The fine print of the Bihar polls: How ghettoisation of secular votes trumped NDA's firm social coalition

By Yashwant Deshmukh and Manu Sharma

If the Bihar Assembly 2015 polls divided the analyst’s fraternity regarding the eventual result, the final verdict has thrown up even more confounding trends despite the decisive nature of the mandate. The vote share distribution and gap in the seats won seem to indicate a socio-political landslide in favour of the Mahagathbandhan (MGB), that, however, is half the story.

Was this election decided purely on the basis of a performance differential between the respective social coalitions led by the MGB and the NDA in addition to specific narrative based factors? Or were there more factors which went un-noticed by the media and analysts, who are always eager to over-simplify every election mandate in the absence of data providing empirical evidence to the contrary?

First things first. Accounting for all other issues, the MYK (Muslim-Yadav-Kurmi) votebank was more polarised and steadfast than the relatively greenhorn rainbow alliance of the NDA (constituted by Upper Castes, Dalits, Mahadalits and EBCs). Contrary to traditional political punditry the NDA did not hit a social base ceiling as was the case during the Mandal-era. In other words, the social catchment of NDA's coalition was not deficient, however, it was bested by a better marshalled and organised social coalition of the MGB.

But in order to determine what made all the difference, we did a lot of data mining in our post-poll survey data. Methodologically speaking; we fused the exit data and post-poll survey data into one master file, weighted that on final results of the election — that too at micro and regional levels. This made the research survey file representative of the actual results reported by ECI (Election Commission of India). Once the Research file and ECI file became at par; we did reverse engineering to calculate all socio-economic cross-tabulations in order to understand who voted for whom. This analysis goes beyond the traditional ‘caste-based’ arithmetic of traditional psephology practiced in India. This goes deep into ‘class-based’ analytics to reveal the tremendous social churning that is happening in the great political laboratory of India; aka the ‘Republic Of Bihar’.

The composition of the MGB and the NDA vote bank has a lot to reveal; not only in terms of present election; but also in terms of future prospects.

There are two ways of analysing the caste calculus. First is to look at the way different caste groups have voted for different political combinations. Then compare it with the trends available for previous elections and look at the swings in different caste groups. Another way to look at the caste calculus is to analyse the composition of vote banks for different political parties/alliances.

The first equation tells us how, for example, every 100 Muslim voters have voted. The other tells us among every 100 MGB voters how many were Muslims or Yadavs or any or every caste group for that matter. This composition analysis reveals that almost two-thirds of every 100 MGB voters are coming from their core MYC combination.

One the other hand only about a quarter of every 100 NDA voters are coming from their core Upper Caste combination. This also means almost three-quarters of the NDA's composition comes from the Dalit+MahaDalit+EBC voters which historically has never been the core BJP constituency.

 The fine print of the Bihar polls: How ghettoisation of secular votes trumped NDAs firm social coalition

The saturation index captures the relative representation of a community within the vote share of an alliance and is also indicative of level of polarisation of its vote bank — calculated by dividing the vote share of a particular community within an alliance by the percentage of its population as per census figures. A high saturation index means that a particular votebank is at the peak of its vote delivery and may be quite close to its ceiling performance. The saturation index also gives us a glimpse into future prospects of the various constituents of an alliance. The index figures for both alliances are as follows:

Chart2

Yadavs and Muslims registered high saturation in favour of the MGB where within the NDA fold the UCH have registered high saturation index apart from reasonably high saturation of Dalit; MahaDalits and EBC voters. The non-Yadav OBC saturation of the MGB and the NDA is almost at par. This means theoretically speaking NDA has much larger leg room for saturation performance in its broader social base vis a vis the MGB that is completely confined to peak saturation of MYK as of now.

The ‘ghettoisation’ of MYK block versus the emerging ‘rainbow’ coalition of Youth, Dalits, EBCs and MahaDalits is something for future crystal gazing.

