Bihar election result 2020: Nitish's blinkered view and Tejashwi's 'development' pitch likely to give Mahagathbandhan the edge
Mahagathbandhan secured an edge with the progressive agenda made through the careful consideration on emerging socio-economic priorities, this helped in the consolidation of constituents, like RJD, Congress and Left Parties.
The world is in reset mode with the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown and continuing uncertainties, affecting lives and livelihoods en masse. In India, it has already proved to be a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Certainly, the case of Bihar was not different. Unlike any other states, however, the unprecedented crisis gave Bihar a sense of urgency to fix the chronic developmental disorders, especially high-rate of unemployment and outbound migration. After a successful first full-term as chief minister, Nitish had gained a reputation of ‘Sushasan Babu’ and admired for offering an anti-thesis of the governance model pursued by Lalu Yadav and Rabri Devi for about fifteen years.
While Nitish succeeded to present the hope by boosting the infrastructure, energy and service sectors – he miserably failed to get a pulse of aspirational youths of Bihar who found no echo of their inner-callings in a Chief Minister who selectively tried not to opt a grand vision for the state in need of big transformation. In the context of Bihar Assembly Elections 2020, Nitish is much talked for subduing his own stature, ideological commitments and possibilities as opposition’s face in Lok Sabha Elections 2019.
His party Janata Dal (United) was in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2009 and 2010, when he didn’t let Narendra Modi campaign in Bihar during the Lok Sabha and Bihar Legislative Elections respectively. In 2015, along with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), he was given the mandate in Bihar for creating an alternative stream in the fast-changing political culture, he misread it and committed a judgemental blunder by returning back in 2017 to the BJP fold that was a different party by then. A new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) supremely dominated by BJP without Lal Krishna Advani and George Fernandes, was tersely transactional to Nitish.
BJP knew well about its limitation for having no bandwidth to emerge as the single-biggest party in Bihar, notwithstanding it swept the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, it had to rely on Nitish for further deepening its prospects. This was a politically shrewd move and altered Nitish's signature-style of handling the state through focus on social equity and harmony. BJP’s utilitarian consideration on Nitish made a further shift when it let Chirag Paswan to go unconventional with his party’s plan in Bihar elections, exuding a dichotomy, Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) remained in NDA and maintained a bonhomie with BJP – however, did everything possible to harm Nitish's prospects.
If one were to believe the exit polls, several blunders by NDA made it possible for Mahagathbandhan’s backroom strategies to effectively impact the result in its favour. Instead benchmarking the outcome for the last fifteen years and their comparison with the other states, a clearly divided NDA made another blunder by reminding people about Lalu-Rabri’s combined fifteen years and comparative advantages with their rule. This was something similar to pursuing a self-defeating goal.
On the strategic side, NDA's third grave mistake was to give undue share to the rejected parties from Mahagathbandhan – Jitam Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Mircha (HAM), Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and Mukesh Sahni’s Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). This along with LJP’s strange line of action are expected to directly weaken NDA’s winning potential on minimum 40-seats. On many other seats too, LJP’s move will be detrimental to NDA’s success as it is expected that the winning margin will be thin in this year’s multi-polarised elections.
Mahagathbandhan secured an edge with the progressive agenda made through the careful consideration on emerging socio-economic priorities, this helped in the consolidation of constituents, like RJD, Congress and Left Parties. As the Chief Ministerial face of opposition, Tejashwi Yadav did remarkably well in keeping his campaign positively oriented on the developmental matters, particularly on poverty, unemployment and migration. He should be credited for re-orienting Bihar’s political narrative from the caste, identity and justice to development, opportunity and empowerment. In a sense, the optics created by him made the electoral turf, much more competitive than what was expected by Nitish and his confidant in BJP, Sushil Modi. Citing Bihar’s landlocked status, both ruled out the scope of large-scale employment opportunities in Bihar. Mahagathbandhan’s resolve rather promise to recruit 4.5 lakh people immediately in the government and creating avenues for another 5.5 lakh employments proved to be a game-changer.
