Bihar verdict, by-poll results consolidate ruling party’s position after Covid criticism
GN Bureau | November 11, 2020
Though his government’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has often evoked sharp criticisms from many quarters, the result of latest round of elections – the all-crucial assembly election in Bihar and a slew of by-elections – once again proves that people are large continue to repose faith in his leadership and there is no alternative to him.
The transformation is stark especially in Bihar, where the Janata Dal (United) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar had routed the BJP five years ago. The JD(U) then chose to join the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), and has won far fewer seats (43) than the ally BJP (74). The BJP has said that Nitish Kumar will remain the chief minister of the coalition government, but the equation is clear and the BJP has finally made its mark in Bihar.
For the party, this is a significant accomplishment, because the victory comes amid multiple challenges. The migrant crisis topped the list: when the central government decided to impose strict lockdown across the country with the initial spike in the Covid-19 infections, a large number of labourers in cities with industrial hubs faced immense hardships, as their temporary jobs got terminated, there was no way for them to keep on sustaining themselves in the cities, and most were forced to return home. Some walked, some cycled, for hundreds of kilometres under a summer sun. Bihar, along with Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, was their destination, and their travails were expected to hurt the BJP’s electoral fortunes. That did not happen, with majority of people keeping their faith in Modi’s administrative abilities.
Another challenge came from a surprising source: Former chief minister Lalu Prasad’s son, Tejashwi Yadav, rejuvenated their Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and drew big crowds in election rallies. Most exit polls saw him winning the battle. Tejashwi has indeed captured popular imagination and struck a chord with the youth. He has in fact made the RJD the single largest party in the assembly with 75 seats. Yet, he could not beat the ruling alliance as his key alliance partner, the Congress (19), failed to deliver, though the three Left parties in their Mahagathbandhan turned up a surprise by winning 16 seats.
Nitish’s own long reign, and thus anti-incumbency, too could have been a challenge. He has been the chief minister since 2005, barring a brief break in 2014-15. While his popularity has certainly been dented, his dramatic transformation of Bihar – ending long years of mis-governance and corruption – has earned him a substantial political capital, which he has retained through the latest election too.
Elsewhere, in 59 by-elections in various states, the BJP remained in prime position – especially in the state where it is in power. In Madhya Pradesh, where Jyotiraditya Scindia had quit the Congress and joined the BJP along with his supporters, helping bring the latter to power, the party has won 19 of the 28 seats, and now enjoys comfortable majority in the house. By-elections were necessitated in Gujarat for the same reason – Congress MLAs shifting to the BJP. There again, the BJP made a clean sweep, winning all eight seats. The party won seven seats in Uttar Pradesh, while the Samajwadi Party managed to win one. The BJP victories have a wide footprint too. In Karnataka, the party won both the seats where by-elections were held. In Manipur, it won four of the five seats. The party also won the single seat in Telangana.
The BJP, however, could not win the sole seat in Haryana, where the Congress emerged victorious. The Congress also won the single seat in Chhattisgarh, and one more in Jharkhand, where the ruling Jharkhand Mukti Morcha won the other seat.
The voters largely seem content with the state-level ruling dispensation, as the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) cornered the single seat that went to by-polls in Odisha.
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