At the time of writing, the Bihar assembly results were still coming in. Apparently, due to extraordinary precautions dictated by the coronavirus pandemic, the number of counting centres were increased while the speed of counting had decreased. The Election Commission expects all the results to be available late on Tuesday-Wednesday night. However, according to available trends, the NDA seems set to retain power in Bihar, as well as in Madhya Pradesh.
In the latter, Kamal Nath’s desperate bid to regain the chief ministerial 'gaddi' was rejected by voters in the Scindia pocket-borough. Pejoratives such as 'gaddar' did not find traction with voters, given that they populate and very often prosper in all parties. Voters realise politicians deal in power and will do anything to gain it. So let us not hammer the charge of Scindia being a 'gaddar'. He was fighting for his dignity and self-respect, which had been snatched away by the Kamal Nath-Digvijaya Singh cabal, which, ironically, fell apart once Scindia pulled the rug from under Nath’s feet.
As for Bihar, unsurprisingly, the BJP seems to be doing much better than the JD(U), having established a comfortable lead in nearly 80 seats while the JD(U) was leading in more than 50. The junior partner trumping the senior however, is unlikely to lead to a change in the leadership of the long-term Bihar ruling alliance. Nitish Kumar will most likely continue as chief minister. The leadership question had come up during the campaign. Senior BJP leaders led by Modi were clear that whatever the tally of the two parties, Nitish would head the government.
This should set at rest doubts being raised anew after the BJP was performing far better than its senior partner. Clearly, the BJP has not groomed a senior leader to stake claim to the chief minister’s post. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi is more seen as an able and willing lieutenant of Nitish Kumar than a BJP leader capable of striking out on his own. His proximity to Nitish Kumar, in fact, is cited as the reason for his failure to become a state-wide BJP leader. In the caste-ridden Bihar polity, the fact that Modi is a 'bania', who incidentally are OBCs in Bihar, too is a disadvantage. The BJP national leadership is grooming a couple of relatively younger leaders for the leadership role, especially after Nitish’s decision not to contest elections any more.
The future of the JD(U) after Nitish remains uncertain, especially with the diffusion of the Mandal forces into separate, and often, rival camps. The main challenger to the JD(U) is also a post-Mandal offshoot. In fact, most exit polls gave the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan a near-majority. With the Congress, the CPI (M) and the CPI as its key constituents, the Mahagathbandhan was supposed to be trumping the NDA. But not unlike the recent US presidential poll, opinion polls in Bihar too have failed their craft.
Or rather the respondents fail them, hesitant to tell how they voted or intended to. Both the US presidential polls in 2016 and 2020 and our own experience in multiple state and parliamentary polls, have undermined credibility of the pollsters. At one level, opinion polling is a quasi-science better harnessed by consumer marketing companies than politicians, who remain unpredictable creatures, with vast freedom to go off the beaten path if only to hoodwink the voter and in the process, the mini-opinion polling industry.
Back to the Mahagathbandhan. Whatever the outcome, the exceedingly good showing by the BJP is another reason for the diverse parties with separate agendas to stick together, rather than for them to sink separately. The Congress and the two Communist parties would have fared much worse had they not hung on to the coattails of the main opposition, which managed to keep its M-Y base more or less intact, despite the divisive role of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led third front.
It is a sign of the coming political scenario that in order to meet the growing challenge of a seemingly invincible Modi-helmed BJP, a nation-wide Mahagathbandhan seems to be in the works. Already, the Congress and the Left have decided to fight together in next year’s Assembly poll in West Bengal, where the BJP has emerged the main challenger to Trinamool Congress president and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
If you get a feeling of déjà vu when in the 70s and 80s, the opposition parties had banded together to challenge an ascendant Indira Gandhi, you would not be wrong. Today’s BJP is yesteryears’ Congress, with Modi replacing Indira Gandhi in the driving seat. We will have more to say tomorrow in this space by when fuller results are expected from Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and other places where bypolls were held.