Bihar 2019: The caste advantage lies with the NDA in this state
Contrary to their critics' views, the BJP is comfortable in Bihar, given its core caste votaries and strategic partners. A few lost allies won't change that reality.
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Bihar’s polity has realigned instead of being revolutionised in the run-up to the Lok Sabha 2019 polls. We assert this in the light of static caste calculus and leadership dynamics in the state.
All major leaders continue to retain a strong grip on their respective social groups that will vote their castes, instead of casting their votes.
The NDA looks good in Bihar. (Photo: PTI)
The main fight is between the NDA, composed of the JD(U), BJP and LJP on one side versus the UPA, composed of the RJD, INC, Kushwaha (RLSP) and Manjhi (HAM) on the other side.
In reality, the UPA faces a fight in Patna. (Photo: PTI)
The key to winning Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats lies in concocting the most potent social coalition. The BJP+ and RJD+’s baseline vote shares hover around 30% – it is the remaining 40% voters that decide the election. On a standalone basis, the BJP was able to prove its might in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections against a disjointed field composed of RJD and JD(U) going alone.
The tables were reversed in the 2015 Vidhan Sabha polls where an RJD-JD(U) Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) was able to trounce a lonely BJP that was assisted by smaller players such as the LJP, RLSP and HAM.
The 2019 scene is almost a mirror opposite of the 2015 scenario. Now, the RJD+ is being assisted by the RLSP and HAM whereas JD(U) has moved into an alliance with the NDA. Therefore, if anything, it is the NDA that has formed the grand alliance rather than the UPA.
A back of the envelope way of calculating the same is to take the rough amount of the caste vote share of Paswan’s LJP and Nitish’s JD(U) and adding it to the BJP’s vote share. Taking a baseline 30% vote share for the BJP, we can add roughly 5% vote of Paswan and 10% vote share of Nitish’s Kurmi-Koiri base.
The resulting vote share of 45% is a formidable one.
We have discounted the Muslim vote base of the JD(U) but assumed that the advantage enjoyed by the NDA-Nitish combine in terms of women voters and first-time voters stays put.
Sceptics might question the assumption of static social bases merely realigning to produce the Lok Sabha 2019 results. The argument may assert a spring in the step of the opposition and some hidden wave of anger conspiring to humble the NDA in Bihar. Such a scenario is unlikely to materialise on count of past voting patterns and a comparatively iron-clad social compartmentalisation of votes in Bihar.
In 2015, NDA helmed by the BJP was on a rampage and enjoyed a wave voting pattern across various states – yet, it was unable to breach the JD(U)-RJD fortress even after figuring out micro-alliances and its trademark ‘panna pramukh’ style of campaigning.
The good old days of that earlier mahagathbandhan. (Photo: PTI)
The wheezing victories of the INC in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan hardly inspire the specter of a nation-wide wave against the NDA. Thus, an NDA that was unable to overwhelm the caste calculus at its prime is unlikely to be challenged by a UPA that is not at its prime – especially when the caste advantage now lies with the NDA.
Finally, there is the question of allies deserting the NDA in Bihar. The departures of Kushwaha and Manjhi are being looked upon with great interest. Some analysts are treating this as indicative of a fraying NDA. The reality is a bit mundane as an alliance of BJP-JD(U)-LJP leaves little space to adjust the smaller players, especially when even the BJP had to concede seats.
The departure of smaller allies is not a real worry for the NDA in Bihar. (Photo: PTI)
In fact, Bihar is one state where the BJP is facing a problem of plenty as opposed to a drought of pre-poll allies elsewhere. Going into the 2019 LS polls, Bihar is poised to deliver an advantage to the NDA.