1. Nitish Kumar’s popularity
Perhaps the most decisive factor for the Grand Alliance was Nitish Kumar’s popularity among Bihar voters. Nitish Kumar emerged as the most popular chief ministerial candidate in almost all the surveys. The anti-incumbency factor has rarely ever been enough to win an election and voters have started rewarding a performing CM at a pan-India level. When Narendra Modi was Gujarat CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan was Madhya Pradesh CM, Raman Singh was Chhattisgarh CM and Navin Patnaik was Odisha CM, all of them won their state elections on their individual popularity, even though their parties had mixed results in the Lok Sabha polls. By winning Bihar for the third time, Nitish has proved that a popular and performing CM can win state elections and buck the national trend.
2. State vs Lok Sabha
Voters are increasingly showing a tendency to differentiate between different kinds of elections. They have started electing their representatives as per the horses-for-courses principle. This was clearly evident during the Delhi assembly elections. While the BJP won all seven seats during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it got an unexpected and unprecedented drubbing in the 2015 assembly polls and was able to win only three out of seventy seats. A general refrain among Delhi voters was that they preferred Narendra Modi as the PM but Arvind Kejriwal as the CM. Taking a cue from the Delhi elections, Nitish Kumar’s communications team under Prashant Kishore, who had advised PM Modi during the Lok Sabha polls but had joined hands with the Bihar CM for the assembly elections, was able to exploit this PM-CM dichotomy and brilliantly pegged it as a “Bihari vs Bahari” fight. Not surprisingly, Bihar showed greater preference for a Bihari.
3. The RSS chief’s quota remark
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment on the need to have a rethink of caste-based reservation came at the most inopportune moment for the BJP. Bihar has always been the validating state for the saying “Indians don’t cast their vote but vote their caste”. Bhagwat’s remark on reservations was like a “free hit” for the Grand Alliance, with RJD chief Lalu Prasad calling it a forward vs backward contest. Though the BJP repeatedly assured the people of Bihar that it would name an OBC as their CM after the elections, the damage had already been done.
4. A trust deficit between Muslims and the BJP
There has always been a trust deficit between Muslims and the BJP. There are 15% Muslims in Bihar and they were always going to be a challenge for the BJP. The division of Muslim votes was a big plus for the BJP during the 2014 general elections. However, the coming together of Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar helped consolidate the Muslim vote and acted as a force-multiplier in the assembly elections. Moreover, incidents like the Dadri lynching and other rows over beef, may have further motivated Muslims to vote against the BJP.
5. Akbaruddin Owaisi’s no-show
Akbaruddin Owaisi with his All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) was supposed to be the X-factor in the Bihar elections. Overall, his entry was being counted as a plus for the BJP. But as the elections progressed, the Grand Alliance managed to portray Owaisi as a vote-spoiler and he failed to make any impact.
6. The withering away of the Congress
The Congress continues to wither away in India. However, the Congress’s loss is not turning into the BJP’s gain. In fact, the BJP paid a heavy price in Delhi as a majority of disgruntled Congress voters opted for AAP. Any bipolar contest minus the Congress, especially if Muslims constitute a significant chunk of voters as in the case of Bihar, becomes more difficult for the BJP. Knowing that it was fighting a losing battle in Bihar, the Congress was keen to ensure the BJP not have a free run. It was instrumental in bringing the JD(U) and the RJD together and prevailed upon Lalu Prasad to accept Nitish Kumar as the CM candidate. That’s how the ‘grand old party’ made sure the BJP did not have an easy run.
7. The law of diminishing returns catches up with PM Modi
PM Modi continues to be the most popular leader in the country. But the BJP can’t hope to win every election in his name. When Modi was campaigning in the 2014 general elections, he had a formidable record as the Gujarat CM and that attracted voters. But, as the PM, he has to answer for a number of issues, like the sudden spiral in pulses’ prices. It is to Modi’s credit that he is still able to pull a large crowd at his rallies but the law of diminishing returns is catching up with him.
8. The absence of any local leadership
There was a time when state leaders used to be the BJP’s greatest strength. Modi in Gujarat, Shivraj in Madhya Pradesh, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan – they all were the envy of the Congress. But with the ascendance of Modi as the PM, a centralising tendency has crept into the BJP and state leaders have been marginalized. In some places, their participation became merely perfunctory. In a close contest like Bihar, a disinterested local leadership was always going to be a big minus for the BJP.
9. VK Singh ‘dog’ remark on dalit deaths
Union minister V K Singh’s ill-phrased comment that the government cannot be held responsible if a stone is thrown at a dog – in the context of the murder of two dalit children in Faridabad – gave another chance to the Grand Alliance to consolidate its hold over the dalit votes. Both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad quickly jumped in to criticize Singh. “Aghast at the senseless comment made by some BJP leaders, including the Union minister, on tragic Dalit killings in Haryana,” Nitish Kumar said in a tweet.
10. No helicopter campaigning
While Arvind Kejriwal did not campaign for the Grand Alliance in Bihar, he seems to have given some tips to Nitish Kumar. Like Kejriwal’s Delhi dialogues, Nitish also did a Har Ghar Dastak(Knock-on-Doors)campaign, which helped create an interpersonal relationship with voters. Instead of just speaking at a few big rallies, Nitish Kumar opted to address a larger number of people, albeit with smaller, individual crowds. This move was designed to make voters feel closer to their leader. It paid rich dividends for the Bihar CM.