Here’s Why Bihar By-Poll Results Represent A Huge Setback To Nitish Kumar And The Mahagathbandhan

Here’s Why Bihar By-Poll Results Represent A Huge Setback To Nitish Kumar And The Mahagathbandhan

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Monday, November 7, 2022 01:07 PM IST
Here’s Why Bihar By-Poll Results Represent A Huge Setback To Nitish Kumar And The MahagathbandhanBihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
  • A close analysis of the results shows that the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar has little cause for cheer.

The results of the by-polls to the two assembly constituencies in Bihar —Mokama and Gopalganj — evoked mixed reactions from rival political parties in the state.

The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led Mahagathbandhan, of which Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) is a junior partner, gloated over the fact that while it could retain Mokama, it gave Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a scare in Gopalganj and significantly reduced the BJP’s victory margin there. 

The BJP, on its part, says that the results show that the JD(U) is getting marginalised and Bihar’s politics is turning bipolar with the BJP and the RJD pitted against each other. 

The BJP also pointed out that even though it forayed into Mokama for the first time, it managed to garner more than 42 per cent of the votes polled and brought down the RJD’s victory margin very sharply. 

But a close analysis of the results show that the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) has actually little cause for cheer. 

Mokama By-Poll 

The Mokama seat has been held by Anant Singh, a feared ‘don’ and history-sheeter, since 2005. Singh, whose conviction in a criminal case cost him his assembly seat thus necessitating the by-poll at Mokama, won on JD(U) ticket in 2005 and 2010. 

In 2015, he contested and won as an Independent candidate while in 2020, he won on a RJD ticket. He had then defeated his nearest rival — Rajeev Lochan Narain Singh of the JD(U) — by 35,757 votes. 

This time, the BJP fielded Sonam Devi, wife of another don Lalan Singh. Lalan Singh and Anant Singh have been bitter rivals for many decades. 

Sonam Devi had been fielded by the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) against Anant Singh in the 2010 assembly polls from this seat. In that election, Anant Singh defeated the wife of his rival by 8,954 votes. 

The Mahagathbandhan fielded Anant Singh’s wife Neelam Devi from Mokama. She defeated the BJP’s Sonam Devi by 16,741 votes. This victory margin is significantly lower than her husband’s victory margin of 35,757 votes in 2020. 

But it’s not just the reduced victory margin in Mokama that should worry the MGB. What should be of grave concern to the RJD and the JD(U) alike is that the BJP put up a good show on its maiden foray into Mokama this time by getting a 42.22 per cent vote share. 

“Two years ago (in the 2020 assembly polls), Anant Singh defeated his nearest JD(U) rival by a huge margin. This time, the RJD and JD(U) contested the polls together and the JD(U) deployed its senior leaders to campaign for Neelam Devi. The JD(U)’s votes (its candidate’s vote share was nearly 29 per cent in 2020) should have been transferred to the RJD. But that did not happen,” BJP state president Sanjay Jaiswal told Swarajya

In 2015, when Anant Singh had contested as an Independent, JD(U) candidate Neeraj Kumar bagged 24.66 per cent of the votes. 

This shows that the JD(U) had a substantial support base in Mokama. “Where did the JD(U)’s votes go then?” asks Jaiswal. 

He offers the answer: “It has all come to the BJP because Nitish Kumar has lost the support of the non-Yadav OBCs, the EBCs and the upper castes because of his political chicanery. And his sheen has worn off; people have realised that the susashan (good governance) image he had carefully cultivated is a sham”. 

Jaiswal added that not only the JD(U)’s votes, even those of other parties got transferred to the BJP this time in Mokama. 

“Anant Singh may be behind bars, but he wields a lot of clout in Mokama. He issued threats and influenced voters from behind bars. And the RJD, which leads the ruling coalition in the state, deployed its full force to win the by-polls. The state machinery was misused. But still, our candidate got 42.22 per cent of the votes, which is a huge achievement. Had polls been free and fair, we would have won,” said BJP leader Satyendra Singh. 

Gopalganj By-Poll

Gopalganj, though the home district of RJD supremo Lalu Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, has been a BJP stronghold since 2005. The saffron party’s Subhas Singh had been winning Gopalganj since 2005. 

