November 26, 2010

bihar elections and a reality check

Bihar elections in 2010 have proved some 'myths' and disproved some 'facts'. The most, it is making people give extreme judgements on caste, development, Nitish's charm, etc etc.

India News Today gives below some ground realities that need to be kept in mind while judging Bihar elections.

  •  In Bihar, caste remains a strong reality. Caste here means [unlike in metros and big towns where youth from the 'higher castes' seem to have a genuine grudge against 'reservationists' taking away their jobs without fair competition] deprivation and humiliation versus economic dominance and muscle power.

  • Nitish was not a caste-less politician. He rather cultivated some castes too well. His casteism has been different from Lalu-Paswan casteism in that (i) he has tried to reach the economic benefits to the castes he's sought to favour more than others; (ii) in doing so, he has not discriminated against other castes; and (iii) his social justice has gone to the needy and downtrodden, not to his kin and his own community.
  •  Bihar still remains a poorly-developed state. In Nitish's rule, roads, electricity, children's enrolment in school, primary health etc have got a boost, but the benefits have reached sparsely and have not reached many parts of the state. Nitish has not been able to implement many recommendations for social and economic development, but his overall score is commendable.
  • Bihar politics will also remain criminal infested, whichever party comes to power. JD(U), with the biggest seat share has also the largest number of criminals getting into the Legislative Assembly. 
    • In the current elections, the NDA has got just 39% of the votes polled. The constituent parties, JD(U) and BJP,  have got only about 3 percent vote swing in its favour. Yet, this is significant. NDA has not only retained its support base, it has brought in fence-sitters. This, despite the usual anti-incumbency factor that would go againt the ruling formation if it did not perfom well. There was no anti-Lalu wave but Nitish's genuine-sounding contrast of his own rule with that of Lalu-Rabri rule seems to have made people think. 
    • Nitish's win is as much a vote in favour of his image and his work, as it is his keen political acumen supported by a sensible poss strategy. There was opposition from within his party as he did not favour the partymen too much during his rule; his alliance with BJP was a double-edged sword.
    • Poll alliances do matter: had BJP- JD(U) combine split, BJP would sure have lost some seats and so would JD(U). Not to talk of sentiment, even by simple arithmetic it would have harmed the constituent parties. For example, BJP would have to fight elections in more seats than it fought [102] and wold not have won there but would have taken away some of JD(U) seats. On the other hand, in the 91 constituencies that it has won, it would have had to suffer fight with JD(U) instead of getting voter and party support. 
    • It is only a matter of speculation whether Lalu-Congress-LJP combine would have given a bigger challenge to Nitish-BJP. However, it is logical that people would have thought of it as an alternative to Nitish. Some undecided lot might have jumped towards them and given them a few more seats. Besides, as argued above, the non-NDA votes would not have got divided so badly. 
    • The fracturing of votes partly due to Congress and RJD not going together has resulted in smaller parties getting a whopping 27 percent vote share.

    • Direct benefit of a scheme to those for whom this is life-changer seems to pay instant dividend: It is widely believed that the NREGS helped UPA win for the second term. In the case of Bihar, teacher recruitment, providing dress to the policemn and salaries to teachers, school enrolments, giving cycles to girl students, cash benefits for cleanliness etc given by Nitish government must have influenced poor voters a great deal. Similarly, a good law and order situation must have influenced middle class and women. Such influences seem to cut across party and community lines.
    • When people get fed-up with violence and poor governance, they would brave difficulties and threats to teach the wrong-doers a lesson. They defied Maoist threats and thronged to poliing booths in large numbers, and they didn't forgive Lalu-Rabri and their musclemen kin. Earlier, they seemd to have wilted under threat from musclemen, but this time they gave the muscles two hoots. As much as clean governance, people seem to vote for clean image of the leader [in Western context, it would mean more in the sense of sexual relationships] when other things are equal. Since the voting population in India is mostly a victim of routine corruption, the slur of dishonesty sticks life-long on politicians.
    • Timing of campaigns also matters. Congress suffered for many reasons. One of them could be too early and small-time entry of Rahul Gandhi on the scene. His impact might have been washed away by Nitish's subsequent showing.

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