Just like most of the other Hindi heartland states, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) managed to decimate the opposition in Bihar as result of a very well-calibrated social and political engineering. The narrative of nationalism set by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the overall image of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), as an efficient and honest politician across castes, paved the way for such a decisive mandate for the ruling alliance in the state.

The NDA got 54% of the total votes polled, while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) could muster only 36%. A gap of 18% in vote share is good enough to ensure a decisive victory. What worked for the NDA is that it received votes from almost every caste, be it the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) or the Scheduled Castes. This essentially means that there was a consolidation of the non-Yadav and non-Muslim votes in favour of the NDA.

Going by my survey, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress got a combined total of only 60% of the Yadav votes, with 22% of the electorate from the community voting for the NDA, particularly because of Kumar. Even in seats such as Madhepura, which is a bastion of the Yadavs and the RJD, it is the JD(U) that emerged victorious. This speaks volumes about the way the ruling combine ran its campaign.

While the BJP, post the Balakot strike, managed to set a nationalistic narrative, the JD(U) and Kumar’s acceptability as a clean politician among most of the backward castes worked for the NDA. Almost 80% of the extremely backward castes voted in favour of the NDA and 60% of the OBCs, barring the Yadavs, also voted in favour of the ruling coalition.

It was widely expected that the backward castes may not rally behind the NDA in this election especially after the developments related to the Scheduled Castes Act. However, in the end most of them stood staunchly behind Modi. Some sections of the Brahmin and Bhumihar community, who traditionally vote for the BJP, were also expected to vote for the opposition. However, they also continued to stand with the BJP.

This landslide win actually puts Kumar on a very strong wicket for the assembly elections, which are just 15 months away, as the JD(U) would now want to contest as many seats as the BJP. The JD(U) managed to win in some of the Yadav-dominated seats and the image of Kumar had a big role to play in attracting the voters.

Apart from the caste arithmetic, the women voters have also stood staunchly with the ruling combine mainly because of certain policies such as the liquor ban, which has made Kumar very popular among women, especially in the lower strata of society. In Bihar, women voters from the upper castes are not independent voters and often vote according to the guidance provided by the male members of the family. The ones from the economically poor families and backward castes are independent voters.

In this election, the number of women voters was almost 5% more than that of men and this seems to have gone in favour of the NDA. In Bihar, the three leading parties—the BJP,the JDU and the RJD—command vote share in the range of 22-25% each and if any two of these forces come together, then the election result also moves accordingly. This was apparent in the assembly elections as well, when Kumar and Lalu Prasad came together to fight against the BJP, and they emerged triumphant. So this victory will put the ruling alliance on a very strong wicket for the assembly elections and the arithmetic also favours them.

While conducting surveys I also found that initiatives of the central government such as the direct cash transfer, the Ujjwala scheme, toilet construction as part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and schemes for rural housing worked in favour of the BJP.

Last but not the least, an election in Bihar is never complete without Prasad and his absence from the battlefield because of his incarceration, did cost the UPA dearly. Had he been around, the conversion of votes in favour of the opposition would have been significantly more. Also, in some of the seats, the Congress-RJD combine also had to face rebel candidates who managed to make a dent in their fortunes.

Rakesh Ranjan is associate professor in the department of political science at Patna University.

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