What does the Bihar election result mean?

Did identity and ideology play a bigger than expected role in determining the electoral fate of candidates?

Image Courtesy:dnaindia.com

Bihar assembly election results are out and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has managed to retain power. But the election results have also showcased some other interesting trends. The electorate has spoken, now let’s find out what exactly have they said and what it means.

Too soon to write off the RJD

Though the Mahagathbandhan or the Grand Alliance may have only cobbled together 110 seats in the 243-member assembly, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) managed to secure 75 seats on its own. This is one more than the 74 the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) got on its own. This is no mean feat.

In the last elections. The RJD that was in an alliance with the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and the Congress, had managed to win 80 seats. Though, there has been a drop of five seats, the party appears to be still going strong, despite losing ally Nititsh Kumar in 2017 and the emergence of the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM).

Credit for the party’s performance in the 2020 elections goes to brothers Tejashwi and Tej Pratap Yadav for their massive outreach and focus on key issues like unemployment. While their father’s political legacy may have been reduced to political memes and jokes on account of the fodder scam, the sons are leaving no stone unturned in charting their own political journey by focusing on what really matters… people’s aspirations. It is indeed too soon to write off the RJD and the NDA would do well to not get complacent.

Left is still relevant

The three Left parties; Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPIM) and Communist Party of India – Marxist Leninist (CPI-ML) have outperformed all other parties in terms of strike rate. They have won 16 out of the 29 constituencies in which they fielded candidates, a combined strike rate of 55.17 percent! Their combined tally of 16 wins comes within sniffing distance of the Congress’s 19 wins. 

In terms of individual strike rates, while the CPI won two out of the six seats it contested (strike rate 33.33 percent), the CPI (M) won two out of the four seats it contested (strike rate 50 percent). Meanwhile, the CPI (ML) won 12 out of the 19 seats it contested (strike rate 63.15 percent).

The success of the Left comes from their support of grassroots movements related to rights of peasants and workers, two groups of people who have suffered twin blows of lockdown related financial hardship and years of systemic repression with various vested interests ranging from apathetic regimes comprising the privileged elite, to their crony capitalist friends who have traditionally profited from exploiting the natural resources in the region.

The AIMIM factor

Shortly after AIMIM started showing leads in several key constituencies, particularly in the Muslim dominated Seemanchal region, many people took to Twitter to blame Asauddin Owaisi for splitting the Muslim vote. But the bigger issue that requires closer examination is that why is it that the AIMIM has captured the imagination of so many people?

In our previous analysis of the Muslim vote in the Bihar elections, we had identified key constituencies to watch out for in this election. Now that the results are out, perhaps it is time to revisit these constituencies, especially those in districts in the Seemanchal region i.e Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnea. Seemanchal has a sizable Muslim population of anywhere between 35 to 75 percent and amounts to a total of 24 assembly seats.

Let us look at Seemanchal where the AIMIM has made the maximum gains. The AIMIM has won five seats, all in Seemanchal:

Amour (Purnea district): AIMIM state chief Akhtarul Iman contested from here and won 94,459 votes or 51.17 percent of all votes cast in this constituency, giving him a margin of 52,515 votes from Saba Zafar of JD (U) who came in second with 41,944 votes. In 2015, Congress candidate Abdul Jalil Mastan had won from here with a margin of 51,997 votes, but this year, he trialed at a distant third spot with 31,863 votes.

Bahadurganj (Kishanganj district): Mohammed Anzar Naimi won 85,855 or 49.77 percent of all votes cast in this constituency. His victory margin was an impressive 45,215 that pushed VIP’s Lakhan Lal Pandit to the second spot with 40,640 votes. In 2015, M.D Tauseef Alam of the Congress had won this constituency, but this time he came in third with 30, 204 votes.

Baisi (Purnea district): AIMIM’s Sayed Ruknuddin Ahmed won 68,416 or 38.27 percent of the votes. Though the margin of victory was only 16, 373 votes over BJP’s Vinod Kumar who won 52, 043 votes. The margin of victory is less than half of what it was when RJD’s Abdus Subhan won in 2015. This time though, Subhan came in third with only 38,254 or 21.4 percent of the vote.

Jokihat (Araria district): AIMIM’s Shanawaz (59,596 votes or 34.22 percent) defeated RJD’s Sarfaraz Alam (52,213 or 29.98 percent) by a relatively narrow margin of 7,383 votes. Interestingly, in 2015, Alam who was then contesting on a JD (U) ticket had won with a margin of 53,980 votes! This time, BJP’s Ranjit Yadav came in third with 48,933 or 28.1 percent of the vote.

Kochadhaman (Kishanganj district): Muhammad Izhar Asfi won 79,893 or 49.45 percent of the votes, winning the constituency with a margin of 36,143 votes. His closest contender was JD (U)’s Mujahid Alam who came in second with 43,750 or 27.08 percent of the votes. Alam had won in 2015 with a relatively narrow margin of 18,843 votes. RJD’s Mohammed Shahid Alam came in third with just 26,134 votes or 16.18 percent.

It is noteworthy that in three out of the five constituencies it won, AIMIM had managed to amass close to 50 percent of the vote. It is also noteworthy that in four of these constituencies i.e Amour, Bahadurganj, Baisi and Kochadhamam, the AIMIM’s emergence affected the Congress and the RJD in a big way. In Jokihat, switching from JD(U) to RJD cost the candidate his seat!

