Pro-incumbency wave

Published : Nov 11, 2015 16:00 IST

Several regional factors did influence the elections in different parts of Bihar, but there was one factor that was a constant across all the five electoral regions of the State: a pro-incumbency vote in favour of Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister. In many ways, this was the most dominant factor in the verdict that catapulted the Grand Alliance of the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and the Congress to an emphatic victory with 178 seats, only four short of a three-fourths majority in the 243-member Assembly. With a vote share of more than 42 per cent, it defeated the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) with comfortable margins in most seats. The NDA, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with a little more than 34 per cent of the votes, trailed behind the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) by a margin of eight percentage points. The NDA finished a distant second with 58 seats, while the Left Front got three seats and independent candidates secured four.

While the BJP increased its vote from 16.49 per cent in the 2010 Assembly elections to a little more than 24 per cent, the vote shares of its allies dipped significantly. The vote shares of the constituents of the Mahagathbandhan were as follows: the JD(U)—16.8 per cent from 101 seats; the RJD—18.4 per cent from 101 seats; and the Congress—6.7 per cent from 40 seats. The BJP increased its vote share only because it contested 160 seats, while its three allies fought in the 83 remaining seats. The Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist-Liberation), a Left Front constituent, won three seats after a long spell of electoral failures in the State. It also finished a close second or third in five other constituencies.

The Mahagathbandhan performed uniformly well in all the five regions of Bihar—Seemanchal, Magadh, Mithilanchal, Bhojpur and Tirhut. It won more than 80 per cent of the seats in all the regions. Such uniform performance in all the regions indicates that the people of Bihar found Nitish Kumar’s idea of development more appealing than Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s. The 42 per cent vote share of the Mahagathbandhan suggests that the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), a large section of extremely backward classes (EBCs), Muslims and Dalits rallied behind the grand secular alliance.

As opposed to the Mahagathbandhan, which got widespread support across castes and communities though it seemed initially to rely principally on the support of OBCs and Muslims, the BJP focussed largely on engineering a social coalition of forward castes, Dalits, and EBCs. Its pre-electoral alliances with Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) reflected the party’s strategy to rope in Dalits and Mahadalits. The BJP hoped to corner a large chunk of OBC support with its alliance with the renegade JD(U) leader Upendra Khushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP). Khushwahas are the second most populous backward caste after Yadavs.

The vote share of the BJP (24.4 per cent) suggests that its support remained limited to the upper castes, who constitute around 15 per cent of Bihar’s population, and to a section of Khushwahas (6 per cent of the population) and the Telis (an EBC community that constitutes 3 per cent of the population). The BJP’s electoral strategy to ally with the RLSP worked well in parts on the ground. Telis are traditionally considered supporters of the BJP.

However, the results suggest that Dalits and Mahadalits voted against the NDA and their support went largely to the Mahagathbandhan or the Left Front. And this proved crucial in the NDA’s defeat. Out of the 40 reserved constituencies in Bihar, the NDA could win only in five—Banmankhi, Chenari, Imamganj, Rajnagar and Ramnagar. Jitan Ram Manjhi, a former Chief Minister, could win only one of the two seats in which he contested. While he won from Imamganj, he lost to the little-known RJD leader Subedar Das in Makhadumapur by a massive 26,777 votes.

The Mahagathbandhan, on the other hand, performed extremely well in the reserved constituencies. It won in 33 out of the 40 reserved constituencies, indicating that the NDA’s electoral pitch did not find favour among Dalits and Mahadalits, largely because of its pro-upper-caste image.

The BJP fared very poorly in Muslim-dominated constituencies (Muslims constitute 18 per cent of the population). The NDA has conducted a vicious communal campaign against Muslims in the last few years in this region.

The fractured polity, too, had benefited the BJP in the last few elections. For instance, in the 2009 parliamentary elections, which saw a four-cornered fight between the BJP, the JD (U), the RJD and the Congress, the BJP won in three of the four parliamentary constituencies of Seemanchal. However, the 2014 parliamentary elections saw secular parties winning in this region as Muslims strategically voted for secular party candidates who were best placed to defeat the BJP.

Muslim votes in the 2009 parliamentary elections were perceived by political analysts as anti-Modi votes. The coming together of the JD(U), the RJD, and the Congress in the 2015 Assembly elections completely isolated the BJP as Muslims voted en masse in favour of the Mahagathbandhan in all the 25 seats of Seemanchal. The BJP could only win seven seats there.

The only regions where the NDA did relatively well are north-west and south-west Bihar, comprising areas like Motihari, Gaya, Sasaram and Champaran. By the time elections were held in regions like Champaran, which went to the polls in the fourth phase, the NDA campaign had gone viciously communal with a clutch of issues advanced by the BJP, ranging from cow slaughter to Pakistan getting happy over a BJP loss. The Mahagathbandhan performed extremely well in densely populated central and south Bihar, where caste tensions between the upper castes and backward communities are high.

The only positive factor for the BJP was that it did considerably well in urban constituencies, for long considered its strongholds. In the majority of city constituencies, where Muslims were not dominant, the party performed well. The party won in most cities like Darbhanga, Gaya, Patna Sahib and Muzaffarpur by big margins. However, rural and semi-urban constituencies rejected its electoral agenda decisively.

Making a larger comment on the elections and the factors that influenced different regions, the political analyst Mathew Vilayasseril told Frontline that when the BJP sought to focus on its so-called development, it was no match for the pro-incumbency sentiment in favour of Nitish Kumar, but when it fervently pushed the communal agenda, there were some limited gains. Vilayasseril is of the view that the election results in these five regions will transcend the regional and have a national impact. “It is nothing short of a political earthquake with national ramifications and that too a quake measuring not less than nine in the political Richter scale. And what triggered it is the pro-incumbency factor.”

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment