP appealed to non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits obviously to dilute the influence of Mulayam/Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati. Non-Yadav OBCs got as many as 150 tickets out of a total of 381 seats fought by the BJP. Among the 85 seats reserved for Scheduled Castes in the Assembly, 64 tickets were reportedly given to non-Jatav Dalits.
Coalition formation or social engineering may have their part; however, the February 2017 elections proved decisively once again that if there’s a strong leader with a robust agenda, average voters leave their caste and communal prejudice aside and rally behind the leader. In 1971, Indira Gandhi with her slogan of “gharibi hatao” was a beneficiary of this sentiment.
As the prime minister of a major country, Narendra Modi had stunned the world by pulling out 86% of the Indian currencies in circulation. Following a policy of demonetization that was the demand of the Leftists in the 60’s and 70’s, a leader of the Right created a popular perception that he stood for the common people and against the black economy. With no scams of his own administration, and hard at work with sincerity, Modi was able to win the hearts and minds of people in general. No such groundwork was done before the BJP prepared to oust Nitish from Bihar in 2015.
In the end, if the state or the nation has a firm mission and a committed leadership, all the petty consideration whether the Muslims, the OBCs or the Dalits could get exact representation in proportion to their numbers or not; or whether the Brahmins or the Thakurs grabbed disproportionate number of political positions should become superfluous. People vote for an honest, efficient and productive government and, if betrayed, they punish with impunity too.
The BJP in Bihar will have to lay the groundwork for a firm mission and committed leadership.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and 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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