Bihar Assembly Election

Bihar Assembly Election | Left parties and AIMIM: Emerging forces in Bihar politics

Print edition : December 04, 2020

Janata Dal (United) supporters during counting, in Patna on November 10. Photo: PTI

Tejashwi Yadav addressing newly elected RJD legislators in Patna on November 12. Photo: PTI

At the launch of the Grand Democratic Secular Front in Patna on October 8, (from right) Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, Upendra Kushwaha of the RLSP and Devendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Janta Dal Democratic along with BSP leaders. Photo: PTI

BJP supporters celebrate their party's lead during counting day, in Patna, on November 10. Photo: PTI

A striking feature of the election, besides the role reversal between the BJP and the JD(U) and the RJD’s surge, is how the Left parties and the AIMIM have become forces to reckon with in Bihar.

In what can be described as a cliffhanger, the Bihar Assembly elections saw the return of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to power, albeit with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s wings clipped. But the contest, which until a couple of months ago seemed completely one-sided, turned into an extremely close one thanks to the spirited campaign of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav. In the nail-biting finish after a marathon counting session lasting well over 15 hours, the NDA won for a record fourth time. It emerged winner with 125 seats in the 243-member Assembly, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alone bagging 74 seats.

The JD (U) lost substantial ground and went down to the third position, with only 43 of the 115 seats it contested and a diminished vote share of 15.4 per cent. The RJD, on the other hand, emerged as the single largest party with 75 of the 144 seats it contested and garnered the biggest vote share (23 per cent). The BJP’s vote share is 19.5 per cent. The Congress won only 19 of the 70 seats it contested. Interestingly, Bihar is perhaps the only State where the biggest loser will lead the government even as the biggest gainer will sit in the opposition.
Also read: Nitish Kumar: The winning loser

Besides the switch in fortunes of the two main NDA constituents, the BJP and the JD(U), the Bihar elections had a surprise element in the form of excellent performances by the Left parties, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), or the CPI(ML). The Left parties together won 16 of the 29 seats they contested, with the CPI(ML) alone winning 12 and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India winning two each. This was the first time that the Left parties joined hands with the RJD and the Congress.

Seemanchal region

The emergence of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), a Hyderabad-based party, as a force to reckon with in Bihar is the most singular feature of this election. The spectacular performance of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM in the Seemanchal region of the State is a wake-up call for non-BJP parties that have so far thrived on Muslim votes or taken Muslims’ support for granted. Owaisi, who had stitched up an alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Upendra Kushwaha led-Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and others, fielded 20 candidates, 14 of them in the Seemanchal region. Five of his candidates won.
Also read: AIMIM presence emerges in Bihar

The Seemanchal region, which borders Nepal and West Bengal, has a significant Muslim population. For instance, while Purnia has a 35 per cent Muslim population, Araria has 51 per cent, Katihar 45 per cent and Kishanganj 70 per cent. So far the region had been a stronghold of the Congress and the RJD. This time there are clear indications of the MY (Muslim-Yadav) combination, which had made the RJD a formidable force, cracking and Muslims deserting it in favour of alternatives. In the 2015 elections, the Congress and the RJD won nine and three respectively of the 24 seats here. The JD(U) won six seats in 2015. This time, however, the Congress could win only four seats from the region and the RJD one. The NDA won in 13 seats here.

The AIMIM, which marked its presence in the region by winning the Kishanganj byelection in 2019, traditionally a Congress seat, surprised everyone by winning the Amour, Kochadham, Bahadurgarh, Baisi and Jokihaat seats this time. Significantly, all the five seats had been with the Mahagathbandhan last time.

Baisi is the most striking example of Muslims shifting their loyalties. The AIMIM’s Sayeed Rukumuddin wrested the seat from the RJD’s Haji Abdus Subhan, who finished third, after the BJP’s Vinod Kumar.

Division of Muslim votes

Apparently, the Muslim voters’ search for an alternative turned out to the BJP’s advantage. There are 32 seats in Bihar with Muslim populations of 30 per cent or above where the NDA has gained substantial ground this time. The division of Muslim votes in these seats acted in the NDA’s favour, with the BJP and the JD(U) winning 13 and six seats respectively, as against their total tally of seven in 2015. Earlier, the majority of these seats had been won by the RJD-Congress combine. This time, however, the Congress could win only five seats while the RJD won four.Owaisi has said he would contest the forthcoming election in West Bengal and the 2022 election in Uttar Pradesh as well.

