The Grand Alliance called Mahagatbandhan of three parties led by Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav humiliated the BJP-led NDA in the Bihar Legislative Assembly Elections. The 5-phase election began on October 12 and concluded on November 5, 2015. The results for the 243-member Assembly announced on November 8 have shocked BJP stalwarts, but did not surprise secular Indians.
Bihar is important for the Union Government (i.e. BJP) for a number of reasons. It is the third most populous state of India (over 100 million) and it borders Nepal where constitution related instability is still smoldering. Muslims constitute the second largest community (18 percent) after Hindus. It also has a very large segment (over 25 percent) of “other backward class” (OBC) and “extreme backward class” (EBC) of Hindus. No wonder Modi addressed nearly 30 rallies, while BJP chief Amit Shah camped in Bihar for 8 months to lead the campaign.
The Grand Alliance (GA) is a “secular” grouping of three disparate parties formed in May 2014. It includes Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) or JD(U); Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of wily Lalu Prasad Yadav: and the dysfunctional Indian National Congress.
The Alliance secured 178 seats -- 71 for JD(U), 80 for RJD and 27 for Congress. National Democratic Alliance (NDA) got only 58 seats -- 53 went to BJP and 5 went to NDA partners. The remaining 7 seats went to other political parties and independents.
Nitish Kumar's JD(U) broke out of NDA led by Narendra Modi way back in 2013. Nitish realised that tagging along with upper caste Hindu dominated NDA would alienate him from his backward class constituencies. In a way Nitish Kumar, a former Union Minister, took the election as a personal challenge against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nitish had no love lost for the charismatic former CM Lalu Yadav, who is debarred from elections because of his conviction in the infamous fodder scam. But to challenge BJP these two former foes got together to stall Modi's juggernaut. Lalu during his tenure as CM had promoted and encouraged caste-based politics. He comes from the Yadav community (i.e. OBC) and has a strong Muslim-Yadav vote bank in Bihar.
Apart from caste issues, the other reason why Nitish did well is good governance in otherwise “lawless Bihar”. Nitish, portrayed as a “Vikas Purush”, has persistently pushed for “development” of the state. As CM of Bihar since 2000, he has gone tough on law and order and pushed Bihar's GDP growth above the national average. People have opted for popular Nitish who has delivered, rather than Modi who has made tall promises but failed to deliver so far.
Given Bihar's complex demography, an analysis on how Biharis voted shows that it was an electoral battle between the polarised backward castes of Bihar against BJP's upper caste Hindus. Nitish Kumar, a Kurmi (i.e. OBC), played the caste card effectively. Among the 242 candidates fielded by the Alliance, 133 candidates were from backward communities. All the 24 Muslim candidates who won Assembly seats were from the Alliance except for one from the CPI. BJP contested from 160 constituencies where 65 upper caste candidates were its backbone. The three other NDA partners fought for 83 seats.
It was an election about caste and identity. The lower caste Hindus plus the Muslims firmly rejected communal intolerance. The “secular” Mahagatbandhan was thus a formidable alliance that had thwarted BJP's Hindutva ideology. Hindutva is understood as ultra-nationalism highlighted by communalism and intolerance, and mixed with high doses of Hinduism.
During the campaign BJP made some serious mistakes according to the Indian news media. Among the notable blunders were – playing majoritarianism, “Hindutva” politics of communalism and intolerance, caste reservation and beef politics. Also Modi playing big brother to Nepal, which adjoins Bihar, appears to have spurned voters from BJP.
There has been a beef controversy in India for ages. The cow is regarded as sacred by Hindus. But lower income groups of backward Hindu communities consume it nevertheless. BJP's intolerance towards Muslims had provoked the killing of three Muslims in the past two months on suspicion of them eating or carrying beef. Prime Minister Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat used insensitive and foul language during the campaign, particularly regarding the killings of two Dalit children by upper caste Hindus and caste reservations.
BJP's communal hatred and intolerance has already produced backlash. Dozens of writers and poets have returned their prestigious Sahitya Akademi awards to protest the silence of the Modi government following the killings of three intellectuals allegedly by Hindu zealots. Booker prize winner and activist Arundhati Roy also returned her National Award because she was “shocked” at the “growing intolerance” fostered by the present government. Meanwhile, secular Indians have raised a storm against BJP's intolerant politics.
On November 11, senior leaders led by L.K. Advani revolted against Modi-Shah combine for the disastrous defeat in Bihar. In a written statement veteran leaders Advani, Murli Monohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar accused Modi and Shah saying that the party has been “emasculated” in the last one year and was being “forced to kowtow to a handful”. After winning the Lok Sabha elections last year, Modi cleverly sidelined these old veterans and took firm control of the party. These angry leaders have now taken out their daggers to challenge Modi and Shah. How this revolt plays out in Indian politics will be interesting to follow.
Nitish Kumar will be sworn in as Chief Minister on November 20 in Patna. The ceremony will be attended by anti-BJP leaders like Sonia Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee (CM of WB), Arvind Kejriwal (CM Delhi), Akhilesh Yadav (CM of UP) and others. It is being described as a “new beginning of opposition unity in the country”.
After BJP's rout at the hands of Aam Admi Party at the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2015, the Bihar humiliation is a terrible setback for BJP's intolerant politics. Looks like India's honeymoon with Hindutva is waning.