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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 49, New Delhi, November 21, 2020

Public Perception Replacing Political Ideology | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 21 November 2020


by Arun Srivastava

Refusing to be sworn in as the next chief minister of Bihar unless the LJP is dismembered and Chirag Paswan is sacked from the NDA, the JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar has put the BJP leadership, especially Narendra Modi in a piquant situation.

Modi was expecting some kind of precipitative action from Nitish but was not sure that he would go to this extent. Well-placed sources maintain that the celebration function which was held at the party’s headquarter in Delhi was also aimed at calming down the anger of Nitish. In his speech, Modi consistently projected Nitish as the harbinger of the transformation of Bihar. But it appears that all the accolades have failed to assuage the hurt emotions of Nitish.

Before the formal launch of the campaigning for the elections, Nitish has come to comprehend that BJP, especially its top leaders have hatched a plan against him and were trying to finish him politically by encouraging Chirag. But an astute politician he preferred to keep mum. He was even aware the fact that many of his JD(U) candidates would lose the elections since they were at the target of the BJP leaders. Chirag and his party LJP were merely pawns in the hands of the top BJP leaders.

One of the major issues on which the NDA stands vertically divided is the selection of the Speaker of the assembly. While the BJP leaders have been insisting to have their person as the Speaker, Nitish is reluctant to concede to their pressure tactics. Usually the tussle for having a person of choice as the Speaker is seen in the ruling and opposition parties. But amazingly this has acquired a major dimension of conflict between the two partners.

The insistence of BJP has reinforced the apprehension of the JD(U) leaders that the BJP does not intend to allow Nitish a free hand in running of the government. A BJP Speaker would foil Nitish’s attempt to have his sway in the house.

Now the NDA has won the Bihar assembly elections .but an insight into the BJP win would make it clear that three completely different factors were responsible for the defeat of Mahagathbandhan. Of the reasons, the first was incompetent handling and marshalling of his manpower by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Though Tejashvi had given 70 seats the party did not have genuine candidates, having their support base and an image in their areas. The Congress distributed the tickets whimsically to satisfy the ego of their leaders. Some leaders had even raised the issue of selling the tickets. In the final count only 19 Congress candidates could win. Congress losing 51 seats was the severest setback. All the seats were won by the BJP.

Second reason was not giving proper representation in the matter of seat-sharing to the left parties and other smaller parties like HAM and VIP. After being denied a proper share they switched over to the NDA. They won 9 seats. The three Left parties fought from 29 constituencies: CPI(ML) from 19 seats, and the CPI and CPI(M) six and four seats, respectively. They could win around 16 seats; CPI(ML) won 12 seats, CPI 2 and CPI(M) also 2.

Modi’s personal diatribes and accusations against Tejashvi might not have least impact on the voters of Seemanchal and Mithilachal regions, which went to the polls in the third round on November 7, if the Asaduddin Owaisi’s party - All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) which won five seats, would not have taken to hard line campaigning. The campaigning created the impression that Muslims of these regions were talking more of Islamisation. This scared the Hindus of the regions and in retaliation they voted for the BJP. The region is dominated by Maithili Brahmins.

However even amidst this scenario, the upper caste youth were not carried away. They voted for the MGB. AIMIM contested 20 seats. The party won five seats. AIMIM, a Muslim based party, took away the Muslim votes in the region harming the interests of the MGB. If Owaisi is to be believed, his Bihar unit chief had already met the RJD leadership for some kind of seat adjustment. But the RJD leadership did not show much enthusiasm.

This division of Muslim votes was one of the key reasons for defeat of the MGB. Reacting to allegations that his party was helping BJP, Owaisi said he was running a political party that has a right to contest on its own. He asserted; “I will fight in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and will fight every election in the country. Do I need to ask anyone’s permission to fight the polls," Abdul Bari Siddiqui, veteran RJD leader and the former personal secretary of Karpoori Thakur lost his Darbhanga seat in Mithilanchal due to the presence of MIM candidate.

The BJP leadership has been bestowing the credit for the victory of the Bihar election on Modi. But astonishingly the party leaders just ahead of counting of votes, apprehending a bad performance, had started projecting Nitish as the face of the party. Before that they had projected Modi as the party face. The BJP leaders have been inconsistent in their electoral strategy. They changed their stand according to the suitability index of Modi.

CPI(ML) general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya said: “50 seats for Left, 50 for Cong would have been more fair, We were in fact expecting a stronger performance of the MGB and the Left, because this was a very rare kind of election, almost a people’s movement. It looked like an upsurge of the youth. It was refreshing to see people shape the agenda with employment, education, basic issues. That kind of an environment helps the Left… All through the lockdown we were active, stood by the people. And the so-called double-engine government (if the NDA was in power at the state and in the Centre), people found both the engines were driverless (at the time)… Our comrades reached out with rations, we did relief work in flood-affected areas. I think this role of the Left during the lockdown helped us.”

Though the RJD and Left came together to contest the elections, the effort to have non-BJP political front was missing. Beyond electoral alliances and arithmetic non-BJP parties did not have any sustained dialogue, collaboration or understanding. This is quite imperative. Forging long-term coalitions will be critical in shaping the politics of non-BJP parties. In fact while the CPI(M) and Congress are planning to oppose the TMC in West Bengal, Bhattacharya has come out with the suggestion to have electoral understanding with Mamata Banerjee as according to him the need of the situation has been to defeat the BJP. He has cautioned that the policy to oppose the TMC would prove to be suicidal and only help the BJP coming to power in Bengal.

