On a platter

Print edition : June 07, 2019

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar with Ravi Shankar Prasad, the NDA candidate in the Patna Sahib seat, during a rally at Usfa village near Patna on May 17. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

NDA supporters celebrating victory in Patna on May 24. Photo: PTI

LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan with his son Chirag Paswan, who was elected from Jamui, on May 24. Photo: PTI

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav addressing a rally at Pokhrera in the Maharajganj constituency on May 8. Photo: Ranjeet Kumar

Shatrughan Sinha, the Congress’ candidate in Patna Sahib, after casting his vote on May 19. Photo: PTI

The NDA makes history with an unprecedented mandate in this crucial State by winning all but one seat as muscular nationalism trumps caste calculations.

Bihar, where the concept of grand alliance, or “mahagathbandhan” as it was popularly known, was put to good use in 2015 when the arch-rivals Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Janata Dal (United) joined hands to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led alliance in the Assembly elections, was up for another such test in this election, with a slight change.

After the JD(U) left to join the BJP camp, all eyes were on the non-BJP grand alliance to see if the parties, representing dominant backward castes such as the Yadavs, other backward classes such as the Kushwahas, a clutch of extremely backward castes, Dalits and minorities, could weave a winning combination. As the results have shown, this experiment failed in the face of a massive saffron surge. Riding this wave, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 39 of the 40 seats.

It had become clear in Bihar since the beginning of the campaigning that there was a clear divide, with some people rooting for a Narendra Modi government and others opposing it. The caste combinations on both sides made the contest an even one, with the anti-BJP side enjoying a slight edge owing to the consolidation of Muslim votes in its favour. The results, however, suggest that the anti-Modi block simply melted away, their votes counting for little. Even the seats where the caste and religious boundaries had seemingly blurred in favour of a particular candidate were swept away by the saffron wave.

Begusarai test case

Begusarai was the seat that had emerged as a test case in Bihar to see whether the Hindutva forces, represented by Giriraj Singh of the BJP, could be ousted by a grouping of different castes, classes and religious minorities. Here Kanhaiya Kumar, the former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students’ union president, contested as a Communist Party of India (CPI) candidate. People from all over the country descended on Begusarai to campaign for him. As campaigning progressed, the contest turned into a battle between the idea of India as envisaged in the Constitution and the Sangh Parivar’s politics of muscular nationalism. Since the caste combination, which often decides results in Bihar when all things are equal, seemed to favour Kanhaiya Kumar, hopes for his victory were high. 

But the results showed a massive wave of support for Giriraj Singh, who openly asks anyone opposing the Hindutva brand of politics to leave for Pakistan. Giriraj Singh polled an astounding 6,92,193 votes (or 56.48 per cent of the votes), defeating Kanhaiya Kumar by a huge margin of 4,22,217 votes. Kanhaiya Kumar polled only 2,69,976 votes and his vote share is 22.03 per cent.

In Kanhaiya Kumar’s defeat, the larger “gathbandhan” politics too had a big role. Since the non-BJP parties could not reach a consensus here, reportedly because of Tejashwi Yadav’s insecurities vis-a-vis Kanhaiya Kumar’s popularity, the RJD fielded Tanveer Hassan, who polled 1,98,233 votes (16.17 per cent).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mocked the “secularists” in his first speech to his party workers after the massive victory. He declared that the so-called secularists had been thoroughly exposed in this election and that none of them dared use this “mukhota” (mask).

In Bihar, the minority vote has always been a decisive factor, except this time around. Ever since the emergence of Mandal politics, a coalition of backward castes and Muslims has played a key role at the hustings.

This time, however, all such calculations went awry in the face of the BJP’s nationalism rhetoric, which it hammered repeatedly, citing Pulwama and Balakot as examples. A glaring instance is the Sheohar Lok Sabha seat. The RJD had fielded Syed Faisal Ali, a journalist who has worked with the BBC, Arab News and Sahara India, against the sitting BJP MP Rama Devi, who was quite unpopular. The caste arithmetic, along with the Muslim vote, made it look like a cakewalk for Ali. He was confident of his victory and even Rama Devi congratulated him after the initial rounds of counting. However, when counting ended, he was left dumbfounded, as was Rama Devi. “Even she looked surprised at the result,” he told Frontline.

Rama Devi polled 6,08,678 votes, which was 60.59 per cent of the total, while Ali polled only 2,68,318 votes, which worked out to a vote share of 26.71 per cent, despite the backing of Yadavs, Muslims and other backward castes in the area.

