"Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan," observed John F. Kennedy. The BJP had the winning duopoly of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah through several winning state elections. Everyone seemed to hail and cheer the leader and the master strategist.
Now, following their successive defeats in Delhi and Bihar, there appears to be a rebellion in the party. To what extent this revolt, mostly by the old guards, would go is yet to be seen; however, the firm Modi-Shah grip on the party would slacken, and the invincibility cum credibility of the Prime Minister would erode not only nationally but internationally too.
When the "development" message of Narendra Modi got off the track; statements from the team Modi were consistently misrepresented as attacks on the pride of Biharis backed by lackluster performance of the central government and, significantly, after foolish statements on reservation and beef-consumption took the center-stage, very few people had doubts about the election slipping out of the hands of the NDA.
Narendra Modi’s oft-repeated speeches became jarring even to his supporters watching him on TV and very perfunctory role of regional leaders made him look as if he was carrying the election campaign involving 65 million voters all by himself. Most cabinet members of Modi were in Bihar giving the impression that they had taken each constituency and every vote seriously. However, as they flew around in helicopter, there were scarce troops on the ground. For example, if the party M.P. from Begusarai is to be believed, he wasn’t taken along in campaign in his seven legislative constituencies. The BJP was routed in all of them. Thirteen districts had the same fate.
It’s quite obvious, the BJP strategists over relied on the Modi magic. That again says the BJP campaigners weren’t reading writings on the wall. In the 16 month period between the last Lok Sabha election and the Bihar state election, they should have realized the table was already turning against them. With scandals, non-performance and barrage of attacks, the halo of a charismatic leader was thinning out.
Secondly, the BJP is largely an urban-based party and doesn’t have popular reach in rural areas. In a state that is still 89% rural and 11% urban, to expect the BJP to take on its Grand Alliance opponents entrenched in villages was too much. To add to the woes, the other constituents of the NDA also appeared to rely on Modi and had little or no base of their own.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, during and after the 2014 general election, the BJP never pretended that winning over the hearts and minds of the Muslim minority was desirable. It didn’t tap into the vast swathe of the Muslim population, which felt proud of being Indian (Hindi) Muslims, and could be prepared to accept Narendra Modi as their strong Prime Minister.
The BJP and the NDA were thus pitted against a formidable opponent that already had a sizable 35% chunk of Muslim, Yadav and Kurmi votes on its side. If the team Amit Shah contemplated that it would win over the majority of the Yadavs and the Kurmis along with other OBCs by polarising them along communal lines, that didn’t work.
How Nitish Kumar turns out to be a loser?
In the end, the NDA came out as a loser in the race between the two alliances. However, in no small measure was Nitish Kumar a loser too. In the last Vidhan Sabha his JD (U) had 115 MLAs. Nitish courted Lalu’s alliance by settling with 101 seats. Of 101 seats as many as 30 candidates lost, i.e., nearly 30% rate of failure. With 71 MLAs, Nitish is now a junior alliance partner with Lalu. In a genuine democratic tradition, the joint Grand Alliance (JDU and RJD) Legislative Group may be headed by a representative from the RJD and that person will be no other than Lalu. Thus, Lalu can enjoy a non-elective chief of the alliance position and will hand down his dictates to Nitish. In other words, effectively, Lalu would be to Nitish what Sonia was to Manmohan Singh or Mulayam is to Akhilesh or, Lalu himself was to Rabri Devi. Nitish will have to bend and absorb -- not the sign of a winner.
In a different scenario, if Nitish hadn’t broken off his alliance with the BJP, his 17% share of votes combined with 24% votes of the BJP would have yielded more seats, a firmer alliance and continuity in government where he would have been the uninterrupted leader. Percentage-wise, the NDA have garnered 29% of the votes. The RJD has secured a better percentage of 18%.
On top of that, sadly, the defeat of Nitish Kumar will be recorded more in moral or ethical terms than in terms of number of seats or percentage of votes. In the game of election campaign just concluded, the team Nitish made smart moves by raising the scare of reservation or "agada vs. pichchada" (forward vs. backward). They also very cunningly put the other side on the defensive by raising the issues related to DNA, communalism, Bihari self-respect, Bihari vs. Baahari or daal -- a clear winner in the propaganda war!
However, nowhere did Nitish address the central question as to what led to the dissolution of the NDA in 2013 that amounted to a violation of the public trust or mandate. What happened to the self-respect of those Biharis who hailed him as a hero when he stood up against the Lalu-Rabri dominance in politics and offered him stewardship in 2005 and 2010? If tomorrow, the Grand Alliance is unilaterally broken by any party, that, according to Nitish, wouldn’t be a disrespect to the institution of the citizens’ vote.
In his many interviews with the media, Nitish always insisted he and Lalu had the same Socialist background and that they belonged to the OBC. No interviewer ever pinned him down on whether their OBC and Socialist background inspired them to make compromises with the Congress party. Opposition to the Congress was the raison d’etat of the Socialists. Similarly, no reporter ever asked Nitish how would he feel and what advice he would give to his college going son if he wanted to do business with a court-convicted felon. What if teachers in the classrooms or parents of Bihar tell their kids public morality doesn’t matter to their Chief Minister?
Nitish goes into his full third term as the Chief Minister of Bihar, but along with Lalu takes public probity down the tube.
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.