Is the BJP gaining or losing voters? Analysis of the 2020 Bihar Assembly election results
The Bihar election results show a clear picture to the country, if there is one thing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) does the best, apart from organising anti-Muslim pogroms, then it’s fighting elections. The BJP’s voting machinery and strategy––focusing on Hindu nationalism clichés and vitriolic propaganda to pulverise opposition narratives––helped the ailing Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] of incumbent Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to stay afloat, although as political flotsam. The Bihar election results show that it’s impossible to beat the BJP in the very turf that it has mastered.
If one analyses the data of the Bihar election results, then it will be found that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lost votes vis-à-vis the Mahagathbandhan––the grand alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress party, the parliamentary left parties like the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation [CPI(M-L) Liberation]––despite the margin between the two reducing at various constituencies. If the BJP’s performance in the 2020 Bihar Assembly election is measured vis-à-vis its performance in the 2015 Bihar Assembly election and 2019 Lok Sabha election, then it will be found that the saffron party made no significant gains but lost votes.
During the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, the BJP fought the polls without the JD(U), which then was in an alliance with its foe RJD. The Congress party was with this alliance. The BJP, on the other hand, had the support of the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) and a few small players like Jit Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha. In that election, out of a total of 66.83m voters, 56.91%, ie, 38.03m voted. Out of this, the BJP got the maximum vote share, ie, 24.4%, with 9.30m votes while the RJD came second with 18.4%, with 6.99m votes followed by the JD(U), which was offered the chief minister’s post, with 16.8%, ie, 6.42m votes. The Congress, which contested as a Grand Alliance partner then, won 27 out of 41 seats it contested with 2.54m votes, ie, 6.7% vote share.
This equation changed soon, as Kumar switched allegiance and returned to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the BJP-led NDA swept Bihar, alike 2014. The Modi factor, following the purported “surgical strike” at Balakote, played a key role in tantalising the Hindutva fascism-incensed voters. The BJP significantly improved its tally in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Bihar, but its vote share fell 0.34 percentage points vis-à-vis the 2015 Bihar Assembly election, but if counted along with the votes of the JD(U), the NDA surely got the most. The BJP got 9.62m votes, ie, 24.06%, in the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Bihar, while the JD(U) got 8.90m votes, ie, 22.26% of the total votes. Their smaller partner LJP got 3.20m votes, ie, 8.02% of the total votes in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
In the same election, the RJD polled only 6.27m votes, ie, 15.68% of total votes with zero seats, while its partner Congress, managed to win one seat with 3.14m total votes, ie, 7.85% of total votes cast. Such a dismal performance of the opposition allowed many to write them off in the long run. One thing was also clear, the BJP, despite its class-caste identity, managed to secure the support of a large section of backward castes, and also of the Dalits, whom the feudal landlords––the socio-economic base of the BJP––subjugate and exploit incessantly. Winning only one seat out of 40 became a humiliation for the very opposition, who swept the 2015 election riding on Kumar’s shoulders.
Still, capitalising on the anti-incumbency factor against Kumar’s 15-year-long rule, the Mahagathbandhan fought the 2020 Bihar Assembly poll with a renewed zeal, but still, it suffered a setback, despite the RJD emerging as the single largest party with 75 members of legislative assembly (MLAs) in its kitty. Though the NDA managed to secure more seats, and though there is a vulnerability of the Mahagathbandhan MLAs later switching to the NDA, the voting pattern showed that there has been a fall in the support for the NDA.
During the 2020 Bihar Assembly election, the average voter turnout was 56.86%, ie, 31.58m votes were cast. Out of which, the BJP managed to get 8.20m votes, ie, 19.46% of total votes, while its partner JD(U) got 6.48m votes, ie, 15.39% of total votes. The LJP, which didn’t fight as a part of the NDA, but against the JD(U) and in support of the BJP, managed to get one seat with 2.38m votes, which translates to 5.66% of total vote share. If we add up the score by the NDA constituents like the BJP, JD(U), LJP and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP), which won four seats and got 639,840 total votes, ie, 2.02%, then the total will be 17.70m votes, ie, 56.07% votes.
At the same time, we can see, individually, the BJP has lost 1.42m votes in the 2020 Bihar Assembly election vis-à-vis the 2019 Lok Sabha election; similarly, the JD(U) has lost 2.42m votes in comparison to its 2019 performance. But the vote share of the Mahagathbandhan, despite a good show by the RJD and a surprise performance by the left, especially the CPI(M-L) Liberation, which won 12 seats, is lower than the total vote share of the NDA, including the LJP. In certain cases, especially in the constituencies where the LJP fielded candidates against the JD(U), or the All-India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM)––which won five seats in Bihar’s Seemanchal area and got 523,279 votes, ie, 1.24% vote share––fielded candidates, the winning margin of the Mahagathbandhan candidates remained nearly equal to the votes polled by these parties.
One of the major reasons of the Mahagathbandhan’s failure in the Bihar Assembly election 2020 is the RJD’s total reliance on the ideologically-bankrupt and utmost fascist Congress party, which is in a quagmire of existential crisis, as the BJP-led NDA at the centre under Modi has been demolishing its existence throughout the country. Had it replaced the Congress with other credible parties, it could’ve altered the result of the election. As of now, no such self-criticism is done by RJD leadership. Tejashwi Yadav, the RJD supremo, is projected by the New Delhi-based press as an emerging political player who can become a catalyst of a change. But rather than being driven by hubris, the RJD should check why the BJP’s misfortune couldn’t be maximised and why the election, fought over high tidal waves of anti-incumbency against Kumar, couldn’t be maximised? It must also answer, why it chose the Congress as the second-largest partner and pushed aside AIMIM or the left like CPI, CPI(M) and CPI(M-L) Liberation, who demanded 50 seats?
The BJP can’t be defeated in its strong turf– elections. Despite all alliances, propaganda and despite raising the issues concerning the lives and livelihood in any election by the opposition, most polarised Hindus will go for the BJP as they are driven by hysteric Islamophobia. What happened in Bihar, may be replicated in West Bengal by the BJP using its mammoth organisation, grassroots upwards, to build a favourable opinion. The BJP’s juggernaut, as proved in maximum elections and post-election manoeuvring by Home Minister Amit Shah, can’t be stopped through elections but only real grassroots work and organised people’s movements against fascism.
Pramod Singh is based in Patna. He is a political analyst who continuously monitors the events taking place around him. He is interested in learning foreign languages and he is an occasional poet.