Bihar Verdict & Muslim Votes

Though the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) leaders were confident of winning Bihar elections, they had not expected such a stunning victory. The sweeping victory of Janata Dal-United (JD-U) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance in Bihar assembly elections has left winners as well as losers quite stunned about the role of Muslim votes. While JD-U and BJP, members of NDA are delighted to win elections for the second consecutive term, with Nitish Kumar (JD-U) returning as the Chief Minister, their rivals are musing over what went wrong with their election strategy.

With all parties amazed at Nitish’s success, the Congress is deliberating over where and why did their leaders, particularly Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s “magic” fail in Bihar. Against the backdrop of Bihar holding record as a secular state (on religious issues), where caste-based politics still prevails, Nitish’s sweeping victory spells a major surprise for those who presumed that his alliance with BJP would turn at least Muslim votes in their favor. This is what Congress apparently banked upon and so did the alliance between Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).  Against 115 seats won by JD-U, 91 by BJP, the RJD secured only 22 and LJP -3. In the 243-member assembly, the Congress won four and others eight seats.

The Congress contested polls, without openly aligning with any other party. With it being in power at the center, the Congress was probably hopeful that political tide in Bihar would turn in its favor. During the last assembly elections, the Congress and RJD had aligned. What stands out is that in contrast to NDA having contested the Bihar polls, keeping their alliance intact, the opposite was the political strategy of Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which heads the central government. Bihar assembly elections witnessed the parties linked with UPA at the center, including the Congress, the RJD-LJP combine, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and others parting ways. Had they fought the polls as an alliance, they would have certainly fared better.

A rudimentary analysis indicates that the NDA alliance has won several seats, where it has captured lesser votes against what addition of votes secured by RJD and Congress projects. For instance, JD-U has won Imamganj by winning 44126 votes, while RJD has got 42915 and the Congress 4478 seats. In Samastipur, BJP has won by capturing 51664 votes, while LJP has got 46443, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-8055 and Congress - 3870 votes. Undeniably, there are several seats where NDA candidates have a massive lead against their rivals, which they would have probably won even if the UPA parties had fought as one alliance. Nevertheless, it cannot be ignored that Bihar elections have also tested the political strength of the NDA alliance, which the UPA has failed to match.

NDA’s strength was also tested during the election-campaign, when BJP leaders conceded to JD-U’s stand on not permitting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to campaign for them in Bihar. Nitish was naturally fearful that entry of Modi in Bihar would turn away the Muslim voters from supporting him. He also played on the Muslim-card. The new Bihar assembly has 19 Muslim members, with seven from JD-U, six -RJD, three-Congress, two-LJP and one from BJP. It may be noted that JD-U fielded 15 Muslim candidates, Congress-48, RJD-28 and LJP-12. On this front too, political calculations of JD-U have fared much better than that of other parties, with more than 45 percent of its Muslim candidates, including two women, winning the elections. The women are Parveen Amanullah and Razia Khatoon. Parveen is the first Muslim woman to be included in the Bihar cabinet in around three decades’ time.

Incidentally, though a lot of hype has been raised about split in Muslim votes having turned the political tide in NDA’s favor, a few crucial points cannot be missed. Though there are three more Muslim legislators in this assembly against there being only 16 in the last, the number doesn’t match the population of Muslims in Bihar. The Muslims form 16.5 percent of the state’s population. Their representation in Bihar assembly is not close to even 50 percent of what it should be in keeping with their population in the state. This is partly attributed to percentage of Muslim vote having been quite low, less than 40 percent.

Besides, around three dozen Muslims have finished second in the elections, with a few losing by razor-thin margins. Faraz Fatmi (RJD) lost in Keoti by 29 votes. Fatmi secured 45762 votes, against 45791won by Ashok Kumar Yadav (BJP). The Congress candidate Mohd. Mohsin finished third by getting 5679 votes. The Keoti-pattern also reaffirms point made earlier that had UPA alliance had not parted ways in Bihar, the result would most probably have been different. This is further indicated by NDA winning 84 percent of Bihar assembly seats by capturing only 39 percent of the votes. Their political strategy succeeded while that of UPA collapsed in Bihar!