The Bihar verdict is a massive endorsement by the electorate for the Nitish model of development. It is a recognition of his work for the past ten years which has brought the state out of deep pits. Despite severe odds of financial inadequacy and systemic inertia he has been able to give Bihar a growth rate more or at par with developed states such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Punjab. His policies and incentives have brought down the below poverty line population substantially and raised school enrolment to phenomenal level. He has put in place administrative mechanisms which have kept communal situation from getting out of control despite provocations.
The verdict shows that despite his various ‘mistakes’ – such as resigning as chief minister after the adverse Lok Sabha verdict and selecting and removing Jeetan Ram Manjhi as his successor, added to his alliance with a ‘discredited’ political leader Lalu Prasad – people reposed trust in him. This is a big achievement, indeed. Especially when you look at the gigantic odds the BJP presented to him. The BJP put Narendra Modi as the face of the alliance it led. Never before had a prime minister addressed so many rallies in a state election. The stakes for the BJP and Narendra Modi were very high. There were two main reasons: one, the party and Modi were determined to defeat Nitish Kumar because he had ‘betrayed’ them and broken away after Modi was nominated as the party prime minister candidate. It was a direct affront to Modi. They wanted to prove that Nitish Kumar committed a blunder in breaking away from them.
They put all resources behind their campaign. Organizationally, the RSS posted its men in towns and villages for gathering grassroots information and motivating people. The party placed its workers who were to coordinate with them to find out how the voters were thinking, what issues were agitating them, which party of the alliance and which candidate would be suitable for a constituency. Ministers of the Modi government and local party leaders were given specific charge of districts and constituencies for what they called ‘micro managing’. Party president Amit Shah set up his camp in the state several weeks before elections. He had set up a central war room with a large number of young persons working on computers that received, fed, processed and analyzed data from and to the grassroots provided by and to the party and RSS units in the towns and villages.
If for one thing, the Bihar elections 2015 is bound to become a reference point for state elections in the future for organizational arrangements not only on the part of the BJP but also on the part of the Grand Alliance of JD(U), RJD and Congress. The GA also set up a war room that collected and analyzed data from the grassroots. The war room could be credited with the research for four months in which they spoke to 30,000 people from different parts of the state. The research led to formulation of the seven-point programme which was propagated during elections as ‘NitishNischay’. This programme seems to have worked on the ground as it promised among other things electricity, piped water, toilet and road access to every home. In terms of organization, the other major positive aspects for the GA were the smooth distribution of seats among the partners and announcement of their candidates, not as party candidates but as GA candidates. In contrast, the BJP distribution of tickets triggered resignations of sitting MLAs and local party leaders who were aspiring to get nomination. Their revolt appears to have worked against the official party candidates.
The verdict is a major setback for the BJP also because Bihar was the only state in the Hindi heartland where the BJP had never ruled singly or as leader of alliance. The BJP also hoped that winning Bihar would aid its expansion in the eastern India. The lessons for the BJP are many. It will have to decide whether raising socially provocative issues pays in elections. The Bihar verdict shows that pitching the Modi model of development against the Nitish model of development might have worked better for the party than talking about beef, Pakistan and GA ‘conspiracy’ to ‘snatch’ 5 per cent of reservations of scheduled castes, tribes and backward classes and give it to ‘a particular community’. The winning of more than two-thirds majority by GA proves that the people did not buy socially provocative issues and voted for the continuity of the development process that Nitish started in 2005. A lot needs to be done to bring Bihar up to the level of developed states. People would judge Nitish Kumar by his performance in the next five years in making lives better for the people of Bihar.