In one particular locality, which has 750 Muslim votes, he got only 57. “I can’t understand where my votes disappeared. I was witness to long queues of my supporters, standing in the scorching sun for hours to vote for me. When the results came in I saw them sobbing,” he said, stunned by the outcome.

All significant faces from the RJD and its allies lost, including Upendra Kushwaha, Jitan Ram Manjhi, and Mukesh Sahni, who were supposed to have brought Kushwahas, Mahadalits and Nishads to the “mahagathbandhan” table. Kushwaha lost both from Ujiarpur and Karakat, Manjhi lost from Gaya, and Sahni lost from Khagaria.

Significant RJD faces who lost included Misa Bharti, Lalu Prasad’s daughter, and senior leader Raghuvansh Prasad. Misa Bharti lost to the BJP’s Ram Kirpal Yadav by 39,321 votes. She was defeated by him in 2014 as well. Ram Kirpal was Lalu Prasad’s right-hand man who parted ways in 2014 when Lalu Prasad gave his daughter the ticket. Ram Kirpal Yadav polled 5,09,557 votes against Misa Bharti’s 4,70,236 votes. The reduced margin, however, was a saving grace for her this time.

Raghuvansh Prasad lost to Veena Devi of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) in Vaishali by over two lakh votes. He polled 3,33,631 votes against Veena Devi’s 5,68,215 votes (a vote share of 52 per cent).

Saran was another seat where Lalu Prasad’s prestige was at stake. The RJD fielded Chandrika Rai, the father-in-law of his elder son Tej Pratap Yadav, much to his chagrin. Tej Pratap has filed for divorce from his wife, Aishwarya, and had opposed Rai’s nomination from Saran. Rai lost to the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy by over 1.3 lakh votes. He polled 3,60,913 votes against Rudy’s 4,99,342 votes.

The only seat that withstood the Modi wave in Bihar was Kishanganj, where Dr Mohammad Jawed of the Congress won. Interestingly, Kishanganj in Bihar is the only seat that can be considered safe for the Congress. Jawed won in a tight contest, polling 3,67,017 votes, to defeat the JD(U)’s Syed Mehmood Ashraf, who polled 3,32,551 votes. An interesting angle to the contest was the entry of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, whose candidate Akhtarul Imam polled a substantial 2,95,029 votes. The only seat safe for Congress in Bihar may no longer be safe in the elections to come.

The Congress’ performance was nothing to write home about. The party frittered away all its chances this time, first in bargaining with the RJD and then by fielding weak candidates. Congress workers in Bihar told Frontline that Darbhanga was a seat that the Congress could have won but for the RJD, which fielded Abdul Bari Siddiqui, who lost to the BJP’s Gopal Jee Thakur by a margin of 2,67,979 votes.

Madhubani was another seat which the Congress could have won had it bargained hard with the RJD. Former Union Minister and senior leader Dr Shakeel Ahmad was a strong candidate. The RJD, however, refused to give this seat to the Congress and instead gave it to the unheard-of VIP Party, which fielded Badri Kumar Purbey, who lost to the BJP’s Ashok Kumar Yadav by more than 4.5 lakh votes. A miffed Shakeel Ahmad contested as an independent and polled 1,31,530 votes. He has since been suspended from the party. 

Similarly, the Congress’ decision to field Shatrughan Sinha from Patna Sahib against the BJP’s Ravi Shankar Prasad did not work. For one, Sinha had crossed over to the Congress only days before the election, after having been in the BJP for decades. His candidature was difficult for party workers to accept and, unsurprisingly, he lost to Ravi Shankar Prasad by a margin of 2,84,657 votes.

Another prominent Congress face, Ranjeet Ranjan, the wife of Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav, lost in Supaul to the JD(U)’s Dileshwar Kamait by over 2.6 lakh votes.

Yet another big name that was felled by the Modi juggernaut was Sharad Yadav, who lost in Madhepura to the JD(U)’s Dinesh Chandra Yadav by more than three lakh votes. Sharad Yadav polled 3,22,807 votes against Dinesh Chandra Yadav’s 6,24,334 votes. The story in Bihar, as Ram Vilas Paswan of the LJP said, was the victory of the Modi mantra. His son, Chirag Paswan, who was initially thought to be stuck in a tough fight in Jamui, cruised to an easy win against Bhudeo Chaudhary of Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party by a margin of 2,41,049 votes.