HindustanTimes Mon,20 Oct 2014

Bihar: Lalu-Nitish win may make state polls exciting

Mammen Matthew, Hindustan Times  Patna, August 25, 2014
First Published: 19:27 IST(25/8/2014) | Last Updated: 12:16 IST(11/9/2014)

The sudden braking of the BJP bandwagon in Bihar, after the impressive gains in the Lok Sabha polls three months ago, has raised quite a few eyebrows in Bihar and the states that are scheduled to go to the polls in the next one year.

And the victory of the 27-day-old RJD-JD(U)-Congress Grand Alliance in six of the 10 seats has proved one thing beyond doubt: Neither side needs to lose hope. For, the odds are already even for the 2015 Bihar assembly elections.

Read: Loss of key seat in MP sends alarm bells ringing for BJP

While BJP state president Mangal Pandey said the loss of two seats was marginal as the BJP alone fought against three formidable parties, an RJD spokesman claimed that with the secular vote having been protected, the opposition to the BJP-led NDA had created a level field in Bihar.

There are even the suspicion that the aggression of the voter in the Lok Sabha polls in favour of the BJP has somewhat run out of steam and the electorate seems to be back to basics – thinking more local than national.

Read: Myths busted in Karnataka, Siddaramaiah biggest winner

It turned out that when it comes to a largely rural constituency, cunning caste configurations and intelligent candidate selection matter more. Plus, the woman voter is not so keen or free to vote in an atmosphere of rural orthodoxy.

There are clear indications that the electorate assessed JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar on the basis of his local development agenda despite the overpowering presence of RJD’s Lalu Prasad. Kumar now emerges as the only face of the alliance for 2015.

Although Prasad has once again emerged as a mass leader, the fact that he will not be able to contest – as he’s a fodder scam convict -- cancelled out the fear of another bout of ‘jungle raj’. And that encouraged non-Yadavs to vote for his candidates.

Read: Preneet wins Patiala Urban; Jeet Mohinder sweeps Talwandi Sabo

For the Congress, it has finally been able to exorcise the ghost of the 1989 Bhagalpur riots by wresting the seat from the BJP, which had dominated the constituency for the past 28 years.

The Congress victory, however, was a gift from Prasad’s voters. Plus, the absence of BJP stalwart Shahnawaz Hussein also prevented a split in Muslim votes. The Congress won by about 19,000 votes in the constituency where Hussein had led by 33,000 votes during the LS polls.

Read: RJD chief Lalu Prasad hospitalised in Mumbai

Another LS poll hero to bite the dust this time is LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan. The Grand Alliance lost at Paswan’s home turf Hajipur by a thin margin and won convincingly at Parbatta and Mohiuddinnagar, which are Paswan-dominated areas.

Also, the BJP cannot claim the full credit for its Narkatiaganj victory as it was a personal legacy that helped its candidate, Rashmi Verma -- earlier touted as a JD(U) candidate. Verma could have won from any platform on the goodwill for her late husband, Alok Verma.

Now, as the Grand Alliance model could be adopted by others for the assembly polls, the BJP has to ensure that its rivals don’t get to unite and the lower castes don’t go back to their former icons.

Read: Nitish-Lalu's grand alliance surges ahead in Bihar, BJP concedes ground in Karnataka

 
What alliance win means
The Narendra Modi wave was worked by the candidates individual brilliance and angst of people against stagnancy and corruption and fought on national plane.

Bihar had voted over national issues in Lok Sabha, but in assembly polls, development is an agenda , which cannot be overlooked by any group.

The rural vote also goes by caste and the party with a more fine tuned caste configuration tends to win; the BJP loss in Chapra exemplying it more clearly.

Lalu Prasad's charisma is unchallenged. The surety of Prasad's absence from government, makes Nitish Kumar the undisputed leader and vote catcher for development.
 
For the grand alliance
It needs to work further on fine tuning candidate selections given that it is proven that non-BJP votes together could ensure a safe mandate post 2015 elections.

Lalu Prasad despite not fighting elections would remain the Bade Bhai, 'elder politician' in such a combination, which could be stabler due to multi-caste support.

Stalls dissensions and blackmailing by fence sitters who threaten to go over to the BJP and pull down the government. Weeding out of 'undesirables' a certainty

Bringing in the Left would widen the base of grand alliance, though the Left has lost all seats, while the Congress won with JD-U, RJD support base.
 
For the NDA combine
Need to widen social base, convince Bihar of a pro-active, pro-development plank and find right candidates to take on the Grand Alliance in 2015 polls.

Could suffer from leadership challenges. Adjusting rebels from other groups in its line-up could turn out to be risky and dangerous choice.

Polarisation of voters on religious lines may not work for the party in a highly caste ridden state, would have to depend on charismatic leaders from outside.

Would have to work to deliver special state status, get on with pending Centrally financed schemes, improve aid and grants flow to claim advantage in 2015.

Also read: Lalu-Nitish magic works in Bihar bypolls, tough times ahead for BJP

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