Mahagathbandhan Wins Bihar: Lessons BJP Needs To Learn

by Surajit Dasgupta - Nov 8, 2015 08:37 PM +05:30 IST
Mahagathbandhan Wins Bihar: Lessons BJP Needs To Learn

BJP has no answer to a consolidated opposition to it in an electoral battle.

The first part of my findings has been proven wrong; the second part has held its ground. By the time the final results of the Bihar Assembly elections are out, the Mahagathbandhan comprising the JD(U), RJD and Congress will be in a position to be invited by the governor of the state to form the next provincial government, with Nitish Kumar continuing as the chief minister, but Lalu Prasad Yadav calling the shots. As I had predicted, the SP-NCP combine and the MIM failed to divide the anti-BJP vote. Pappu Yadav does not deserve even a passing mention.

After the discrediting of the Congress, Delhi had reduced to a bipolar fight. Due to the insignificance of the SP-NCP, MIM and Pappu, Bihar saw a bipolar fight, too. The BJP lost both.

As Bihar continues to be as it has long been — caste-ridden and predominantly socialistic — it is time for the BJP to stop being a ‘better Congress’ and demonstrate clearly to the voters that it has a different vision for the country. That differentiator, Bihar has proven, cannot be the cow. Not in eastern India (remember, it is Bengal next). It has to be pro-market reforms coupled with a social education programme for the masses that must kick in much before an election starts; that education must impress upon the electorate that the seven decade-long government-driven economy can do them no good; it is time for a new paradigm.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the forefront of this battle, he must own up the responsibility for the NDA defeat. However, this may not be a dismissal of his star attraction; rather, the people’s verdict shows its limitations. You cannot have a leader talk “development” while an assortment of his colleagues is constantly working on distracting, communal issues, and yet expect to pull off stunning victories in polls. This is the first occasion in my record as a political commentator when I am invoking the term “communal” — I define it as “of a community” rather than an antonym of “secular” — to describe what can no longer be identified as the ruling party’s fringe.

On this occasion, the “community” wasn’t Hindu; after RSS Sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat and Union minister Gen VK Singh’s remarks, the community the Parivar represents shrunk to upper caste Hindus. The Mahagathbandhan’s leaders on the ground and their perception managers in the media must be congratulated for extracting the maximum out of the stupid “reservation review” and the offensive “dog” statements.

I go out of my way to defend the ilk of Yogi Adityanath on this occasion, though. That a terrorist like Hafiz Saeed invited Shah Rukh Khan to give up Indian citizenship and accept Pakistan as his nation, and that the actor did not care to decline and dismiss the invitation on Twitter and elsewhere was too outrageous a development to not react to. As such, most Biharis had cast their votes by then. These ‘yogis’ must not be held responsible for this election result.

That the party ruling at the Centre is “intolerant”, going by uncontrollable incidents like Dadri happening across the country, however, was a message the opposition-friendly media was directing to the Bihari voter for months, which aggravated the crisis for the BJP that could come up with no convincing riposte to the charge. The hostile mainstream media expectedly did not report a significant attempt of the NDA to showcase its pluralistic image like making all sections of society be represented on its stage, which I had reported in my first report from Bihar. I wonder how a journalist can miss the observation that the only star campaigner the BJP/NDA had, Narendra Modi, would wait for his turn to speak to the crowd so that no ally, representing a certain caste group, would be asked to wind up fast and then feel let down. This humility of Modi was a pleasant departure from how he had handled Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand election campaigns. Also, there came a statement from Amit Shah: “Galti se bhi agar BJP Bihar mein haar gayi, …” A party fighting an election should never talk of the possibility of defeat. In whatever manner you complete the sentence, even trying to petrify Hindus by invoking Pakistan, the message that is conveyed is that you are bracing for defeat. That may well have been the message voters of the fourth and fifth rounds got from the BJP chief.

The Bihar results are but not totally unexpected for the BJP. Every time a part of the state went to polls, the party prayed for a high turnout. It never crossed 60 per cent, which would have indicated an anti-incumbency mood. Going by the high degree of political consciousness in eastern parts of the country, this percentage can be called high only if there are bogus yet untapped names as well as heavy duplication in the electoral roll. When the turnout is sub-60 per cent, aggregation of voters loyal to different parties proves the singular biggest factor, which is the case here. We eastern Indians have traditionally voted in numbers upward of 70 per cent. Why is Bihar turning indifferent to democracy?

Modi’s Lok Sabha election campaign was so refreshingly full of hope for a new India that large sections of Yadavs had dumped Mulayam Singh and Lalu Prasad while Dalits dumped Mayawati and went for “sab ka saath, sab ka vikas”. That vision, that hope was conspicuous by its absence at the Bihar hustings. As said in my last pre-poll report and analysis, there was unfortunately no effort on the part of the BJP to tell Biharis what they did not know — the real definition of “development”. When “jungle raj” was harped on, there was no attempt to link it with the absence of private sector investment.

A good election strategist would have made Modi scream “udyog, udyog, udyog” and “naukri, naukri, naukri” from the rooftops. The BJP had no such planner working backstage. Announcing lakhs of crores worth of centrally-designed projects to usher in an era of growth in the state — of which the state ought to contribute 50 per cent — was too Keynesian to sound politically distinct, more so when Nitish Kumar successfully projected the announcements as “repackaging” of existing schemes.

What next? Trouble starts for Nitish and Bihar on the one end and Modi and India on the other. After losing the state, the BJP — which had betrayed undue magnanimity in sharing seats with Ram Vilas Paswan, Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi’s parties — hasn’t even emerged as the single largest party to make Nitish mull over a post-poll alliance with it to avoid Lalu’s highhandedness. But once he forms the government with the RJD and Congress, even if the Bihar chief minister is successful in reining in the goons of Lalu, his nature of exercising extreme caution against any possible charge of corruption will continue to make him an utterly indecisive state executive — particularly when it comes to sanctioning projects.

As for the whole country, we have been unfortunate for the last 25 years to have had winning as well as losing parties invariably draw the wrong lesson from electoral debacles. While advocates of a free market remember PV Narasimha Rao with fondness, the fact is that he had halted all reforms after the Congress’s debacle in Andhra Pradesh elections. Then, after the 2004 general elections, where the Congress had won merely six Lok Sabha seats more than the BJP, the UPA believed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s push for reforms was responsible for the failure of NDA to hold on to the seat of power. That brought in the “reforms with a human face” bunkum and pushed India to a junk status after the late effects of NDA 1’s reforms dried out. If Modi draws that same, tired conclusion from the Bihar verdict, increasing the ambit of the state in the nation’s economy, it is end of achchhey din for Bharat. And then, in 2019, he will meet the fate Rao met with in 1996.

To resume its winning streak, the BJP has to stop being a better Congress, financing drainers like the MGNREGA and Food Security Act and announcing “packages” for states, and launch big-ticket reforms beginning with heavy tax cuts for the middle class and simple, two or three page registration forms for entrepreneurs to begin businesses. Generation of lakhs of jobs in thousands of businesses and a palpably better living standard for all can turn the gloomy narrative around. And yes, the party ruling at the Centre certainly needs better media managers.

Surajit Dasgupta is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya.
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