Singh, whose demise due to protracted illness in August this year necessitated the by-election, had defeated Anirudh Prasad alias Sadhu Yadav of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the 2020 assembly polls by 36,752 votes. 

Sadhu Yadav is the estranged brother-in-law of Lalu Yadav. He did not contest this time but fielded his wife Indira Yadav. The RJD fielded Mohan Prasad Gupta, who belongs to the Vaishya (trader) class with an eye on this traditional vote base of the BJP. 

The BJP fielded Subhas Singh’s widow Kusum Devi. 

The results here provided a nail-biting and very close finish with Kusum Devi pulling ahead of Gupta in the last few rounds and winning the seat by a narrow margin of only 1,789 votes. This margin is a huge fall from her late husband’s victory margin of 36,752 votes just two years ago. 

But it will not be prudent for the RJD to gloat over this. 

Since 1977, Gopalganj has been a stronghold of the Janata Party and its political distributaries — the Janata Dal and then the RJD. Sadhu Yadav himself won Gopalganj in 2000 on an RJD ticket. 

The BSP’s Reyazul Haque won the seat in the February 2005 elections that threw up a hung assembly. In fresh polls held in October 2005, BJP’s Subhas Singh wrested the seat and had retained it in the three subsequent polls in 2010, 2015 and 2020. 

The Congress has a significant presence in this seat and has always bagged a little over 20 per cent votes. 

The Congress is a constituent of the Mahagathbandhan and state Congress leaders campaigned extensively for the RJD candidate in Gopalganj. 

The RJD made this a prestige battle and pulled out all stops to wrest the seat from the BJP. Deputy Chief Minister Tejaswi Yadav crisscrossed the constituency and made an emotional appeal to the electorate to vote for Gupta (the RJD) candidate in the name of and to honour his ailing father (Lalu Yadav) who hails from Gopalganj. 

But this powerful emotional appeal could not ensure Gupta’s victory. Tejaswi Yadav had invested a lot of political capital in Gopalganj and a win here would have boosted his image and political standing. 

That is why the full force of the state machinery, and that of the RJD, the Congress and the JD(U), were deployed to ensure Gupta’s win. 

It is thus significant that despite all this, the BJP managed to retain the seat.

“We had to battle the money and muscle power of the RJD, and were put at a severe disadvantage by a biased state machinery which worked at the behest of the ruling Mahagathbandhan. But the fact that we could retain this seat shows that the people of Gopalganj have reposed confidence in us and rejected the RJD and the Mahagathbandhan,” said BJP’s Satyendra Singh. 

BJP Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Kumar Modi, who was the deputy chief minister when JD(U) was part of the NDA, told Swarajya that the by-poll results should serve as a reality check for Nitish Kumar. 

Modi, who was once very close to Nitish Kumar, said the Chief Minister (Kumar) should worry over the severe erosion of his image. 

“The results prove that anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar is mounting. People have started realising that despite all the tall claims, Bihar has remained stagnant under Nitish Kumar who has governed the state for nearly 16 years now. The carefully-crafted image of sushasan babu is crumbling and people now see his true face,” said Modi. 

Modi also pointed out that the Mahagathbandhan has as its constituents political parties which claim to represent 80 per cent of Bihar’s castes and communities.

“Many caste leaders like Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Kushwaha who were with the NDA are now part of the Mahagathbandhan. That should have ensured a big win for the Mahagathbandhan by huge margins in Mokama and Gopalganj,” he said. 

But the fact that this did not happen, added Modi, is because Nitish Kumar is losing the support of the people, including the non-Yadav OBCs, the MOBCs and the EBCs who formed his solid support base earlier. 

“The RJD has also suffered a setback. The manner in which it went all out to win the by-polls and deployed the state machinery, and still lost in Gopalganj while narrowly retaining Mokama, should serve the party a lesson,” said Modi. 

The BJP, too, needs to gear itself up and strengthen its social engineering to repeat its 2010 Lok Sabha poll performance from Bihar when it won 22 of the 40 seats in the state while its allies, the LJP and the RSLP won six and three seats respectively.

The RJD had won only four seats, and the JD(U) and the Congress two each. 

In order to repeat that performance, the saffron party has to also put its own house in order, expose the Mahagathbandhan and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and present a concrete roadmap for Bihar’s development to its long-suffering masses.  

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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