PATNA/NEW DELHI: If ever there was a cliffhanger of an election, with the pendulum swinging wildly by the hour, this was it. Till late evening, the day belonged to the alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janata Dal (United), prompting the BJP to prepare for a grand victory celebration at the central party office in the heart of Delhi.
But the ladoos, firecrackers and dhols had to be put on hold as the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led mahagathbandhan closed in, turning the Bihar election 2020 into an edge of the seat thriller. Till midnight the ruling alliance was still marginally ahead, with leads/wins in 122 out of the 243 seats while the mahagathbandhan had 114.
But the results/trends also exposed the fault lines between the BJP and the JD (U). This was because the JD (U) was the biggest loser, relegated to a distant third at 43 seats, down nearly 30 from its 2015 tally. For this, it openly blamed Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party.
While the LJP just won a single seat, it ate up 5.7% of the vote share, cutting into the JD(U)’s base. More significantly, Chirag had openly worked against chief minister Nitish Kumar during the campaign while praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
With such a close race not witnessed in a long time and throwing up many possibilities, BJP leaders Sushil Modi, Bhupendra Yadav, Ntiyanand Rai and Sanjay Jaiswal rushed to Nitish’s residence, remaining closeted till late at night and reassuring the chief minister that he was their leader. Union home minister Amit Shah also called Nitish.
But whatever be Nitish’s grudge against Chirag, the election results only underlined his waning appeal.
The mass mood was that he had become arrogant in the last five years, ruling the state through an unpopular and inaccessible bureaucracy. So even if he becomes the first Bihar CM to rule for a fourth straight term, his position is bound to be much weaker.
In 27 seats the margins were so thin that the Rashtriya Janata Dal smelt a rat. Party leader Tejashwi Yadav filed a written complaint with the Election Commission in Patna, complaining of being robbed of at least seven seats. But addressing the media past 10 pm, EC officials in New Delhi denied the charge.
The election result was also a story of what might have been for the young Tejashwi. Throughout the campaign he drew large crowds and created a huge hype around the unemployment problem in the state. But that didn’t translate into votes.
The uniform view for this failure was that Tejashwi was unable to shake off the widespread feeling among the people that if the RJD came to power, it would mean the return of the jungle raj.
This fear of a return to lawlessness was repeatedly stressed by Modi and Nitish at rallies and on the face of it, jungle raj trumped unemployment.
“The NDA campaign on the return of the jungle raj created a kind of fear psychosis among the voters,” said R K Verma, a political analyst.
The numbers also signalled a deeper churning in state politics, with sub-regional factors playing out. While the NDA did exceedingly well in the Seemanchal, Mithila, Champaran and Ang regions, the mahagathbandhan performed better in the Bhojpur, Magadh and central parts of Bihar.
The election also saw the emergence of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen as a force in some Muslim-dominated areas, harming the RJD.
The AIMIM benefited from its alliance with Mandalite parties such as the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party and helped itself by winning five seats, up from one it held in the outgoing assembly.