Defying exit poll predictions, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has retained power in Bihar. At the time of going to press (11:45 pm), the NDA had wins/leads in 124 out of the 243 assembly constituencies in the state, two above the halfway mark of 122.

The Mahagathbandhan (MGB) had wins/leads in 111 ACs. The NDA comprises the Janata Dal (United), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Vikasshel Insan Party (VIP) and the Hindustani Awam Morcha Secular (HAM). The JD(U) and the BJP have allocated seats from the HAM and VIP from their own quota.

The MGB has the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and the three left parties, namely the Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist Liberation (CPI-ML), Communist Party of India Marxist (CPI-M) and the Communist Party of India (CPI). An HT analysis shows that the headline numbers on seat shares hide a lot of nuances which define the 2020 Bihar contest.

This was a really close election

While the NDA has a 5.3 percentage point lead over the MGB in terms of seat share, they had almost identical vote shares of 37.21% and 37.23%. To be sure, this is not the first time that a winning party/coalition has got a disproportionately higher seat share than its vote share. For example in the Congress managed to surge ahead of the BJP in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh elections in terms of seats, despite getting a lower vote share than the latter.

 

The NDA’s vote share is the lowest for the winning alliance in Bihar since the 2010 assembly elections, and only slightly higher than 36.1% vote share of the NDA in the elections held in 2005 October. The vote share of parties outside the two major alliances has increased to 25.6%, 1.5 percentage points more than the 2015 assembly elections. The fact that the non-NDA non-MGB parties have won just 3.3% of the ACs, the lowest since October 2005, shows that they have acted largely as spoilers in these elections.

See Chart 1: Vote share and seat share of NDA, RJD plus and others in Bihar

The NDA got its act together from the second phase onwards

A phase-wise analysis of the elections suggests that the NDA gained a massive momentum after the first phase. While the MGB won 67.6% of the 71 ACs in the first phase, its strike rate dropped to 44.7% and 26.9% in the second and third phase. For the NDA, strike rates improved in each phase; from 29.6% in the first phase to 54.3% and 66.7% in the second and third phase. This pattern suggests a silent counter-polarisation behind the NDA, indication that its strategy of attacking the MGB by evoking memories of “jungle-raj”; a term often used to attack poor governance when the RJD was in power from 1999 to 2005, has paid rich dividends. The fact that the MGB was shown as gathering momentum as the polls progressed might actually have aided this counter-consolidation. An HT analysis of gender-wise voting pattern shows that women vote might have played a big role in the NDA’s victory.

See Chart 2: Phase-wise strike rate

An election of churning in both identity and ideology

An established way of analysing elections, especially in the crucial states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh has been to use the binary of social identity versus Hindutva. While the forces of Mandal, a term used for parties which have had their core support base among other backward classes (OBCs), such as the RJD and the Samajwadi Party, have banked on a dominant OBC plus Muslim consolidation, the BJP has tried to build a rainbow Hindu coalition to counter this strategy. In Bihar, the JD(U) has been an integral component of the BJP’s strategy of building a disparate Hindu coalition against the RJD’s Muslim-Yadav support base. Both the Congress and the left got pushed out in this realignment of political forces.

The 2020 Bihar elections suggest a churning on both the identity and ideology fronts. The fact that the BJP has performed much better than the JD(U) shows that the votaries of Hindutva are increasingly asserting that the BJP should replace the JD(U) as the senior partner in the NDA in Bihar. An almost mirror image of this phenomenon can be seen in the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) impressive performance in the Muslim dominated Seemanchal region of Bihar. It shows that a significant section of Muslims have given up on being supporters of the RJD and are willing to do business with a party which champions their identity, even at the risk of bringing the BJP to power. In the five ACs where the AIMIM has won is leading, MGB candidates were in the third position in four ACs, whereas the NDA was in the second place.

Similarly, the fact that the left parties, which are expected to have a more coherent ideological critique of the BJP, have outperformed both the RJD and the Congress in terms of strike rate in the MGB, suggests that merely evoking identity or adopting a centrist plank, might not be enough to counter the BJP’s political appeal in today’s age.

See Chart 3: Party-wise strike rate of NDA and MGB partners

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