Role reversal

The reversal of roles of the BJP and the JD(U) is another striking feature of this election. Since the two parties joined hands in 2005, the JD(U) has been playing the role of big brother in Bihar, but this has changed.

The Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) played a role in reducing the JD(U) tally. Though the LJP could win just one seat, it definitely played the spoiler for the JD(U). In over 25 seats the number of votes polled by LJP candidates is close to the margin of loss of the JD(U) candidates. The LJP fielded 22 BJP rebels against JD(U) candidates. Though all of them lost, they spoiled the chances of the JD(U). The LJP, which had parted ways with the NDA in Bihar just before the election, polled 6 per cent of the votes, which is an increase from its 4 per cent in 2015. Chirag Paswan had specifically targeted Nitish Kumar and had vowed to oust him from the Chief Minister’s office.
Also read: The LJP factor

Single largest party

The RJD, which was popularly believed to be the favourite this time, with Tejashwi Yadav drawing huge crowds in his rallies, may have missed the post, but has still emerged as the single largest party. Significantly, the RJD alleges that in many seats the administration, at the behest of Nitish Kumar, manipulated the counting to declare its candidates as defeated. For example, in Hilsa Assembly constituency, the RJD says its candidate Shakti Singh Yadav, who was originally the winner, was declared defeated by 12 votes after recounting against the JD(U)’s Krishna Murari Sharma.
Also read: Tejashwi Yadav's campaign interview

According to RJD leaders, there are at least eight seats where the margin of defeat of RJD candidates is fewer than 1,000 votes, and where originally the RJD candidates had been shown as winners. In Barbigha also, the JD(U)’s Sudarshan Kumar was declared the winner after great delay and recounting, defeating the Congress’s Gajanan Shahi by 113 votes. Similarly, in the Bhore seat, the RJD candidate was declared defeated by 462 votes, after recounting and delay.

Justifying the recounting, Election Commission officials said in seats where the margins were slim, it was mandatory to count rejected postal ballots. But the RJD’s Manoj Jha alleged that the recounting was only done for seats where NDA candidates were losing, not for those seats where the Mahagathbandhan candidates were losing with equally slim margins.

The poor show by the Congress party seems to be a major factor that pulled the Mahagathbandhan down. This, many Congress leaders told this writer earlier, was the best opportunity for the party to make a comeback. But that was not to be. The Congress had already been reduced to a fringe player in Bihar with the onset of social justice politics, especially the emergence of Lalu Prasad’s RJD in the 1990s. It reached its lowest ebb in 2010, winning only four seats. In 2015, it aligned with the RJD but still could win only 27 seats. This time its tally has been reduced to 19.

Significantly, the Mukesh Sahni-led Vikassheel Insaan Party and the Jitan Ram Manjhi-led Hindustani Awam Morcha, which were with the Mahagathbandhan until a few days before the election before crossing over to NDA, have performed well, both winning four seats each. However, Sahni himself lost the election. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, when both these parties were with the Mahagathbandhan, they had fared poorly, failing to get their votes transferred. Had they been with Tejashwi Yadav this time, their combined tally of eight seats could have changed his fortunes.

Strike rate

A look at the parties’ strike rates is an eye-opener. It establishes that the BJP, despite being only the second largest party, has the highest strike rate, 67 per cent. The CPI(ML) surprisingly comes a close second with a 63.16 per cent strike rate. The RJD has a 52 per cent strike rate and the CPI(M) closely follows with a 50 per cent strike rate. The JD(U) has a dismal strike rate of 36 per cent. The Congress, which once against established itself as the laggard, has an abysmal strike rate of 26 per cent.

Another significant point to note this time is that the BJP, which has always been popular in urban seats, has made significant gains in rural areas as well where its partner JD(U) lost heavily. The RJD, on the other hand, which has been strong in rural areas, has made inroads into semi-urban areas. Apparently, the NDA on the whole, and the BJP specifically, gained substantially from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rallies after the first phase of voting. The results show that the NDA did not do well in seats that went to polling in the first phase but made significant gains in the second phase and totally clinched the deal in the third phase.

With the excitement of voting and counting over, it now remains to be seen how the BJP-JD(U) partnership progresses, especially in view of the fact that there have been voices within the BJP that since it has bagged more seats than the JD(U), it should lead the government.
Also read: The BJP and JD(U) in Bihar

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