Bihar by-election results, in which the grand alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress won six out of 10 seats, have come as a major boost for Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar and signalled the BJP faces a formidable challenge in the 2015 assembly elections.
The election results prove that the alliance’s move to revive reservation politics after a gap of nearly 20 years succeeded in preventing the division of backward caste votes.
The decision to come together was based on the calculation that the votes polled by the RJD (20.1%) and the JD-U (15.8%) together stood at 35.9% and exceeded BJP’s vote share of 29.4% in the Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP had won 31 of the Bihar’s 40 parliamentary seats and held sway in eight of these 10 assembly constituencies. This time, however, it failed to retain the tally of six seats it had won in the 2010 assembly elections.
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The loss of two crucial seats shows that the Narendra Modi factor is gradually waning and the caste still remains a major factor in Bihar, especially in rural belts.
The BJP had sought votes on development plank, pitching itself against the “opportunistic and corrupt alliance” led by Lalu Prasad. But now armed with a clear edge, the three-party alliance is likely to play up the win and claim the weakened NDA may not be in a position to form the next state government in 2015.
On its part, the Lalu-Nitish alliance went to polls with the message that the BJP-led NDA was “communal and bent on dividing the country”. The win might help the combined alliance to encourage a national model to take on the BJP in states where elections are due next year.
The victory reinforces that Lalu remains a mass leader of backward caste groups with a proven capacity to attract voters and thus the “bade bhai” (elder brother) in the grouping. The Yadav voters dominate most of the constituencies where the three-party alliance won. In fact, analysts believe the RJD could have won more seats had it fielded more candidates instead of four.
At the same time, it has endorsed Nitish Kumar’s nomination as the leader of the alliance in the upcoming 2015 assembly elections since a convicted Lalu Prasad cannot contest elections.
“With Lalu’s appeal among the backward castes and minorities and Nitish’s development model the combine can effectively challenge the BJP in the assembly elections,” said DM Diwakar, a political analyst and director of the Patna-based AN Sinha Institute.
For the BJP, the loss is a call for an assessment of the weaknesses and a rethink on its strategy for the 2015 elections. It also shows the state BJP was not able to effectively take on Lalu-Nitish combine and the local leaders failed to carry the Narendra Modi charisma into battle.
It was presumed by the state BJP leaders that it would by and large repeat the Lok Sabha performance in the 2015 assembly polls but now with the loss, the BJP needs to debate the leadership issue, which has been brewing ever since its spectacular victory in the Lok Sabha polls.
The crushing defeat of the BJP-LJP combine in Mohiuddinnagar in Samastipur and Parbatta and Khagaria has also come as a setback for the LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan. Though the NDA won the Hajipur seat, which is part of the Hajipur Lok Sabha seat won by Ram Vilas Paswan, the small margin of victory has exposed Paswan's limited appeal.
The BJP’s crushing loss to Congress in Bhagalpur, which is an urban constituency, by nearly 19000-odd votes has come as a major shock for the party since it had established a lead of nearly 33,000 votes in the same geographical area in the LS polls and had represented it for last 28 years.
The fall of its strongest bastion is a bitter pill for the BJP, as it appears to be the outcome of the in-fighting between its erstwhile MLA and now Buxar MP Ashwini Chaubey and Shahnawaz Hussain, despite the fact that the Muslim vote was not split because of the latter.
On the contrary, it has helped the Congress to register a win in Bhagalpur and exorcise the ghosts of the 1989 riots.
However, it was mainly its affiliation with JD(U) and RJD that helped in consolidation of all sections.
But given the tough task ahead of it, the grand alliance has to work out a solid strategy to take on the BJP. The alliance could fight the NDA to a standstill in nearly 80 assembly segments that have decisive Yadav votes combined together with Muslims.
“A careful selection of candidates based on caste equations will provide a better success ratio for the grand alliance,” said JD(U) leader Ram Charitra Singh.