What do BJP wins in Bihar and MP mean for Indian politics?
In the hubbub of the US elections and the antics of Trump, some important election results in our neighbourhood have gone kind of unnoticed. Narendra Modi has scored yet again in the important state election in Bihar of India, which is quite big by population.
The BJP also won the most seats in the by-elections of Madhya Pradesh (MP) state assembly and ensured the survival of their Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government. The seats were vacated due to a split in the preceding Congress state government, resulting in its downfall and the subsequent joining of Congress stalwart Jyotiraditya Schindia to the BJP.
To figure out in which direction the popularity in India is swinging, both the Bihar and MP elections were important. The BJP lost Jharkhand, Rajasthan, and MP more than a year back to Congress and its alliance. It did well in the richest state in India, Maharashtra, where the country’s financial capital Mumbai is located. But due to a post-election feud with its ally, the local Shiv Sena party, it failed to form a government, and Shiv Sena joined Congress and NCP to form a coalition government in the state.
With the Bihar and MP wins, the BJP is back to its winning ways, which may also impact, to some extent, the upcoming and very important West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh (UP) state elections. Both are big, populous states.
In Bihar, the BJP has a major old ally -- the Janata Dal (United) party of the apt and long-serving Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. He has been the chief minister of the state for the last 15 years. He parted ways with the BJP for a brief duration a few years back, and made an alliance with the arch rival RJD of Lalu Yadav and his sons.
Later, however, Nitish cleverly returned to the BJP, considering the longer term benefits. Until this election, Nitish’s JDU was the senior partner in the alliance with the BJP, but this time the BJP did far better than Nitish’s party, thus changing that equation.
However, considering national level dividends, especially in the Lok Sabha election, the BJP is likely to concede the chief minister’s post to JDU again, and it’s most likely that Biharis will find Nitish as their chief minister again.
The Grand Alliance of Lalu’s son Tejashwi’s RJD, Congress, and the Left lost the election marginally. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) of the fiery speaker, Barrister Asaduddin Owaisi participated in the Bihar elections for the first time, and they might have cut into some votes of the Grand Alliance.
The BJP-JDU alliance also lost a big chunk of the popular vote, if compared with the Lok Sabha elections of 2018. Yet, despite significant anti-incumbency sentiments due to the long rule of the Nitish Kumar-led alliance, clinging on to power was quite something. More importantly for the BJP, it is back to its winning ways after some setbacks a year back. The Modi factor was thought to have played a big role in the BJP’s good performance in Bihar and MP.
Nitish Kumar is an interesting kind of politician. He is a great survivor. He withstood a lot of storms and still remains afloat. He is a secular politician personally, and his party holds on to secular ideals. However, for political convenience, he allies with the BJP.
The BJP also had significant stakes in the alliance when it came to state and national politics. There were hiccups in the relations a few times, yet it held on. Nitish reversed the lawlessness of Lalu’s rule and also took poor Bihar on the path of economic growth. Deliverance on good governance and development has been his key strength, and that’s how he accumulated his political capital.
This time, he came under fierce attack both from young Tejashwi Yadav and his former ally Chirag Paswan of the LJP. This affected his electoral fate in these polls to a degree, and his party came behind the BJP for the first time in state elections.
Both the BJP and the RJD fought neck and neck to become the single largest party. Congress fought in 70 seats and won just 19 -- a performance which is below average, if not a disaster.
Regardless of the wins, it is not clear how it will actually impact the BJP’s prospects in the upcoming state elections in West Bengal. The BJP did well in the last Lok Sabha elections and came second to Trinamool Congress. But a lot of voters of many non-Hindi states prefer local parties in state government rather than the national ones, and consider that local parties look after the interests of the state best.
Moreover, there are unique local factors in West Bengal. The Muslim population percentage is significant in West Bengal, and most muslims vote for Mamata Banerjee these days, barring few traditional Congress pockets. If Mamata holds on to her liberal Hindu and Muslim coalition, she will sail again.
If the BJP is able to draw more Hindu votes away from her, they will have a chance in West Bengal for the first time ever. One of the weaknesses of the BJP in the state is that they don’t have a presentable chief ministerial face.
In spite of the current electoral positivity in the Hindi Belt, it’s still to be seen whether Modi’s magic works in West Bengal this time around. There is no clear or visible build-up towards any definitive BJP success in West Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee is a seasoned warrior. She is unlikely to concede an inch without a tooth and nail fight. It’s also to be watched whether she really is able to create a bulwark against a potential saffron juggernaut riding on anti-incumbency in the state.
On occasion, secular parties in India have come together in the past -- the same will be essential in all the upcoming elections for the ultimate survival of the liberal political stream, especially in the wake of the current and relentless political attacks by Hindutva forces.
Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury is an opinion contributor to the Dhaka Tribune.