Social media, growth, electricity: More to Nitish win than caste math

  • N Madhavan, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 10, 2015 11:56 IST
Bihar elections in which Nitish Kumar won his third term in power for JD(U) in a grand alliance with RJD and the Congress, had more than plain rustic appeal. (Arun Sharma/HT Photo)

There’s more to this than the failure of grand oratory.

Hindsight, they say, gives us 20-20 vision, but it is becoming clear that the Bihar elections in which chief minister Nitish Kumar won his third term in power for Janata Dal (United) in a grand alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, had more than plain rustic appeal.

It might have been a shrewd combination of things beyond old-world kinship based on loyalties fashioned after Yadavs and their rival caste in Bihar, Kurmi, to which Kumar belongs.

Among the new factors could be social media and its natty use, the rise of women as an empowered political group in Bihar and development measures such as large-scale electrification in the backward state often cited as a hinterland steeped in darkness.

One secret sauce, it emerges, was a social media campaign handled by a team loaned by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Sitting across the Yamuna in UP, a team handled Twitter and Facebook campaigns for JD(U).

“The AAP was handling our social media campaign. Their social media team, along with the JD(U)’s team, was reaching out to the public of Bihar from a one-room office in Indirapuram, Ghaziabad,” JD(U) leader K. C. Tyagi candidly told a newspaper. His son Amit was among those in the 30-member team. “We used to exchange notes with the AAP’s social media team and they used to guide us”

It is known that Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode to power with an active social media campaign, inspired by US President Barack Obama’s run.

Read: Bihar migrants play critical role in Grand Alliance victory

However, as HT reported, Nitish Kumar’s Twitter handle was being handled by the AAP team guided by Prashant Kishor, a 38-year-old who was a key brain behind Modi’s campaign in 2014 before jumping ship.

Also, Bihar is not what they thought it was. Technology website reported last year that Patna has the world’s longest wi-fi stretch, 20 km long, well ahead of China’s 3.5 km. That might be just symbolic, but social media has a network effect more powerful than simple technological reach.

Social media increasingly influences mainstream media and acts as a countervailing force in generating ideas for stories, questions and debates and for catch phrases that inspire imagination in political speeches. There is a broad hint that the “Bihari vs Bahari” slogan – which pointed to Modi and BJP president Amit Shah as bahari (outsiders), may have had its origin in social media campaigns for the party.

Kishor, who was a key campaign strategist for JD(U), apparently approved the “Bahari” card, as Tyagi notes.

Remember, East Delhi, not far from Ghaziabad, has a large Bihari population – and we live in an age where a slogan’s global reach is just a free WhatsApp or Hike message away.

Bihar had as many as 10.5 million households with phone connections in the 2011 census, out of a population of 18 million. The number is bound to have gone up substantially by now. Of that number in 2011, as many as 9.8 million were mobile phones. This leapfrog put Bihar’s mobile connectivity at 51.6% not far behind the national mobile connectivity of 53.2%. It is logical to extrapolate that current smartphone penetration may not be far behind the national level – and even if not, that is enough to generate a buzz around ideas and factoids floating in the air.

Under Nitish Kumar’s rule, Bihar spent as much as R 4.36 lakh crore on social services in 2014/15 alone. Bihar’s state GDP has been grew at a steady 9.45% on average annually between 2005 and 2014 after adjusting for inflation.

Less than 30% of Bihar’s households have electricity connections, but village-level networks have expanded to provide access to those who want it.

Read: BJP let down by allies; Paswan, Kushwaha, Manjhi fall flat on face

According to one analyst, power consumption in Bihar is now estimated at about four times the 2005 level and 70% above the 2012 levels, and anecdotally, electricity is available for 12 to 18 hours a day. That may be laughable by world standards, but for those steeped in darkness in the past, it could have been light at the end of the tunnel.

Two years ago, Nitish Kumar announced that 35% of police jobs in the state, from constables to superintendents, will be reserved for women. Since 2006, as much as 50% of seats in the state’s panchayat bodies have been reserved for women.

In such a context, the din over issues related to religion and caste may have drowned out some other real issues – including hard data.

Read: BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha calls on Nitish, Lalu to congratulate

High female turnout helps Grand Alliance script win in Bihar

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