Rasheeda Bhagat

After Bihar, it’s now Bengal chalo for BJP

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on November 16, 2020

Modi magic will work again   -  PTI

The party that managed to sail through in Bihar, despite economic distress and migrant crisis, may well rock Mamata’s boat

If the economic distress of the masses, the severe suffering and pain brought to the migrant labourers of Bihar — because of the sudden lockdown and the continuing Covid pandemic — and the rising unemployment amongst the youth of the State could not bring down the NDA government, then the die seems cast for West Bengal, which goes to elections next year.

Bengal’s Didi, Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee, will certainly not admit it, but the NDA victory in Bihar, despite Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) taking a knock, would have sent alarm bells ringing within the TMC’s top leadership in Kolkata.

We can analyse away the Bihar verdict till the cows come home and spell out several reasons for the Mahagatbandhan, led by the RJD’s young and dynamic leader, Tejashwi Yadav, failing to get the majority despite exit polls giving it a big thumbs-up.

But it was the BJP’s sterling performance — it won 74 of the 243 seats, compared to the JD(U)’s 43 — that ensured that the NDA did not lose the State to the Opposition. The JD(U) took a bad knock mainly with LJP’s Chirag Paswan dealing a deadly blow to its vote base.

Surprisingly, however, going against the general ethos of politicians, the BJP did the honourable thing by allowing Nitish to continue as Chief Minister of Bihar. Apparently, the deal is that this time, the BJP will get two instead of one deputy chief ministership as well as the Speaker’s post. But knowing the rough and tumble of Indian politics, no prizes for predicting that Nitish might have to, or be made to, step down in favour of a BJP CM in a year or two.

Tejashwi let down by Congress

This turned out to be an exciting election, with the Mahagathbandhan taking early leads but then slowing down in the end. The RJD did raise question marks on 10 of its candidates, poised for victory, losing in the end, a slowdown in counting and declaration of results, and alleged foul play. But nothing much came of it. Undoubtedly, Lalu’s son has emerged a new hero, taking his party to the position of No 1 seat-winner by bagging 75 seats, one more than the BJP.

In hindsight, he must be ruing giving the Congress 70 seats, of which it managed to win only 19. And for the Congress leadership it must be surely hurting, with one more election clearly reflecting its decline and the pale shadow that the Grand Old Party has now become.

The two surprises of this election are the Left front doing spectacularly well, getting 16 seats, and this should breathe some life into the Left’s hopes of a resurgence in the West Bengal Assembly elections next year.

The other is, of course, Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM coming from almost nowhere to win five seats. Its presence certainly spoilt the Mahagathbandhan’s victory prospects by taking away Muslim votes. The Muslim approach was simple — vote for the strongest candidate who can defeat the BJP.

A striking similarity for the two main heroes of the Bihar battle — the BJP and the RJD — was being let down by their principal allies, the JD(U) and the Congress, respectively.

Effective campaign

That brings us to the principal question of this election: If Nitish was so unpopular, for his party to do rather badly, and the people of Bihar were unhappy with his government, how did the NDA win by a convincing number of seats? There is only one explanation — the popularity and the faith the electorate seems to have in Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Modi campaigned effectively in Bihar, attacking mainly dynasty politics and his “double Yuvraj” jibe aimed at Tejashwi and Rahul Gandhi seems to have hit home.

If the unprecedented economic distress, loss of jobs and the crucifixion of Bihar’s migrant workers, thanks to the lockdown and the pandemic could not make the BJP bite the dust in Bihar, then we have to accept one of the two possible explanations — either the Indian voter has become a Lotus lover, , or they think there is no alternative to the leadership provided by Modi. And, that only he can lead the country, and the State, out of this economic morass.

On the non-NDA front, the long and short of the Bihar verdict is that Tejashwi has emerged out of his father’s shadow and proved to be an effective and dynamic leader who can win seats.

And, the clamour for free and fair elections in the Congress party to find an effective, non-Gandhi leader will gather pace. How pragmatically and speedily Sonia Gandhi handles that urgent need will determine if the steep decline of the relevance of the Congress in Indian electoral politics can be arrested or not.


Published on November 16, 2020

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