This is where one needs to examine some rather uncomfortable facts and ask the question: What role did identity and ideology play in determining the electoral choices of people? On the one hand the resurgence of the BJP suggests a consolidation of the Hindutva votes. One the other is a party like AIMIM led by Asauddin Owaisi who has often taken a hardline stand on communally sensitive issues. Does the emergence of of AIMIM suggest a consolidation of the hardline Muslim votes? Or is this a failure of the secular parties like RJD and Congress in reaching out adequately to people living in some of the most backward regions in one of the least developed states in the country?

Nitish Kumar’s place in the new power dynamic

The BJP has outperformed its ally the JD (U) in this election cementing its position of power in the alliance. And though the alliance has retained Nitish Kumar as the chief minister, how long will it be before the BJP begins to show who’s the boss in what is clearly no longer a partnership of equals? Anti-incumbency and fatigue with the Nitish government may have also played as role in JD (U)’s dwindling popularity.

Moreover, the BJP can also claim credit for the late swing in the votes as the NDA made massive gains in the third phase of the elections, shortly after rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It also appears that the LJP eroded away some of the votes from the JD (U).

According to the findings of a Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey reported in the Indian Express, “In BJP-contested seats, three-fourths of traditional BJP supporters voted for the NDA, whereas in JD(U)-contested seats, the support shown by BJP supporters for the NDA candidate was just over 50% (Chart 2). In such seats, the LJP seems to be have swung a segment of the traditional BJP voters in its favour (around 13%), thus damaging the prospects of the JD(U) candidates. Many of these traditional BJP voters who shifted to LJP were Dusadhs and, to some extent, those from the upper castes.”

Women’s vote helped NDA

Nitish’s charisma and promise of prohibition had drawn women voters in record numbers in 2015. This year too, the voter turnout among women was high, and constituencies that saw voter turnout of women in excess of 68 percent, were won predominantly by the BJP or JD (U).

Here are the results for constituencies where female voter turnout was over 68 percent:

Won by BJP: Ramnagar, Dhaka, Chhatapur, Pipra, Narpatganj, Sikti, Pranpur, Korha, Baruraj

Won by JD (U): Babubahri, Nirmali, Triveniganj, Alamnagar, Barari, Sakra

Won by RJD: Laukaha, Thakurganj, Minapur, Singheshwar

Won by Congress: Kadwa, Kasba

Won by Left parties: Balrampur, Bakhri

Won by AIMIM: Amour, Baisi, Jokihat, Kochadhaman

So, what was the draw for women voters this time? Was it the charism of ‘sushasan babu’ Nitish Kumar and his commitment to prohibition that helped get the NDA the much-coveted women’s vote? Or did women also vote based on identity and ideology? Are women in Bihar also taking an increasingly hardline stand on all matter communal? This requires deeper investigation.

Caste equations

According to the findings of a Lokniti-CSDS post poll survey reported in the Indian Express, while Yadavs and Muslims sided with the MGB, Kurmis-Koeris and Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) appeared to have voted for NDA, with Dalits being the swing vote. The report says, “Muslims and Yadavs, RJD’s traditional voters, consolidated in a major way behind the MGB, at least in the first two phases. Close to nine of every 10 Yadavs and three-fourths of Muslims voted for the MGB. However, to be able to make a bid for power, the MGB needed an MY+. The Dalit vote came to the MGB in the first two phases, and the alliance with the Communist parties was a crucial factor. In the last phase, Dalits seem to have swayed towards the NDA, according to our data. Within the Dalit community, support for the MGB was restricted to the Ravidas community and the Dusadhs. Musahars, however, mostly voted for the NDA. The NDA also got four-fifths of votes from Kurmis, the community to which Nitish belongs, and nearly three-fifths of the EBC vote.”

Mismanagement by Congress

The Congress needs to work a lot harder if it wants to remain politically relevant in a state where it has emerged victorious previously. There are allegations that the Congress neither had a clear strategy as to which seats to demand, nor did it have proper candidates to field from these seats. Popularity of the party in the chosen constituency and winnability of the candidate are two basic factors that any party should take into consideration during the poll planning process. The Congress contested 70 seats, but won only 19. This may be because of the absence of a connect with the electorate prior to the elections. The Congress had poor outreach before the polls, it’s leaders had not built any connect with the people and voters did not know what the party even stood for any more.

Allegations of poll fraud

Even as the electorate watched a thrilling election that went down to the wire in Bihar, allegations of poll fraud started cropping up. The RJD has alleged that many of its candidates were declared winners and asked to get certificates, but were subsequently told that they had lost. RJD spokesperson and Rajya Sabha member Manoj Jha told BBC, “From 1:30 PM to 5 PM the victory numbers remained frozen. This is not possible in dynamic counting. This was done to suppress our numbers and manipulate the polls.” Jha further alleged, “My Hilsa candidate was told he had won by 566 votes and asked to take the certificate. But even as he was waiting for the certificate, he was told that he had lost by 8 votes!” Jha claims there were at least 15 such seats where this has happened. Had they won those seats, RJD would have won.

Jha filed a complaint with the Election Commission alleging that officials from the Chief Minister’s office, BJP-JD(U) leaders and a top election official, pressured other election officials to show victory for BJP-JD(U) candidates. He also claimed recounting requests by RJD were denied, but when BJP-JD(U) asked for recounts in places where RJD had won, their request was granted. But the EC has dismissed Jha’s allegations.


Bihar Elections: Exit polls predict neck-and-neck fight
Second Phase of Assembly Elections in Bihar
Bihar Elections: First phase of voting concludes
Bihar elections: Is Nitish Kumar’s popularity dropping?
Bihar Elections: Deconstructing the Muslim monolith




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