While the comments on reservation by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had a negative impact, NDA lost the election due to a variety of strategic and tactical errors.
It is now almost universally agreed that the reservation comment by the RSS chief damaged the NDA in Bihar. However, our analysis using CSDS and Election Commission data seems to suggest that while the comment may have hurt the NDA, the election was not lost due to the comments by Mr Mohan Bhagwat alone. In order to determine the impact, we considered CSDS’s pre-poll survey which was carried out during the last week of September and their post-poll survey which was carried out after the end of each phase of the election in Bihar.
Chart 1: Vote Share Comparison, CSDA Pre-Poll versus Post-Poll
The CSDS post-poll surveys show that the loss for NDA was about 4% while the gain for MGB was about 4% when compared with the pre-poll surveys. The fieldwork for the Pre-poll surveys were carried out exactly when Mr Bhagwat’s statement made its way into the media and among voters. One of the challenges with the CSDS data is that it over-reports the vote share for NDA. So while CSDS reported that NDA vote share was 38%, the real vote share was 34.1%. If one were to correct for this over-reporting, the real vote shares may have been 38% for both alliances (Neck to neck) in September 2015. The 4% swing from NDA to MGB thus changed the vote share to 42% for MGB and 34% for NDA.
Chart 2: Vote Share losses/Gains, Pre-Poll versus Post-Poll Surveys
The gains for MGB vote share all appear to come from segments that currently enjoy reservations. On the other hand, the losses were amongst segments that were likely to positively benefit from Mr. Bhagwat’s comments. This is fairly indicative that the reservation comments did have an impact on the vote share.
Would this have decisively changed the final outcome?
If the 4% swing as per CSDS were to be applied to all the BJP contested seats, it could have ended up with 86 seats instead of the current tally of 53 seats. Similarly, a 4% swing on the seats contested by BJP allies would have yielded 16 seats instead of the currently tally of 5. In sum, a 4% reservation correction would have only yielded a net result of 102 seats max.
While this is quite healthy, this would still not have ended in a win. The BJP result of 86 seats would have been quite healthy as that would imply a conversion of 54 %. However, the conversion for seats contested by allies would have remained much lower at only 19%.
The underperformance by allies is not related to the ‘reservation’ comments. While BJP lost an average of 1500 votes in each of the seats versus 2014, its allies lost close to 8500 votes per seat versus 2014. There are 3 big reasons for the underperformance of the BJP and its allies-
1.The inability of BJP to transfer votes to its allies. Many upper caste voters abandoned BJP allies for a variety reasons, availability of upper caste choices within MGB, Rebel Candidates of BJP, awareness that an MBC/Dalit is likely to be the next CM and also due to poor support from BJP and RSS workers in such seats.
2.The second factor is that due to the hot and cold war between Mr. Paswan and Mr. Manjhi, many of their supporters refused to vote for the other and instead voted for independents or even the MGB.
3.Lastly, the BJP campaign which started off positively with the 1.25 lac crores grant for Bihar gradually entered into a negative campaign with the MGB. For example, in Buxar speeches of Mr Modi we found that he spent 32% of the speech time on negative attacks against the opposition in 2014, this increased further to 44% speech in 2015 showing a clear deterioration.
In sum, while the comments on reservation by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had a negative impact, NDA lost the election due to a variety of strategic and tactical errors right from campaign messaging and response, managing allies, ground level coordination and selection of candidates.