Bihar Assembly Election 2020: With superior poll strike rate, BJP may call the shots in NDA
The tables have turned.
For many years, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) relied on Nitish Kumar and his Janata Dal (United) to stay in power in Bihar. Today, their National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is back in power. But the BJP calls the shots now. Nitish Kumar, the poster boy for a good governance chief minister, is a shell of his former self.
As I had argued in election day commentary for this paper, since the election of Narenda Modi as Prime Minister, Nitish Kumar and JD(U) have been an electoral weak link — underperforming compared to major alliance partners in both 2015 and 2019.
Nitish Kumar’s political appeal was premised on the ability to deliver benefits, and myriad development and welfare schemes kept him in power. But today, those same voters primarily attribute the delivery of benefits to Prime Minister Modi, stripping Nitish Kumar of his main political appeal.
Voters were willing to vote for the BJP but not the JD(U).
This is borne out by the provisional election returns in Bihar (at 10:19pm). There was a wide gap in performance between the BJP and the JD(U). The BJP had an average vote share of 43% in the seats it contested (contested vote share) as compared to 33% for the JD(U). In fact, even the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) had a much higher contested vote share than the JD(U) at 39% (the Congress once again proved to be a weak coalition partner with a contested vote share of 33%).
The vote share differences manifested in radically different strike rates (percentage of contested seats won) — with the BJP scoring a strike rate of 65% and the JD(U) of just 37%. Nowhere was this difference more evident than in head-to-head contests with rival RJD.
In the 57 head-to-head contests against the RJD the BJP had a strike rate of 65%, while the JD(U) had a significantly weaker 33% in its 61 head-to-head contests against the RJD.
To be sure, an important factor was that NDA rebel Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) put up candidates in direct competition with the JD(U) on 113 seats, with the LJP gaining a vote share of at least 10% in 51 (45%) of those seats. Assuming perfect vote transfer between the LJP and the JD(U), which is unlikely, the LJP played a spoiler on up to 34 seats for JD(U).
But that wasn’t the only thing that mattered. Tejashwi Yadav, the new leader of the RJD, grew his wings in this campaign. His focusing on the jobs crisis (and migrant issues) in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic dented Nitish Kumar’s popularity even further and yielded electoral dividends for the BJP.
The lockdown from March, which triggered a massive migrant crisis and economic deprivation, could in principle have hurt both the BJP’s and the JD(U)’s popularity. But like so many other such issues, it is the state-level leader in Nitish Kumar that bore the brunt of voter anger with little cost to Modi and the BJP.
In order to understand how migrant-heavy areas may have voted, we look to the 2001 Census data (the last year for which out-migration data is available) to calculate the rate of male out-migration (males migrating out as a proportion of the total population).
Because the actual numbers are no longer trustworthy after 20 years, I calculated two groups of constituencies for a meaningful analysis — the 102 constituencies in districts below the median district rate of male migration, and the 141 constituencies above the median district rate of male migration.
The RJD’s average contested vote share rose from 37% in the low migration constituencies to 41% in the high migration constituencies, while the JD(U)’s dropped slightly from 33% to 32%.
Against the RJD, the JD(U) dropped from a 46% strike rate in low migration constituencies to a strike rate of just 24% in high migration constituencies. Even with RJD’s increase in vote share, the BJP’s strike rate remained impressive across low (71%) and high (58%) constituencies.
While things may look the same (after all, the NDA is back in power), the political game in Bihar has changed significantly.
Chirag Paswan and his LJP have shown their electoral importance to the NDA, and Nitish Kumar no longer has much bargaining power within the NDA. In this new era, politics in Bihar will revolve around the competition between a nationally dominant BJP with Modi at the helm and a resurrected RJD led by an ascendant Tejashwi Yadav.
(The writer is an assistant professor, Ashoka University, and visiting senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research)
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