The spectacle next doorThe spirit of the grand Indian election fest did not seem to have waned much in Bihar.
As it often happens with India's Bihar Assembly elections, exit polls went wrong. They had predicted a comfortable victory for Mahagathbandhan, or the grand alliance, which included the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Indian National Congress, and leftist parties, including the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist. The exit polls were hardly unbelievable. After all, the anti-incumbency shrill against Nitish Kumar's government was quite loud, the opposition parties' case against unemployment pretty solid and the youthful energy of opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav more prominent than that of the ageing Chief Minister.
In the end, it turned out that the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's self-made image as the agent of development and the custodian of Hindutva seemed to soar high as his party came out the second largest with 74 seats in the Assembly. At the same time, it was apparently a clear mandate against Nitish Kumar, who has ruled Bihar for the past 15 years, although, as the Bharatiya Janata Party has indicated, