The Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance in Bihar won the Bihar elections by a whisker.
Both alliances, the NDA and the Mahagathbandhan (MGB) bagged 37% vote share each. Tejashwi Yadav who was drawing huge crowds in rallies, especially the youth, fell short of majority by 12 seats.
Exit polls were proved wrong while opinion polls proved correct.
The results have sent shock waves among the Opposition, which is now alleging that the electronic voting machines (EVMs) were tampered with.
To Bharatiya Janata Party supporters, it has come as a huge sigh of relief as there were reports of huge anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar.
So how did Tejashwi manage to lose an election which was there for the taking? Nitish and the National Democratic Alliance were suffering from a 15-year jinx, very few chief ministers have won a 4th successive term.
So here’s why the Rashtriya Janata Dal leader lost:
1. Elections are not only about issues but also about perception: Tejashwi raised bread and butter issues like kamai, dawai, padhai, mehangai and sinchai. They struck a chord with the audience, especially his promise to provide jobs attracted the youth to him. However, these issues are not new. They have been part of elections for decades now. Issues like unemployment aggravated by the current economic crisis.
Elections are also about perception. Perception is the new reality. Modi and company managed to create a perception that it had taken good care of the migrants and poor during the pandemic through cash doles and free ration.
The NDA also successfully created a perception of the return of jungle raj, if RJD is voted back to power.
This seems to have dissuaded a section of women voters and middle-aged and old age voters from backing the MGB despite dissatisfaction with the current regime.
2. A strategic mistake of giving Congress more tickets : Tejashwi erred big time by allocating 70 seats to the Congress, 27 more than 2015. The Congress recorded the worst strike rate, of only 27%, among both MGB as well as NDA components, winning only 19 seats.
The party gave many tickets to candidates from the upper caste in an attempt to revive its traditional vote bank but failed miserably.
3. Tejashwi, the captain of the team didn't perform as well as expected:
While the Congress did dampen MGB’s tally, the RJD too didn’t perform as well as expected. It won 75 out of 144 seats implying a strike rate of 52%, much less than 67% for the Bharatiya Janata Party which was the in-form player in NDA.
A minimum of 60% strike rate with 85 seats was expected from RJD as per internal sources.
4. Failure to broaden alliance beyond M-Y: The RJD has been branded as a Muslim-Yadav party for long. However, these two groups have not been able to propel Lalu’s party to the pole position for the past 15 years. These communities account for 31% of the state population, and even if the majority 75% vote for RJD and its allies, it translates to 24%-25% vote share which is not enough to win a primarily bipolar contest.
In 2015, RJD won in an alliance with JD(U), as the two parties together successfully stitched a social coalition of M-Y, Kurmi-Koeri, MBC and Dalits/Mahadalits.
He eased out HAM and VIP which together won 8 seats contesting from NDA camp. They were allotted just 18 seats.
Couldn’t Tejashwi give 18 seats to these two parties from Congress quota? Was there a trust issue with these parties?
These two could have brought a section of Mahadalit and Nishad votes to the MGB. They recorded 3% vote share in these polls, which is significant, given the tight race.
5. Overconfidence and complacency:
The phase-wise tally of both alliances shows that MGB took a massive lead of 25 seats in phase 1. This region, which has a high population of Dalits, impacted the NDA performance due to the presence of strong Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidates. Even after trailing in phase 2, which was considered an NDA stronghold, the MGB was ahead by 16 seats till end of phase 2.
Phase 3 (78 seats) consisted of the minority-influence Seemanchal region (24 seats) and 22 other seats where they have a sizable population of 17%-21%. This was considered to be a stronghold of RJD.
However, the NDA swept this region, winning 52 seats and RJD was reduced to 21 seats. Asaduddin Owais’s AIMIM won 5 seats.
This shows that the party suffered from complacency after phase 1 and took the threat from AIMIM lightly. It lost the election in its stronghold. AIMIM vote-cutter theory didn’t work. It won only one seat where it polled more votes than the margin of victory, helping the NDA win.
However, it did win 5 seats and the RJD should have taken efforts to include them in the alliance.
6. Failure to prevent split of Opposition vote: The LJP was all out there to defeat the JDU candidates. It’s sole aim was to pull down Nitish Kumar. RJD could have had a tacit understanding if not a formal alliance with the LJP. This may have helped MGB get the crucial Dalit votes and increase its tally. The LJP unknowingly harmed MGB prospects in 32 seats.
As the main Opposition party and principal challenger to Nitish Kumar, it was Tejashwi’s duty to create a grand alliance (formal/tacit understanding) so that the anti-NDA votes did not split.
‘Others’ bagged 26% vote share and split the Opposition vote. The Kushwaha-led GSDF foiled MGB’s chances in 23 seats, bagging more votes than margin of victory.
In the end, it is story of so near, yet so far for Tejashwi.
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