If someone could embody a case study on how to deploy power and governance to turn anti-incumbency on its head, it would be Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar.
In October 2005, Kumar inherited a state that had seen negative growth of 0.5% over the previous decade and an economic contraction of 5% in the preceding fiscal year. He used it as an opportunity in adversity to jump-start Bihar’s economy as well as employ growth as a means to upward mobility to break the state’s caste logjam. In short, Lalu Prasad’s model of upward mobility through caste mobilization had to be replaced and augmented by wealth creation in the lower strata of society that would not only spur secular growth but also upward mobility for all.
The Kumar government followed the Keynesian model of government spending and stimulating subaltern growth through a trickle-down process. The development of bridges spurred small ecosystems of growth such as truck transportation in rural areas and helped enhance the quality of life of villagers by providing them faster access to healthcare and easier reach to markets for rural produce. It thus returned to power with a jump in vote share from 36% to 42% and a thumping 200 seats in the 243-member Bihar assembly.
The increase in vote share was seen across almost all regions of the state, cutting across caste, religious and gender lines. In Magadh, the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party, or JD(U)-BJP, combine recorded a positive swing of 9 percentage points to a vote share of 47%. This delivered a landslide mandate in the region for the JD(U)-BJP combine, which won 60 out of the 73 seats at stake.
In the minority-dominant and flood-ravaged Seemanchal, the swing in favour of the JD(U)-BJP combine was as high as 10 percentage points, providing it a vote share of 44%. Effective flood management and focused minority welfare schemes pried loose the hold of Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on Seemanchal. The combine won 27 out of the 37 seats in this region.
The most important minority welfare schemes included fencing of graveyards, regularization of madrassa schools and scholarships for students. The victory in Seemanchal indicates that the minorities voted for the ruling combine in large numbers, helping give it a strike rate of 80% across the state.
In the Saran region, the swing was all the more pronounced with the JD(U)-BJP coalition winning 38 of the 45 seats at stake. This was indicative of the breakdown of old caste equations such as the Muslim-Yadav factor. The Ang Pradesh region, with 30 seats, saw the combine winning 24 with a 10-percentage-point lead for the JD(U) over the RJD.
The Congress cut a sorry figure, winning just five seats and polling 9% of the votes. While the party did have the financial muscle to run the election campaign, it lacked an effective organization to convert its support into votes and seats. With Kumar mounting a strong campaign based on his governance record, there was virtually no vacuum the Congress could have filled. In a nutshell, Kumar has raised the bar for almost every other chief minister in the country. Anti–incumbency, here comes your antidote.
The writer is a Mumbai-based political analyst and psephologist.
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