Tejashwi Yadav made his father’s Yadav party Bihar’s single largest party. He fought odds and evens – foes and friends – alike to achieve the milestone. Then he faltered. Not because of lack of strategy or poor understanding of electoral politics. He simply faltered near the finishing line because he found himself overwhelmed by his political loneliness.
He understands that his Bihar is not the same as his father’s. He knows his opponents will raise the issue of “jungle raj” to scare today’s voters. He was willing to strike strategic alliances without standing on formalities. Only, there were limited allies. The best of them was the weakest link – the Congress – which contested an unproportionable high number of seats (70). The least of them proved their worth beyond measure: the traditional Left and Marxist-Leninists returned a good strike rate. That’s it.
A pariah duo cannot go much far
It is as if the Yadavs are a pariah in Bihar. Couple it with the BJP’s Hindutva narrative based on keeping alive the bitter memories of how Laloo Yadav thwarted them since 1989-1990 by engineering a dynamic relationship with the Muslims. You get a potent anti-Hindutva front. The Muslims too are a pariah. A pariah duo cannot go much far in a largely bipolar polity.
BJP campaign forced to be secular
That is what happened to Tejashwi. The opposition succeeded in identifying his alliance as “the” jungle raj, as the anti-Hindutva force. Remember, no BJP leader of repute referred to Tejashwi’s caste affiliation. Thanks to Tejashwi expanding the scope of his campaign by focusing on economic issues – jobs! Jobs is an election issue in India! Don’t tell me! – the opposition could not turn it into a Ram-Pulwama-Ladakh campaign. For the first time since some ‘karsewaks’ from Bihar became the first contingent to storm the Babri Masjid in 1992, the electoral campaign of the right-wing BJP was forcefully secular, leaving the communal consolidation to the ground level teams! The BJP was aware its brand of communal politics will not work in a Bihar where Tejashwi was not talking about safety of Muslims but jobs for the jobless. If no one else, the BJP took him seriously.
Dislike for Yadavs, Muslims harnessed by BJP
And the BJP knew the weakness of Laloo Yadav’s son. One, he is not his father. Two, he is lonely, without a serious alliance partner. All the BJP did was to harness the ancient dislike/hatred/antagonism of the upper castes and the lowest castes against the Yadavs and Muslims for reasons Mandal and kamandal. Even without being egged on, these sections would not have voted for Tejashwi anyway. But with the egging, the counter consolidation was complete.
Tejashwi lacked social support
As said above, in a bipolar election, Tejashwi needed a wider spectrum of social support which he sorely lacked. And paid for it. Things will not change in the medium term for him. This antagonism is the fire the BJP will stoke every time he becomes the prime challenger. That the BJP stooped so low in political chicanery as to use its own ally, the Lok Janshakti Party, as an abettor, to spite another ally. That the LJP is part of the ruling NDA at the Centre but not in Bihar does not cut much ice. It is a matter of convenience as all know, still a deception and amounts to throwing wool over the voters’ eyes. The “shikhandi” (to borrow a Hindu – not Hindutva – mythical name) went on to hurt the opposition too! “Shikhandis” are not expected to behave like leaders and win. They are puppets on a leash and heel when ordered.
One ally playing against the other
The victor will write the history. That is a fact. But these are also facts: Tejashwi tried to steer his party away from identity politics and expand its profile, but got stumped. Caste is not going anywhere in a hurry. Certainly not in election time. The BJP subverted the election process by going against the spirit of alliance politics. It sent an anti-democratic message across by openly and formally allowing one ally to play against another.
Against spirit of elections
A legal analysis is necessary on this issue. Suppose the NDA was short of a simple majority and the Governor calls both pre-poll formations to send letters of support to the Raj Bhavan, how amoral would it be for the BJP or JDU to also include letter of support from the LJP! I am clear on this: It goes against the spirit of elections. A political alliance contesting the election cannot send a confusing signal by playing both roles of challenger and defendant. The BJP kept itself safe by ensuring that the chaos is limited to only the seats the JDU is contesting. In its own seats, it was a straight fight with mostly the RJD and for reasons explained above, Tejashwi came up short.
