The Bihar electorate has sent out a resounding message to the Indian political system in the recently concluded Bihar Assembly Elections, that their traditional electoral arithmetic based on minority captive vote-banks, combined with exploitation of caste-based combinations by regional political leaders mouthing secularism but creating social divides, is no longer valid. More significantly, and here I would tend to agree with the comments of Arun Jaitley, a senior BJP leader, that the Indian electorate is no longer captivated and mesmerized by dynastic political leaders or family based selection of political candidates. This was obviously a reference to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi unable to swing the electorate in favor of the Congress, Rabri Devi losing both her seats despite her stint as Bihar Chief Minister when she replaced Lalu Yadav as Chief Minister of Bihar when her husband was convicted. Also swept away in the present Assembly elections were wives and relatives of a number of notable Bihar leaders.
The Bihar Assembly Elections overwhelming electoral verdict in favor of the Janata Dal- Bharatiya Janata Party Coalition sets a new political dynamic in Indian politics. This election was not fought on any political ideologies of the political parties concerned or the traditional Bihar castes-based electoral arithmetic. This election was solely fought on the issues of development, law and order and social justice. The Chief Minister Nitish Kumar had made this as the main election plank of the campaign.
More heartening, the traditional captive Muslim vote-banks politics of the Congress Party and Lalu Yadav seem to have gone for a six. The Muslims of Bihar, sizeable sections of them, seemed to have opted for casting their electoral preference in favor of ‘development, law and order and social justice’. It is a message that the Muslim youth has opted for modernity rather than being enslaved as mute members of a captive vote-bank engineered by their community leaders for political and other gains.
The important political question that arises from the Bihar Assembly Elections resounding mandate is as to whether this political trend could be replicated in other economically backward States of India. Many analysts believe that India can expect this political phenomenon to be repeated in other States of India too. In particular this could develop into a major headache for the Congress Party.
The Congress Part needs to be concerned for a number of good reasons. The first being as political analysts and observers have already started analyzing as to whether the dominating and oversized brand value of Congress dynastic icons has lost luster or getting jaded for the Indian electorate.
In the wake of this Bihar verdict Congress spokespersons were unable to explain the mismatch between the large Bihari voter turnout at the election rallies of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in Bihar and the poor election results where Congress tally went down significantly from the last Elections. They seemed to have missed the point that large voter turnout at election rallies of Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi may have resulted from the ‘curiosity factor’ of the voters and which necessarily does not translate into votes for the Congress.
The Congress Party would also now have to think whether their strategy of not letting regional Congress leaders to blossom and outshine those at Headquarters on the strength of their local charisma and their potential for executing local development schemes, needs a rethink.
The BJP cannot rest on its laurels of having significantly increased the number of seats that it won in Bihar this time. It must realize that both from Nitish Kumar and his party, and so also from the BJP, the Bihar electorate would expect a redoubled pace of economic development of Bihar. The BJP also has to guard against the “Conressification” of their Party by over-centralization of the BJP and allowing Congress culture to seep in of destabilizing Chief Ministers who seem to be emerging strongly.
The CPI (M) has already remarked that it needs to note why the Bihar electorate voted as it did in view of the forthcoming Assembly Elections in West Bengal where they have been in power for decades.
In Punjab, where the Congress Party is making a bid to regain power from the Akalis, the Congress leadership at the Center may need to advise CaptAmrinder Singh to harp more on development priorities as opposed to running to ‘Deras’ of ‘Mahants’ and ‘Sants’ to seek captive vote-banks of these religious godmen with not too savory reputations.
All in all, the Bihar electoral verdict cannot be dismissed as a one-on phenomenon. It seems to portend the beginning of a trend that has the potential of being repeated in other States. I salute the Bihari voters for ushering in a new political dynamic in India’s rotten political system .
Cartoon (c) Mahendra Bhawsar