With the sudden outbreak of pandemic and hurriedly-enforced lockdown, about four millions of Bihar’s work-forces had to return back to the state in most precarious conditions. Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) says that even before the pandemic, about 40% of youth were unemployed in Bihar. As per the Multidimensional Poverty Index, even those who were in the state found to be in the vicious trap of a very high poverty rate. Noticeably, between 2011-12 and 2017-18, unemployment rates in Bihar almost trebled, from 2.5 percent to 7.2 percent.
According to IndiaSpend, the educated candidates have higher chances to remain unemployed, this clearly reflects on the state of organised sectors and prevalence of over-reliance on agrarian economy in Bihar. Bihar’s other development indicators are no better. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), in June 2020, Bihar’s unemployment rate was nearly double the national average in the year ending June 2019. Before this, another CMIE report stated that Bihar’s unemployment rate increased by 31.2 percentage points in April 2020, rising up to 46.6 percent. Unemployment had risen from 1.6 percent in April 2017 to the current rate.
A consistent trend like this has made Bihar the poorest state in India with a per capita GDP three times lower than the national average, standing at Rs 47,541 against the all India average of Rs 1,42,719. The second poorest state by per capita GDP, Uttar Pradesh, stood at Rs 68,792 demonstrating just how far behind Bihar is, economically. A more shocking aspect of governance in Bihar emerges through the poverty scorecard in the NITI Aayog’s SDG Index 2019-20. Bihar’s score declined from 45 in 2018 to 33 in 2019, making it the state with the second-highest decline on the index. Also, a sign of pauperization was traced out. As per the Economic Survey of 2017, between 50 lakh and 90 lakh annually, people migrate within India. More than half of these migrants, the survey states, belong to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. There is no official data on the exact number of migrants’ in India, but if to bring in consideration the estimate made with the help of the Census (2011), NSSO surveys and the economic survey, the total number of interstate migrants in India at 6.5 crore, of which 33% are workers. As per National Health Profile 2019 of Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI), there are 7,13,986 total government hospital beds available in India. More precisely, this amounts to 0.55 beds per 1,000 population. Many States even lie below the national figure, Bihar is one of them, experiencing an acute shortage of government hospital beds with just 0.11 beds available per 1,000 population.
Unfortunately, despite Bihar’s prolonging tribulation, Nitish couldn’t make a course-correction. Beyond the developmental basics and engineering the social base for electoral benefits, he didn’t attempt to reassure the masses with the wave of industrialisation and retaining them in the state. Today, it is not just the strong anti-incumbency waves, it is also the mass anger against NDA government that will possibly decide the verdict.
Unlike the ruling dispensation, Mahagathbandhan has acknowledged the existing developmental issues and also taken the cognizance of unfairly low industrial base in the state, its promises are giving a hope. Irrespective of what lies in the store, the state of Bihar has already gained immensely by getting back the ‘development’ at center-stage. Nitish Kumar should introspect and chart a course on the line of his personal thinking, the retirement in politics is just a myth and he is not someone who is known to follow his words all the time. It is certainly not the right time for him to call it a day, he must give himself a chance for correction. This way, he will be more eligible to be treated kindly in history. As the political change seems imminent in Bihar, he should accept the poll verdict gracefully and credit it to himself, his judgemental errors and not knowing the mass feelings. Be it the state, market and community in Bihar, the fundamentals in Bihar are still not mechanized and its ‘Political DNA’ is blameless. Before he lapsed, once Nitish Kumar too fought bravely for it.
The voters’ preferences shown in Bihar will have impact on the future course of the Indian politics, either way, it will be epoch-making. Bihar remains to be the political laboratory of India, the world’s largest democracy. The day of reckoning is not far, it is tomorrow.
Atul K Thakur is a policy professional and columnist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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