Pro-NDA voters confused
But in the seats the JDU contested, look how many factors were at play at once: One, the JDU was fighting the RJD. Two, the JDU was fighting the LJP. Three, the RJD was fighting both LJP and JDU. The JDU was fighting both RJD and LJP. Did the BJP vote in these seats transfer to the JDU or LJP? Would not a pro-NDA voter have been confused whom to vote for between JDU and LJP? The voter’s decision is not simple; nor is it based on any decent logic. What would have gone in the voter’s mind? Let’s examine just a few of them:
–I like Nitish so I will vote for JDU
–I like Modi but since this is an alliance seat I will vote for JDU
–I don’t like Nitish but I like Modi but since I will not vote for JDU and there is no BJP should I vote for LJP? Funny, two partners of the BJP’s alliance and both fighting against each other?
–I don’t like Nitish and I like Modi but I do not like LJP – by the way how is it that the LJP is also here? – then whom shall I vote for?
–I like LJP and not JDU and so I will vote for LJP
–I like LJP and not JDU but the former is not in a position to win so why should I waste my vote? But should I have to vote for JDU for the NDA to win? Going against my wishes?
How much of it morally valid?
The ignorant who think Indian voters vote without thinking will dismiss this as bunkum. But it is not. Every voter, however brainwashed, thinks. The point is how complicated did the voter’s thinking process become in 122 constituencies? How much of it is morally valid, how much of it is principled?
However, to reiterate, the winner takes all. That includes the brickbats too! The post-poll narrative cannot be simply changed to accommodate the BJP’s victory. The narrative for the last six months was the challenge by Tejashwi. It should remain so. The BJP will be the first to acknowledge, if it were used to transparency, that a more sedate or less strident opposition would not have weakened its lackey, Nitish Kumar, as much as it eventually did. For, it forced the BJP to change tack in the middle of the elections and, simultaneously, execute a strategy to take control of the state but leave the reins with Nitish Kumar. The BJP alone is responsible for his ridiculous fate.
Problems with exit polls
The media, smarting from a foolish exit poll projection, is hurriedly trying to explain the political truths of Bihar it missed out on. Like the Indian banks have a suspense account to explain its accounting bloomers, the media has the “silent majority” to explain the defeat of Tejashwi. This line of argument has two benefits. It gives them a face-saving escape from the exit poll tragedy.
No less a person than Rajdeep Sardesai, when pushed into a corner by Amit Malaviya of the BJP on the India Today show, said something like this in his defence: “I did not make the exit polls. It is an agency that made it. And we respect the agency which has a long standing.” The distancing was quick, defiant, merciless. As a consultant editor, Sardesai may not be on the company rolls, so can get away with it. But, being on the show as an editor getting paid an honorarium, he cannot wash off the responsibility. What if the exit poll had been bang on? Would he have still distanced!
Two, the argument gives the media a quiet opportunity to return to the cool shadow of the ruling alliance’s umbrella in Delhi. If the exit polls came true, the media would have preened better than the peacocks that Prime Minister Modi feeds to tell the world they are not “godi”. That would have to wait for another day.
Also Read: Bihar Exit Poll: Gathbandhan Has Slight Edge
No such thing as undecided voter or silent majority
The media was largely clear about where its interests lay. Its special shows on “jungle raj”, its ham-fisted assessment of Tejashwi, its amplified exuberance for the Prime Minister’s speeches, its unbridled excitement at the BJP’s LJP experiment, its near-obituary of Nitish Kumar, all of them benefited the BJP just as the latter must have imagined. The media needs to be reminded that in an Indian election, and certainly in Bihar, there is no such thing as an undecided voter or a silent majority. We tend to come up with theories to suit the results of the elections. That is all. Exceptions, in this case, do not prove the rule.
Moral of the election
Moral of the election: Tejashwi will live to fight another day. The Hindutva forces will live to further destabilise political morality on any number of days. Caste is an Indian reality and it will not go away. A counter-mobilisation to Tejashwi that helped the BJP, the result of Hindutva sentiment giving up its objection to aligning with caste sentiment, in fact both complementing each other, in the second and third phases of the Bihar elections, is a phenomenon to watch as Bihar enters the post-Mandal age of frontier justice.
(Views are personal. The author is a journalist, academic, blogger and impatient commentator on politics, media, democracy.)