Mandate of the masses

Double encore Nitish claims Bihar for the third time. Photo: Sonu Kishan
Double encore Nitish claims Bihar for the third time. Photo: Sonu Kishan

The Bihar Assembly election has scripted a new grammar of politics in India. It is a staggering victory for the ‘Mahagathbandhan’— the JD(U),RJD and the Congress combined. In a tightly fought election, the Mahagathbandhan managed to win 178 Assembly seats while the NDA limited itself to only 58 seats. One of the landmark results of the election was the return of CPI(ML) in Bihar with three seats.

No state election had seen such a sustained effort, as the one put forward by the current ruling formation at the Centre, to usurp the provincial electoral space. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led his blitzkrieg from the front, assisted by the redoubtable Amit Shah and a host of senior BJP leaders. On the other end, the duo of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav countered the political onslaught with gusto, rekindling the ‘social justice’ strategy of the 1990s. Unlike in the parliamentary election of 2014, Lalu and Nitish fought like Siamese twins in this Assembly election. It was a classic case of the ‘Goliath’ at the Centre out to conquer the ‘David’ in the periphery. This result has the potential to substantially diminish the popularity of the Prime Minister. There is also the possibility of an internal rebellion.

When the election in Bihar was announced, the Mahagathbandhan was not in good shape. A determined section within the JD(U) wanted Nitish to go solo, based on his enviable track record. It was believed that any association with Lalu would sully the Nitish brand. Stumping such assumptions, the RJD got 80 seats, seven more than the JD(U). Even when the alliance got finally fructified, there were elements of mutual suspicion. The prophet of doom prognosticated that the Lalu-Nitish combination will not work. The important question was whether the personal rapport between the two veterans will translate into grass root chemistry between their social bases.

Overall, the two new political configurations, vying for the mantle of the state, were both electorally untested. Incidentally, this year is the silver jubilee year of the ‘social justice’ triumph in Bihar. The occasion is bound to throw open many questions: Have the aspirational classes, clamouring for social justice, integrated with the market, like in other states? Does the ‘state’ still continue to be the magnetic attraction for the aspirational class? In the absence of a corporate sector, has there been bottom up capitalism, making some space for market-driven growth? But, unfortunately, these concerns are still outside the grammar of electoral politics of Bihar. After 25 years, the arrangement between parties has changed dramatically.

A new script will be written about the aspirational class of India in general and Bihar in particular. Both the coalitions tried to influence the young aspirational voters of Bihar, irrespective of their caste and class background. Out of a total of 6.6 crore voters in Bihar, around 3.8 crore (56 percent) are in the 18-40 age group. Out of that, 1.8 crore are below the age of 30. There are 24.13 lakh first time voters, constituting 3.5 percent of the electorate. Across the country, this young and aspirational class is influenced by the market, both national and global. However, the aspirational class in Bihar, is still centred around the state. It was perhaps because of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statements about revisiting ‘positive discrimination’ along with Hardik Patels movement to end reservation that the aspirational class of the ‘social justice’ constituency in the state galvanised behind the Mahagathbandhan.

The Bihar election further revealed that the state is transcending beyond standard clichés about caste. Bihar never had a sub-national identity; however, this Assembly election witnessed a clamour for subterranean identity. Thus, although the movement around the ‘Bihari DNA’ failed, the slogan of ‘Bihar-Bahari’ succeeded decisively. It had tangible resonance, because of the over projection of the Modi-Shah duo. Due to this lack of regional sensitivity, the BJP had to pay heavily. Some are hoping that the BJP won’t repeat its mistakes in Bihar in future state elections. If they do, the Modi-Shah duo will be thrown into the dustbins of history and the BJP will not be able to recover.

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