Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lalu's Grand Comeback

The bitter elections for the Bihar Vidhan Sabha ended yesterday with the so-called Grand Alliance of the JDU, the RJD and the Congress (all former opponents of each other) romping home with a 2/3 majority and leaving their challengers, the National Democratic Alliance of the BJP, the LJP, the RLSP and the HAM(S), to bite the dust. With this, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is ready to return to power for a third consecutive term, albeit with a very different coalition from his previous term.

But Nitish is not the real story. Lalu Yadav's RJD won an astonishing 80 seats of the 100 it had contested, emerging as the single-largest party in the Assembly and with the second largest vote share (the BJP still had the largest). This marks a full circle for Lalu, whose career seemed finished after his party was reduced to nearly nothing by the BJP-JDU combine in 2010, and when he was found guilty of the fodder scam and debarred from contesting elections. By getting so many of his children elected, he has ensured that he will live another day, even if Nitish Kumar is the nominal head of the government (for now). For the Congress, it marks the first time since the 2013 election season that it found itself on the winning side in a major election, and it actually did much better than expected. While still a minor force, this has certainly thrown some rope to Rahul Gandhi.

In looking at the NDA's performance, it is clear that the allies punched way above their weight. The BJP's core vote from the 2014 Lok Sabha election remained largely intact, but the allies were roundly defeated. Former CM Manjhi, who nursed ambitions to return to power, managed to win only one of his two constituencies, and all his other candidates were defeated. The highly casteist LJP and RLSP also won just two seats each, belittling their claims that, had they been given more seats to contest, they could've won them. In fact, by the looks of things, the BJP would've done better on its own! Manjhi is clearly finished for now, and the LJP has no bargaining power left in the Narendra Modi cabinet.

And speaking of Narendra Modi, 2015 marked a complete reversal from 2014, losing both the elections spectacularly. If Delhi was a blip, Bihar clearly marks a trend: the BJP has no answer to a united opposition. While it is able to keep its core voters intact, it is unable to get any more. Which is strange, given that Modi was supposed to have enlarged the core voters of the party. While Amit Shah's reputation as a master strategist, architect of the BJP's historic tally of 73 in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, is going south, the amount of energy that the PM himself put into this election means that it was a referendum on his government. And therein hangs a different tale. 

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