New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) dramatic performance in the Bihar assembly elections, where it nearly doubled its seat tally to become an almost equal partner in the ruling coalition, has come at the expense of its ideological rhetoric.
The electoral success managed on the message of development has instead raised fundamental questions on whether the performance at the local level can be replicated nationally, especially since in past attempts—both in the 2004 and 2009 general elections—the strategy did not pay dividends.
The BJP won 91 of the 102 seats it contested while the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), won 115 of 141 it ran for. In the 2005 election, the BJP had won 55 of the 102 seats it contested in the 243-member assembly.
“The election has two crucial lessons for the BJP. One, that all politics is local. The Bihar BJP unit managed the coalition very well. And two, that an understated campaign and strategy is far better than a polarized one,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research. “The verdict shows that BJP is not one single national party but that credibility has to be built state-by-state. The party is doing well wherever the state level cadre is well attuned with local conditions and circumstances.”
Psephologist and BJP national executive member G.V.L. Narasimha Rao believes the BJP has not effected any change in its core ideology.
“Governance and development agenda have become the mantras even in heavily caste-ridden states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is a shift in the polity and the BJP has understood it... It does not mean that (the) BJP’s core ideology got diluted but (that) its electoral agenda is different,” he said.
The BJP, which shot to the national centre stage in the 1990s riding on its Hindutva brand of politics, kept what was believed to be its core ideology at bay in the run-up to these elections, concentrating on the alliance’s governance record. It made a conscious decision to keep controversial leaders such as Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and Varun Gandhi, the Lok Sabha member from Pilibhit, away from the campaign trail.
“The BJP knows the Hindutva issue does not hold any traction anymore,” Mehta said.
The party acknowledges how this vote is as much in favour of its ally as it is for the BJP. “We congratulate the people of Bihar for giving a positive vote” in favour of Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and its ally, the BJP, said leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley.
The verdict comes as a greater surprise given that the party was saddled with internal rifts in the state just ahead of the assembly elections. State unit president C.P. Thakur had resigned following differences in ticket distribution. Though he later withdrew his resignation, the party’s troubles continued with several workers and supporters publicly revolting against the BJP’s state and national level leadership over certain candidates being denied party tickets. Even at the national level, the party has been in turmoil since the 2009 general election debacle.
Meanwhile, senior BJP leaders claim Bihar is not the first time the party has contested polls on a purely development plank. “In Bihar, what worked was development plus integrity. What (the) JD(U)-BJP government did in Bihar was to provide an honest administration, dedicated to development. (The) BJP is a national party with its own philosophy and programme, so it will take the Bihar verdict in its stride and move ahead,” said Yashwant Sinha, a senior BJP leader and a former Union minister.
Liz Mathew and PTI contributed to this story.
Crunch time for Lalu
In a new low, the Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) managed only 22 of the 168 seats it contested. It had 54 seats in the outgoing assembly. Consequently, the RJD has been reduced to a fringe player in the state’s political scene, where the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United)- Bharatiya Janata Party alliance has emerged as the clear winner.
The RJD, which ruled for three consecutive terms from 1990, had carved itself a powerful vote block on the basis of the Muslim-Yadav slogan. In fact, its strong performance at the state was leveraged to play its role in national politics. Prasad, as railway minister, was a part of the first Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government.
However, in the 2009 elections, the party chose to go it alone and saw its Lok Sabha tally drop to four seats from 24 previously. The latest election results have only compounded the RJD’s political problems.
Prasad, however, continued to put up a brave front: “I congratulate Nitish Kumar, not BJP for the success... Though we accept the people’s mandate with humility, we will soon undertake a thorough review of what led to such astonishing results.” (‘PTI’ contributed to this story.)