If MGB was propelled to victory by a completely saturated vote performance of its MYK social coalition, the NDA's vote share, although lesser than MGB's, contains some surprises. To calculate the ‘generation gap’ among the voters; we did an innovative analysis on the Age-Group factor. Normally the age-groups are taken as 5 years or 10 years intervals for analytical purpose. However, we calculated the age-groups on the election cycle of Bihar. Which means we calculated from the actual age of the voters; the number of elections he or she has seen/participated.

The two extreme ends were the first-time voters of Bihar and the senior most voters who  saw/participated not just in these election but also in all the elections starting the watershed election of 1990 when Lalu Prasad Yadav became chief minister for the first time.

Chart3

Among the first-time voters, NDA bested the MGB across all demographics barring Muslims and Yadavs. Even among OBCs the lead enjoyed by the MGB is not something to feel comfortable about by its leaders. The NDA has emerged as the party of aspiration for Dalits, Mahadalits, EBCs and obviously its traditional Upper Caste base. What should worry the MGB in long run is the fact that though the overall vote share of ‘senior most voters’ look going in their favour by 45 percent to 32 percent margin; the fact is that this lead is only by virtue of their one-sided lead among Muslim and Yadav voters.

Look into the leads enjoyed by NDA among ‘senior most Voters’ of Dalits, Maha Dalits, EBC/MBC and Upper Caste voters and you will realise that the trends emerging from these social blocks is not limited to youth voters alone. This is what confirms the ‘ghettoisation’ of the MYK voting block. This complete ‘ghettoisation’ is opening up the remaining social blocks to a much more inclusive ‘rainbow’ coalition of the NDA.

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This phenomenon carries significant portents about the future of Bihar’s polity. We may be witnessing a generational shift of backwards voters into a new form of conservative politics. The macro trends of Dalit voters shifting towards the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election are now manifesting within the next generation of backwards voters. And the most talked about EBC voters also have shown a much clear trend tilting toward the NDA.

A closer look at the EBC table reveals that barring an exception here and there; the entire spectrum of EBC castes have shown a much clear preference for BJP and allies.

Chart5

On a larger plane, the NDA was able to emerge as a rainbow alliance with broader social base albeit an amorphous one when compared to the crystallized and well-oiled social base of MGB. However, the startling synergy of EBC and MahaDalits towards the NDA is very well marked out across all the geographic regions of Bihar.

This must be kept in mind that while the Dalits (basically the Paswan/Dusadh voters) had swung for NDA due to Ram Vilas Paswan; but he has never been a leader of MahaDalits in Bihar. From that perspective the MahaDalit swing could be attributed to the Manjhi factor. But even outside the Musahar/Manjhi voters; the swing among other MahaDalit caste groups is something remarkable as far as BJP political spectrum is concerned.

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The acute polarisation in Seemanchal added further to this lead among the EBC and MahaDalit caste groups; but their preference in critical Bhojpur and Anga regions will have a different impact in long run of Bihar politics.

Chart7

Chart8

Bihar election was decided between the relative vote percentages of MYK on one side and D-MD-EBC-UCH on the other. The former exclusively went in a ‘one-way-traffic’ mode to the MGB way while the latter went in a majority manner towards the NDA but was not exactly in a ‘one-way-traffic’ mode, at least in this round of election.

The BJP's attempts to polarise the elections on religious lines failed as the united spectrum of Hindu vote was weaker than minority votes. But data suggests this could be a work in progress.

Bihar 2015 marks the realignment of socio-political identity of a large section of backward castes. The state is the veritable compass of Indian polity, be it the independence movement, JP Andolan or the Mandal struggle, Bihar heralded these tectonic political movements in the country. Layered beneath the superficial snapshot of the 2015 Assembly polls, there is a message from the Bihari electorate to all political formulations in the country.

All data taken from C-Voter

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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2015 11:12:56 IST