After all the brouhaha over a likely stunning upset of the BJP-JDU alliance in the exit polls, November 10, 2020 felt like a hangover after a tipsy night before.
It must not have been easy being Tejashwi Yadav. Practically all exit polls gave the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress-Left parties Mahagathbandhan (MGB), the Grand Alliance, a clear majority, with two of them with a penchant for blockbuster predictions even going so far as to suggest two-thirds majority for the MGB.
A victory was on the cards: what remained suspenseful was only the magnitude of the triumph.
The Grand Alliance and the Congress was not short of talking points. In a normal universe, any political party at the helm would have got obliterated. Bihar’s migrants had suffered enormously following the abrupt lockdown announcement in March 2020.
Millions were devastated by the brutal punch in empty stomachs. Television screens were full of tragic stories of families walking hundreds of miles, desolate and despondent, on deserted highways.
Those who survived the coronavirus pandemic, could not escape the scorching summer heat and tired limbs. It was a humanitarian catastrophe that captured global headlines.
It revealed the mammoth administrative failure of the Modi government making them appear disinterested, if not altogether, disinclined to alleviate migrants’ miseries. From a perception standpoint, the cataclysmic failure would have long-term repercussions on the Bharatiya Janata Party, was the general consensus.
People do not forget their tormentors in a hurry. By the time the government arranged for special trains to transport migrants home from Delhi, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, etc. back home to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bengal, the damage was done.
That this was an emotive electoral issue in Bihar was hardly surprising. In fact, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was seen as a villain of the piece who did precious little to arrange transport, unlike his UP counterpart, Yogi Adityanath.
There are 30 million migrants who traverse the country, leaving home and hearth looking for jobs that can help them to get a decent livelihood. If an average size of a family is 4, there are 120 million citizens of the state who would be extremely piqued at the way they were treated.
Thus, there would be caste-neutral and religion agnostic voting. For the MGB, this was a moment to seize, to fight for the oppressed. But tried as hard as they did they clearly could not communicate their empathy to the suffering multitude.
They could not demonstrate their panacea for the whopping size of unemployed youth either, albeit Bihar’s jobless throngs were at least momentarily captivated by Yadav’s talismanic pronouncement of 10 lakh government jobs on day one.
In the end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trademark hyperbole held sway; the double-engine of growth versus the double-dynastic successors who brought in jungle raj fifteen years ago.
That the people of Bihar forgot their current wretched predicament when reminded of a period of terrible mal-governance about 16,000 days earlier, is a poor reflection on the MGB’s counter-attack political strategy.
They appeared like sacrificial lambs, bereft of smart defensive tactics, awaiting electoral slaughter. Bihar’s numbers on NCRB these days are far from flattering (for instance, Bihar is number one in communal or religious violence in India, based on available statistics).
The Congress gave a rather dilettantish argument that had Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM political party not contested at the behest of their alleged guardian BJP, the minority vote consolidation would have led to strengthening of the ‘secular forces’ in Seemanchal.
Frankly, that appeared to be a tenuous defense of its abject performance. Owaisi is an inspiring orator, fiery and passionate, and when need be conveniently inflammatory who reciprocates the hardliner tribalism that is espoused by Hindutva apostles. Owaisi ended up winning a crucial five seats and making a grand foray into the state assembly.
That the Grand Old Party was now hanging precariously by the coat-tails of an ascending 31-year-old Tejashwi exhibited its emaciated electoral base. It had settled for 70 seats, and ended up winning 19 of them.
Ultimately, its meagre tally would reduce the MGB to below the half-way mark of 122 seats. The silver lining is that they had almost equal vote-share (NDA got 37.26% against UPA’s 37.23%), but in a first–past-the-post system, it is the winner who takes all.
Thus, there is another five years in the wilderness for MGB, while Nitish Kumar gets an enviable fourth term in a row, which is quite extraordinary.
That PM Modi can say anything he likes and the public buys into it is a manifestation of two elements; the PM has very high credibility despite mammoth governance gaffes, and that the Opposition (particularly the Congress) has no one to match Modi’s towering preponderance over Indian politics.
It is a lopsided, uneven battle. The Congress, after thirty years of political badgering, still manages to win only 19 seats which makes the national party increasingly irrelevant in one of the most crucial states on the roadmap to Delhi. That should worry 24, Akbar Road.
The BJP now parades Modi as their showboat at the hustings fully convinced that he can change the direction of the winds. And Modi is changing north-eastern hurricanes into south-western tailwinds.
And to his credit he does that more often than not.
As for the Congress it utters the right platitudes of protecting the Idea of India, and it sounds good and no one can disagree with its great-hearted intention. But it needs to quickly realise that winning elections is a desideratum to do that.
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