Bihar Elections-2020: Was Chirag Paswan BJP’s Conscious Strategy?


 

Defying all exit polls, the BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) came back to power with a simple majority in the closely fought Bihar Assembly Elections-2020, giving the fourth consecutive CM-term and fifth overall to Nitish Kumar. All of the exit polls gave simple to two-third majority to the MGB (Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance) led by the young energetic face of Bihar, Tejaswi Yadav, son of the Bihar stalwart and former Chief Minister for three terms, Laloo Prasad Yadav, who had been in jail since a long time on corruption cases, and predicted Tejaswi to be the next CM. One or two exit polls indicated, in the worst scenario, a hung assembly.

 

Various reasons have been ascribed for the incredible comeback of the NDA against all odds. The primary reasons are: the continuing influence of the Modi-factor, the 12 crucial rallies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bihar where he warned people against falling for the ‘Jungle Reign’ of the RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) led by Laloo and family, a majority of the women voters favoring Modi and the NDA, and that Asaduddin Owaisi, MP and President of AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen), deciding to contest on its own in all the Muslim-dominated regions of the state, and thus weaning away crucial votes that RJD (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and the Congress were expected to garner for the MGB.

 

However, the most crucial factor or the so-called X-factor had been the pre-poll acrobatics of the Lok Janshakti Dal (LJP which was formed in 2000 by Ram Vilas Paswan) led by Member of Parliament Chirag Paswan, son of another stalwart of Bihar politics, Ram Vilas Paswan, who had been a central minister for the NDA government in India and unfortunately died on 8th October this year. He also served as a minister in the UPA government earlier under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. When Ram Vilas was alive in the first week of October the LJP left the NDA in Bihar saying that they did not want to fight elections under Nitish Kumar, and would continue to support BJP fighting on its own. So, the LJP went ahead contesting as many as 143 seats in the 243-seat Bihar legislative assembly.

 

After the demise of Ram Vilas, Chirag had been consistently opposing the leadership of Nitish Kumar and saying that they would be devoted to Modi and BJP and would form a government with the BJP in a new alliance. So, a situation emerged where a party not in the time-tested BJP alliance led a campaign against an integral NDA partner while vowing all the support for the BJP. And the BJP leadership kept mum all the time on Chirag utterances and deeds. This politically-unique Chirag-factor has been discussed and analyzed by various political experts all the while; but since the absurd situation made my head break at times, I decided to write about it.

 

It is not at all practical to assume that the BJP think-tank was not aware of the strong anti-incumbency wave against three-term-CM Nitish Kumar and open public anger for his mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and the migrant workers of the state. The party leadership must have thought about it, and after much brainstorming must have approved the Chirag factor. There were obvious reasons why this strategy would work:

v This was sure to improve the acceptability of the BJP as it in a way joined the voters in their wrath against the serving Chief Minister;

v BJP has been known to playing as a Big Brother in any alliance in states, and this strategy would either eliminate Nitish’s JDU (Janata Dal-United) from the alliance entirely or would reduce its numbers drastically making its influence much weaker;

v Even if the probability of forming a BJP-LJP government in Bihar was far remote, the Chirag-factor would at least contribute as a vote-cutter, mostly affecting the JDU candidates and also for the RJD and other partners of the MGB like the Congress and the Left; and

v This strategy can also be seen as an effective counter against the surging young leader Tejaswi putting up another energetic young promising leader in the guise of Chirag.

Now, after the results were finally declared in the wee hours of 11th November the following benefits to the BJP were apparent:

v BJP’s tally of seats increased remarkably to 74, almost making it the singe largest party in the assembly;

v As was anticipated, JDU’s seats got hit to the extent of a loss of 28 seats, effectively making it the junior partner in the alliance;

v As the margins of victories in the suspense-thriller of an election were very thin the Chirag vote-cutting visibly harmed the prospects of RJD and the Congress primarily, in many crucial assembly constituencies; and

v Even though the LJP finally managed to win only one seat it has emerged strongly as an ally for the BJP in future.

Of course, the strategy had its elements or risks that Nitish Kumar would decide to feel insulted and humiliated by the actions of non-NDA Chirag Paswan, and would walk out of the alliance post-poll which eventuality would have made the situation ripe for a Maharashtra-like twist. Therefore, the BJP always maintained that JDU had been an integral part of the NDA and Nitish Kumar was always the Chief Minister candidate. After declaration of the results the BJP has again reiterated the fifth term for Nitish. In the event of a BJP-LJP majority Nitish would have definitely been out even as Nitish said, emotionally and also significantly, in his last rally that it was going to be his last election.

 

How effectively the NDA alliance in Bihar works in the coming months and years is to be observed and seen. MGB has emerged as a great force in the state with 110 seats, and it will not be an easy ride for the NDA at 125 seats. Creating more and more jobs and tackling the migrant workers expertly would be the acid test for the new government, and the MGB won many hearts in Bihar with its focus on creation of jobs. In an expected move today, the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while announcing another pandemic-stimulus package listed out a plethora of measures for job creation across the country.

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