With the end of the Bihar elections, the BJP would shift its focus to other four states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam — which are expected to go to polls together by April and May next year. In the north-eastern region, Assam is politically the most significant state which alone has 14 out of 25 Lok Sabha seats of the region. Already Amit Shah has been at his mission to encourage split and defection in the TMC. He knows that only the TMC turncoats can counter the TMC. In its game the BJP intends to fully use the popularity of Modi as the stable factor. The BJP had tried to use him as its electoral brand in Bihar but could not succeed. The social contradictions and compulsion to share power with the JD(U) proved to be stumbling factor. But it is not the case in Bengal. The party would transform him into a brand

One development is quite noticeable. The BJP might have won the assembly by-elections, but the fact cannot be ignored that the party is crumbling. It has already lost 12 per cent of its popular vote share in Bihar in this election, though seat has increased. It is more of the nature of, Congress’s loss is the BJP’s gains. Post results people have started describing Rahul Gandhi as a non-performer and unable catch the imagination of the young generation. His speeches fail to enthuse the voters. In fact the youths find his speeches incoherent and boring.

There is a general feeling that he must learn to express his views in a more coherent manner. It is said that almost every senior leader in Bihar was unhappy with candidate selection and felt even the campaign was mismanaged.

If at all Congress intends to challenge Modi, it must start rectifying its functioning and restructuring the party. Rahul Gandhi must improve It is sad the Congress has not been able to create one strong leader from Bihar in the last three decade to lead the party.

The BJP-JD (U) combine might have won the election but its vote share has dropped by nearly 12.5 per cent compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP leaders argue that if Nitish is not replaced by their own person the party would lose more support in the state. Apparently the leadership is not showing its concern at this decline but they are for thje reason that raising the issue of nationalism and religion has also not helped the party. Modi has made these two factors as the major electoral agenda, but it failed to salvage the condition.

In contrast, the combined tally of the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress shows a gain of 9.5 per cent votes over the 2019 figure. This does not include the 5.5 per cent votes their MGB partners — the Left parties — won from 29 Assembly seats this time. The BJP won 19.5 per cent of the votes, bagging 74 seats. Its vote share in last year’s Lok Sabha elections was 23.6, indicating a fall of 4.1 percentage points this time. JD(U) garnered 15.4 per cent of the votes and 43 Assembly seats. This represents a fall of 6.4 percentage points from the 21.8 per cent votes it had received in the general election. In 2015, the BJP had won 24.4 per cent of the votes, which indicates it has lost almost 5 per cent of the total votes this time. The JDU had secured 16.8 per cent of the votes in 2015, which means its share has dropped by 1.4 percentage points.

Building of anti-Nitish atmosphere inside the BJP has been causing concern in the JD(U). Some JD(U) leaders nurse the view that they should not hesitate in adopting an anti-BJP stance. If the situation demands Nitish would not hesitate to extend support to MGB. Significantly the chief of the Hindustani Awam Party, Jitan Ram Majhi which was allotted seats to contest the elections by Nitish from his party’s quota, has made known his preference for Tejashvi. This is causing much consternation in the BJP circle.

In an unexpected turn some JD(U) leaders also express the view that Nitish may don the role of a statesman. This has gained credence for the apprehension some senior JD(U) leaders nurse that Nitish may not allowed smooth functioning after he takes the charge of the office. The BJP leaders would obviously strive to have their say in the day to day running of the government. Even while counting of the results was going on some state BJP leaders could not hide their intentions and said that for the party honouring the assurance of the prime minister would install Nitish as the chief minister, but none is sure what would happen after six months. They even did not rule out the possibility of the change of the chief minister. Otherwise too for quite some ythe state leaders have been pressurising their national leaders to have their own person as the chief minister as Nitish was not responding to their needs and has also earned a bad name for his poor governance.

Though this election ostensibly did not have overt caste alignment, the upper castes, nevertheless Bhumihars and Brahmins rallied behind BJP on caste line. Other upper cates were split. Nitish had expected that the Bhumihars would support him but this did not happen. An insight into the voting patterns makes it explicit that OBC voted for the NDA, especially Nitish.

This election made it clear that the perception of the election and democracy has changed. No other system except the system to win the election was visible in the election. May be the government employees and labourers related to some other segment have been losing their jobs, but the BJP has employed a large number of whole-time cadres to work for the party. The entire election machinery functioned according to their desires and dictates. This strong brigade of paid cadres has been raised at the all India level.

The party has come to realise that the system to continue in power was more important than any other system. Obviously it has to work and evolve the system of winning the elections. One can describe it as the business model of election. While other parties cannot afford to have this system in want of fund, the BJP can easily afford. ED and IT are not going to seek any clarification from the BJP leaders about the source of the money.

The Bihar election has brought about change in the implication and perception of the system of the election. Behind the veneer of the ideology and issues, it is the perception about the politics and parties that plays the important role in the victory and defeat of the party. If victory of BJP should be viewed in this perspective, the performances of Owaisi’s MIM and Sahani’s VIP should be viewed in this backdrop. Underutilisation of CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar should also be viewed in this context. A perception was created that the MGB leadership was wary of associating with any leader who is in a position to challenge them. One thing is absolutely clear that the electoral battles are purely the encounters of perception.

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