“Don’t be misled by rival claims. It’s Nitish Kumar’s face and Lalu Prasad’s base all the way,” intoned a teacher at Darbhanga’s Lalit Narayan Mithila University. His advice anchored in the native Bihari wisdom has proved prophetic.
The electorate kind of brought Nitish at par with Narendra Modi by decorating him with a hat-trick, afforded Lalu a powerful political comeback and lent the Congress a dream tally given its meagre presence in the state. Their strike rate against the number of seats they contested ranged from a neat 60% of the Congress to a mind-boggling 70-80% of the JD(U)-RJD.
And all of it came cheap.
“We are outspent 1:100 by the BJP,” a key Nitish aide, Prashant Kishore, had told HT in the middle of the campaign. The innovative outreach of the Grand Alliance made up for the paucity of funds. Holding just one mega-rally of the size Modi addressed across the state, the gathbandhan relied on roadside hoardings and door-to-door contact. It did not advertise in newspapers or TV channels painted saffron by its rival front.
The alliance virtually cycled its way to the people on GPS-enabled bicycles and video-audio raths. After the Patna show of unity, its top leaders campaigned separately to cover wider ground. Lalu addressed 240 solo meetings, Nitish 220 and Sonia-Rahul a total of 20.
The alliance’s dream-victory was no easy game. The constituents worked hard to make socially viable the tie-up at the top. The Yadav-Kurmi-Muslim line-up eventually became a bulwark against the BJP’s bids at counter-polarisation on religious lines.
For its part, the BJP remained convinced the rival line-up was effete; that it wouldn’t carry conviction with the electorate. So much so that together with its allies, the party got deluded by its own propaganda, recalling ad nauseam Lalu’s ‘Jungle Raj’ to make the oppressed classes come to it out of fear.
The blowback wasn’t on the expected lines. Instead of fetching political dividends, the darts hurled at ‘good man’ Nitish and a combatant Lalu generated strong parochial sentiment, making even the Dalits and EBCs stay the course with the social justice grouping.
There were other reasons as well for which the BJP campaign boomeranged: Nitish’s gravitational pull cancelling doubts about Lalu; lack of a cogent narrative in the saffron pitch for power and its brazenly divisive offensive in the final two phases of the five-part thriller.
Even as a number of functionaries on their side of the divide talked out of turn — notably RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s “review quota” comments and central minister VK Singh’s insensitive remarks on incidents of atrocities on Dalits — the BJP had its goose cooked by its misreading of the popular mood. For instance, the PM initially charged Lalu with bringing a bad name to yadhuvanshis (yadavs) but changed tack midway through to show the community as a persecutor of the Dalits and Mahadalits.
Now that was suicidal, given that the BJP had a good number of Yadavs in the poll fray. The other blunder was in the setting up of 85 forward caste candidates out of the 150-plus seats it contested. Add to that the allies’ failure to force-multiply, and the anatomy of the NDA defeat will be complete.
Largely on account of the prestige the PM invested in the contest against Nitish, his old adversary, the Bihar verdict is bound to resonate in the rest of India. “I’d stop Modi’s rath in Bihar the way I did his guru LK Advani’s in 1990,” Lalu had declared in the campaign.
He kept his word! As also of the late VP Singh who famously said: “Mandal kamandal ko tod kar bahar niklega….”