The message from Bihar elections

The outcome of the Bihar election marks the beginning of the transition to the next generation of leaders and newer forces in Bihar. Despite Nitish Kumar’s return, politics in the state will now revolve around preparing for a post-Nitish Kumar landscape. This will generate tensions within the NDA as the BJP asserts itself; it will lead to political experiments, including possible emergence of new forces; it will make Tejashwi Yadav a man to watch out for, and it will keep Chirag Paswan in the mix for he damaged Nitish Kumar.
In the past year, there has been increasing commentary over the declining political fortunes of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This view gained ground due to electoral setbacks or the party’s failure to form the government in a set of states (Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Delhi); protest movements against the government’s measures (for instance, the citizenship-related protests); the economic contraction and the humanitarian distress caused by the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19.
 But with the Bihar election victory and wins in 41 out of 58 bypolls, BJP has underscored its continuing political hegemony. The party has scotched any doubts about the economic downturn adversely impacting its political fortunes. In all these states, defections from Congress have helped local BJP governments cement their position. Congress’s losses go far beyond public perception or squandering anti-incumbency: Parties spend years grooming netas and investing in them and Congress must now start from scratch with a fresh lot.
In MP, Jyotiraditya Scindia has proved himself an asset to BJP.
Both in Bihar and in the different states, which saw by-polls, local factors played an important role in shaping results. In by-polls, incumbent governments have an edge. And there has, indeed, been an increasing trend towards voters separating their choices in state and national polls. All of this should introduce a cautionary note in reading the results. Yet, there is no doubt that the BJP’s success indicates that the party still enjoys the support of vast segments of the electorate. These are all, at some level, accurate portrayals of what happened in Bihar, but they are also excessively local explanations.
In the 2019 national election, the NDA won 53% of Bihar’s vote. In the recently-concluded state election, the NDA (admittedly minus the LJP) won around 37% of the vote. This continues a trend of the NDA performing at least 15 percentage points worse in state elections as compared to 2019 national election — something witnessed in Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, where elections have happened either before or after the national polls.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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