Tuesday, 10 November 2015

What BJP needs to accept from its Bihar defeat

A day after their massive loss in Bihar elections, the top 12 BJP leaders met in New Delhi to introspection. A key reason they think is that they made wrong assumptions about the Grand Alliance or the Mahagathbandhan consisting of Nitish Kumar's Janta Dal United (JDU), Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtrya Janta Dal (RJD) and the Congress. They say their win in Bihar in the last year's national elections was because the 'opposition' (the parties in the Grand Alliance) was divided. They also feel that the Beef statements, Pakistan issue and RSS's Mohan Bhagwat's statement on reservations had nothing to do with their defeat.

I think there are two key lessons for the BJP from the Bihar elections which they need to think carefully about:


Competitive Hoarding: BJP vs JDU (Congress stays in the background)

The first is an Anti-Congress movement not a Pro-BJP sentiment: Their is an interesting trend that we need to make note of in relation to the national elections 2014 and the subsequent state elections. Since the 2014 general elections, there have been elections in 6 states - Arunachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana,  Maharashtra and Delhi. BJP won either on its own or with a partner or made gains in every state except Delhi. The reason is simple and BJP must understand this that people are voting not for the BJP or Mr. Modi but against Congress. The huge corruption scandals and the blatant disregard for any responsibility towards people while in power showed the arrogance of Congress and clearly depicted that it was taking its positions as the 'secular' party for granted. However, it clearly miffed a substantial number of people across India and to no one's surprise, Congress was thrown out of power in India and subsequently in Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Haryana, Maharashtra and Delhi. In an absence of any viable alternative (read a strong regional party), BJP rode not on the much publicised Modi wave but on an anti-Congress wave and won all these states, except Delhi. Here Arvind Kejriwal's Aaam Aadmi Party (AAP) also rode the anti-Congress wave and a wider anti-establishment wave but it also presented a viable alternative and in the second round of Delhi elections (after the first presented us with a hung assembly) crushed BJP to a very humbling defeat.
And now Bihar has presented a second case where a viable alternative in Nitish Kumar has crushed BJP to a humbling position. The Bihar situation is much more interesting because even though the JDU fought this election in partnership with the Congress, the Grand Alliance clearly presented Nitish Kumar as the Chief Ministerial candidate and the viable alternative. Congress was very much in the background (as wise move by Congress I would say).
So, BJP must understand that the wave that it has been riding is not its own or of Mr. Modi. Its the Congress free India (Congress Mukt Bharat) wave, which is also now subsiding. To free the centre or the states of Congress dos not always mean a vote of the BJP , it means a vote for the viable alternative, whatever it may be. In Bihar it is the JDU.

The second is BJP's refusal to give up on the issue of communal polarisation. We have seen the national and several other state elections that this issue works. But in a state where most of the population has been discriminated against because they are Hindus, lower caste Hindus, this trick was unlikely to work. The issue of Cow and religion works for the upper caste Hindus. But the lower caste Hindus, many of whom survive on dead 'holy' cattle and the 'dirty' pig due to these reasons are not really considered Hindus when it comes to access to temples and other holy spaces. Then why would they associate themselves with the issues of these spaces? Bihari public is deeply political and the contemporary identity politics is dominated by caste not religion. In villages which have only Hindu populations, religion is never thought about but caste is always present. For a party that shouts louder than any other about development, raising the communal issue in a state which provides most opportunities for development is strange. BJP, while it was a partner in the JDU government in Bihar contributed to the development of Bihar in the last decade. Rather than discussing these achievements, the people who contributed to these achievement and how they could build on these in the future, the BJP chose to ignore its local leaders and instead erect the hoardings of Modi (Narendra not Sushil) and Amit Shah. This was again not presenting a viable alternative.

Only posters of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah
If BJP is not able to present a credible face and plan in the coming state elections like West Bengal, it will loose. It will not find an anti Congress wave in these states because Congress has already been replaced by regional parties like Mamta Banarjee's TMC. They have already create a Congress Free State or Congress Mukta Rajya.

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