The NDA may have pinned its hopes on the youth vote but the absence of a strong chief ministerial candidate and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s perceived silence on controversies hurt the saffron alliance that crashed to a bruising defeat in Bihar on Sunday.
Many young men and women – some of them BJP voters – felt the BJP was overconfident of a good showing among young and female voters and underestimated the grand alliance’s ground strength.
“I feel there were shortcomings from the BJP’s side. The party did not choose any CM candidate so the voters could not think of a face other than Nitish’s. They must have thought a stranger from the BJP would become the Bihar CM,” said 28-year-old Rannvijay Kumar.
Many young people felt it was also not proper for Modi to have addressed so many rallies or remain silent about swirling controversies triggered by his ministers, especially regarding Mohammad Ikhlaq’s mob lynching over beef consumption rumours and the killing of Dalit children.
“You (Modi) are the PM of the country; you have to take a stand. Your ministers and leaders make outrageous remarks but you remain silent. The wave his ministers wanted to create in Bihar worked against him,” said Gautam Singhania, who runs a small mobile phone business.
Another key demographic was women – who outnumbered male voters for the first time this election – who felt issues such as safer streets, strict law and order and job opportunities would be better handled by Nitish Kumar.
“A lot of people were saying that Nitish Kumar did a lot for Bihar. I think voters believed if he stays, Bihar will continue on the path of progress – he will make more roads,” said 25-year-old Nandini.
Many people blamed the BJP’s crushing loss to festering caste politics and feared the return of lawlessness that was the norm during Lalu Prasad’s rule.
“The grand alliance’s win suggests development took a backseat and votes were polarised on the basis of caste. Jungle Raj might reappear,” said Prince Ansari, a college graduate.
But others pointed out Nitish Kumar’s broad appeal to all sections of the people had worked its charm.
“If people voted simply on the basis of caste, why couldn’t the BJP retain the 91 seats it won in the last elections? The grand alliance won so many seats because of Nitish Kumar,” said Amit Prashad, a postgraduate student.
(With inputs from Anish and Aditya Sinha in Patna)