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The BJP got trapped in the caste battle with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, which the party was unable to win with its development narrative. Photo: PTI
The BJP got trapped in the caste battle with Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, which the party was unable to win with its development narrative. Photo: PTI

Bihar results: Social arithmetic, quota comments seen behind BJP’s failure

Party leaders say the entire debate shifted from development to caste, which changed the canvas of the polls

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed in Bihar largely because it could not overcome the challenge of social arithmetic woven together by chief minister Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, chief of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

The chances of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were also spoilt by the demand made by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for a rethink on the government’s job reservation policy, which alienated the other backward classes (OBCs), scheduled castes (SCs) and scheduled tribes (STs).

BJP leaders admit that the social arithmetic was always in the favour of the Grand Alliance of Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), RJD and Congress. Members of the BJP, who helped strategize the party’s election campaign, said the party did not expect the supporters of the RJD and JD(U) to stick together, given the differences between Kumar and Prasad.

BJP leaders say the entire debate shifted from development to caste, which changed the entire canvas of the elections.

“It was very difficult from the beginning. The social arithmetic was in favour of the Grand Alliance. While a large section of other backward classes (OBCs) was backing Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar was favoured by all sections of people because of the work done by the government in the last 10 years. The social combination of both the parties was more effective than the NDA," a BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.

BJP has only managed to win 47 seats this time, and is leading in nine—substantially fewer than in 91 it had won in the 2010 Bihar assembly polls.

Constituents of the NDA are also annoyed with the remarks of some BJP leaders, particularly party president Amit Shah’s statement that people in Pakistan will burst crackers to celebrate if the Grand Alliance wins.

“Two big mistakes were that certain comments were made by BJP leaders which were not liked by people of Bihar and the demand of the RSS for a rethink on reservation policy made the OBCs, scheduled castes and scheduled tribes consolidated their forces behind the JD(U) and RJD," said a second BJP leader from Bihar. He too declined to be named.

Political analysts said comments made by Modi questioning the DNA of Kumar hurt the BJP as did the general shrillness of the Modi-Shah campaign.

“Religious mobilization has not worked, but social mobilization has worked. The development agenda got lost somewhere. The BJP came to power on the agenda of development but voices of radical Hinduism have become louder which frightened the OBCs and Dalits. The rejection of the rights of people, especially OBCs and Dalits has cost the BJP. PM also didn't take action against those leaders and voices who were making comments about radical Hinduism," said Chandra Bhan Prasad, writer and a Dalit intellectual.

BJP leaders argue that while Bihar was the second consecutive major defeat for the party after Delhi, there was no threat to the position of Shah whose term as party chief will come to end in December this year.

“The bigger question is who will want to become BJP president after the loss of Delhi and Bihar. The next few elections are in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam," said the second BJP leader.

BJP leaders argue that they tried to stitch together a caste alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP).

But these three alliance partners of the NDA clearly failed to match up to Prasad-Kumar combine. Out of the 83 seats contested by the three NDA partners, they could together manage only five seats, which came as a great setback for the BJP.

“The choice before the people was very clear. People are fond of Modi and he is a popular leader, but people of Bihar realized that he will not become chief minister himself but appoint someone of his choice— whereas the grand alliance projected Nitish Kumar for the top post and there was no dispute. The fight became between a national leader and a strong local leader who is popular with the people," the first BJP leader argued.

Another problem faced by the BJP was that most of the public meetings and campaigns were led by people who are not from Bihar. The party organized 26 public meetings addressed by Modi, 76 by Shah and around 50 by home minister Rajnath Singh.

“It seems that party got the caste arithmetic wrong not only about OBCs and scheduled castes but also about the upper castes. We fear that a section of upper castes voted for Kumar rather than backing the BJP," the first BJP leader added.

Political analysts say the BJP got trapped in the caste battle with Kumar and Prasad, which the party was unable to win with its development narrative.

“The election started with a discourse on development and good governance but it became all about forwards versus backward fight," said Shashi Sharma, political science professor at Patna University. “The BJP is still considered a party of upper castes in villages and alliance partners were not able to transfer their votes in the favour of the BJP."

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