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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Modi magic intact, Bihar and other poll results affirm

The BJP’s emergence as the dominant power in Bihar despite the close finish in the assembly polls coupled with the by-election sweep in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Manipur should fortify the party’s status as Bharat’s premier political formation. Prime minister Narendra Modi may well be among the few world politicians whose appeal remains undiminished after more than six years at the helm. Persistent efforts by the vicious Left-Liberal media to sully his image has only helped his popularity soar to newer heights.

The victory of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar flew in the face of every exit poll which predicted a landslide for the Mahagatbandhan comprising the corrupt and dynastic Rashtriya Janata Dal, and the Congress. The PM’s election rallies boosted the sagging fortunes of the party after the first round of polling. The outcome, howsoever slim the majority (125 versus 110) proved that even the most formidable tidal wave of anti-incumbency can be trumped by a credible leadership despite the deep seated desire for change for the sake of change. Women voted BJP in large numbers. Families, especially in urban areas, placed a premium on law and order. Memories of daylight murders, kidnappings, extortions, and dacoities during Laloo Yadav’s infamous jungle raj of the 1990s and early 2000s aroused fear and revulsion among old timers.

Voters had evidently grown tired of Nitish Kumar after 15 straight years in power. He was no longer perceived the sushasan babu (master of good governance) of the first two terms. His administrative grip had slackened. The desire for change was said to be strong. Which in electoral terms indicated the people’s wish to get back the lawless RJD whose venal founder has been flitting in and out of jail since 1997. Jailbird Laloo’s current term has been his longest. He has been in confinement for three years. To his supporters and admirers, however, this was never as issue. They regard it a status symbol.

This is the extent to which politics has been debased by caste centric outfits like the RJD and its neighboring cousin, the Samajwadi Party. Both groupings pander exclusively to the Muslim-Yadav (better known as M-Y) vote bank. Together they constitute a formidable 32 per cent of the state’s electorate. Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs) constitute the main support base of the Janata Dal (United), the party which Nitish heads. But its overall orientation is ideological. The stress on caste is secondary, and largely aimed at keeping the lumpen Yadavs at bay. JDU’s credibility stems from its socialist values. No dynasts have ever run the party despite Nitish’s hold. Most of its frontline leaders earned their spurs the grassroot politics of the JP movement in the 1970s. Violence has never been their credo. The average IQ and education level of its leaders is much higher.

The RJD too has a captive caste vote bank. Only that it spins around the influence of Laloo Yadav and his clan. Laloo had his rustic wife, Rabdi Devi, anointed CM in the late 1997-98 when he was packed off to jail for the first time in the fodder scam. It was gladly accepted. Outsiders tend to forget that Muslims and Yadavs in Bihar are blind backers of the RJD. The quality of governance or the integrity of the CM is the least of their concerns. Glib talk about Laloo’s 31-year-old eldest son, Tejaswi’s, makeover into a youth icon are grossly exaggerated. All that can be said is that the “class 9 pass” chokra did try coming out of his father’s shadow, but a good part of the old baggage is still visible in his comportment. The RJD’s performance in the polls would have been just as good or bad if his shrewder and more ambitious elder sister, Misa Bharati, had led the party at the hustings.

The perceived downward curve in Nitish’s fortunes helped the BJP emerge the big brother with 74 seats despite contesting the least number at 110. The RJD which contested 144 of the 243 seats ended up with 75. The JDU which fought on 121 seats ended up with its worst ever tally at 43. Seen from a national perspective, the outcome, hopefully, should encourage Bihar voters to extricate themselves from the two-decade old grip of Mandalized politics, and help it return to the mainstream, a transition which UP seems to have successfully made under Yogi Adityanath. There has been some amusing talk emanating from communist circles of a Leftist “resurgence” following the accretion of nine seats to the CPI-ML’s 2015 tally of three in addition to the reopening of CPM and CPI accounts. The communists are welcome to gloat. The reality is that the tally of the Marxist-Leninist party would have hovered around the same number had it stayed out of the Grand Alliance as in earlier polls. For that matter the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) which was run out for one can boast that its decision to put up over 140 candidates fulfilled its ambition of bleeding the JDU in as many as 40 seats, thus reducing it to a junior partner in the ruling alliance.

The Bihar poll results hold a message for the BJP too. The party may have boosted its numbers but it has yet to crack the complex poll winning code in Bihar. It is still perceived as an upper caste party though popular Central schemes like Jan Dhan etc. have helped extend its influence among backwards. This is why RJD-Congress efforts to convince voters that the Centre failed to check the spread of the Chinese virus, much less the sufferance of 32 lakh migrant workers driven home by the pandemic proved unsuccessful. A fake report in the Congress mouthpiece, National Herald, made the laughable claim that the migrant laborers who had remigrated to their original places of work were returning home to vote with the sole objective of teaching the BJP a lesson.

Fine tuning the social arithmetic remains a daunting challenge for the BJP. Honoring its pre-poll decision to retain Nitish as CM is good for starters given the absence of options. None in its ranks can match Nitish’s native talent for good governance or Laloo’s political guile.

The Bihar BJP needs a vigorous leader of sterling integrity like Yogi. Unfortunately, both Modi and the Sangh have an aversion for the excessively strong. This is evident from the pick of CMs in Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Himachal. Political compulsions lay behind Yogi’s appointment in UP. Bottomline: Though the party has managed to break new ground in Bihar, the perception that it has difficulty in winning state elections remains. Only the promotion of robust leaders blessed with spiritual energy can change this.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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