Why Lalu will not make Nitish Kumar the biggest loser of Bihar Elections

I was glued to the TV sets on the Bihar verdict day and witnessed another BJP defeat after Delhi polls in early part of the year. I distinctly remember some BJP spokespersons coming on TV and instead of focussing on how and why they lost, they were shouting at the top of their voice and emphasising that the verdict was a bigger loss for Nitish. Frankly, I was laughing at their theory.

After a week when results have sunk in and I have carried a post-poll analysis, I decided to revisit the topic. Despite leading Mahagathbandhan (MGB) to a fabulous victory, has Nitish Kumar actually lost in these elections? There are two aspects to it – (i) quantitative and (ii) qualitative.

Quantitative Aspect: Two charts below show that JDU performance in 2015 has deteriorated since 2010 Assembly polls.

1. JDU’s vote share reduced by 5.9 per cent and its seats tally declined by 44 in 2015 versus 2010.


2. JDU’s strike rate declined by 11.3 per cent (seats won divided by seats contested) and total votes polled by 1.5 lakhs in 2015 versus 2010.


So, the BJP spokespersons were right? Only partly. The above two charts do not portray the true story as JDU contested in only 101 seats in 2015 versus 141 seats in 2015 (-28 per cent).

The below chart explains this point. The average votes polled per seat of the JDU increased by 36.4 per cent and its vote share in seats contested increased as well by 1.3 per cent.


So this was purely a game of fewer seats contested which led to decline in overall vote share, seats won and total votes polled for JDU.

To sum up, JDU’s performance in 2015 was not bad as headline numbers show up, except for the fact that its strike rate reduced from 81.6 per cent to 70.3 per cent. However, it is still healthy and more than double the strike rate of BJP in these elections (33 per cent). So, from a quantitative aspect, JDU has not lost in these elections as claimed by BJP.

BJP supporters then could argue that Nitish lost the elections the day he decided to give 101 and 41 seats to Lalu and Congress respectively (who had won only 22 and 4 seats in 2010) and decided to contest on only 101 seats despite having 115 MLAs. Well another way to look at it is that Nitish being a shrewd captain gave many seats to Lalu (who was the best batsman in form in LS polls of 2014) and encouraged even the weaker players (Congress) to improve their game.

This is similar to Dada’s gesture of sacrifising his opening slot for Sehwag in the interest of the team at large when Viru paaji made his debut.

Qualitative aspect:

This is the aspect where it can be debated that Nitish may have lost the plot. He may not have envisaged Lalu getting higher seats than his party. He may well have thought that along with his pro-development image and solid Muslim-Yadav (MY) vote bank of Lalu, JDU would end up getting much higher seats. Fear of jungle raj may just deter a section of people from voting for Lalu as expected by political analysts.

On the contrary, Lalu was able to muster up support of his MY vote bank and in fact rode on Nitish popularity negating his jungle raj/corrupt image and surprising all. Of the three projections made by Politicalbaaba, this proved correct (Lalu will get more seats than Nitish) while all others went horribly wrong.

RJD has emerged as the single largest party (80 versus 71 of JDU) and may well demand his pound of flesh from Nitish. In fact, going by the formula being discussed (1 minister for every 5 MLAs), Lalu could end up getting 16 ministries. Lalu has been out of power for long (in the state of Bihar for 10 years and out of central government for past 6 plus years) and could really bargain hard for important ministries. Additionally, with higher number of MLAs, he in a way has the moral authority to run this government. He has openly showed his big brotherly gesture of allowing Nitish to be CM despite his party having won higher number of seats. He has paid back Nitish gesture of giving him equal number of seats, his supporters may say.

A section of people of Bihar sceptical of this verdict say that Lalu could interfere in key policy decisions and not let Nitish roll out his development agenda.

While he would definitely want to have a say in key government decisions, Lalu is a shrewd politician. He knows he can’t fight polls until 2021 and his sons are too young to carry on his legacy. He would in fact want his sons to learn the art of politics from uncle Nitish by being in the cabinet and working closely with him. He is not expected to do anything silly and jeopardise the running of the government.

We saw a newer version of Lalu when he became the railway minister under Manmohan Singh in 2004. He tried hard to change his image and did good work to turn around the loss making railways. His story of success became a case study topic in Harvard University and IIM Ahmedabad. The scam tainted leader had suddenly become a champion of development. I remember travelling in trains during that time and situation had improved during his tenure in terms of cleanliness, timings, quality of food and the likes. So Lalu may actually work towards changing and building a better image for himself as he harbours national ambitions.

Apart from consciously working on the above, Lalu also knows that even in case he pulls the plug sometime in the future if Nitish doesn’t listen to him, there is a slim possibility that JDU may go back to BJP and form the government (71+58=129; simple majority). So Lalu will also remain constrained by this aspect and not go over the board.

Another point which people tend to forget is that Congress is firmly behind Nitish, so it’s actually 98 (JDU+INC) versus 80 for RJD. Congress backed Nitish in his CM bid against Lalu in MGB and Lalu will also need to be wary of this aspect.

What may not work for Lalu though is the fact that 49 of his MLAs face criminal cases (>50 per cent of his strength) and 37 serious criminal charges and may not remain in Lalu’s control after the initial hysteria. A similar trend was visible in Uttar Pradesh where Australia-educated, Akhilesh-led Samajwadi Party to victory in 2012 and became CM. He appeared on English media channels and claimed that he would improve the law and order situation in the state.

After a few months, he couldn’t rein in the miscreants in his party and UP law and order has worsened (total cognizable offences increased from 1.98 lakhs in 2012 to 2.40 lakhs in 2014 (CAGR of 10 per cent) as 50 per cent of his MLAs faced criminal cases.

If Lalu squanders such a lovely mandate, then it is not only Nitish’s loss but also a loss for the people of Bihar. So BJP’s claim of Nitish’s loss in these elections will have to wait till the time Lalu rocks the boat. Till then it’s a historic victory for Nitish.

This article was originally posted at DailyO.

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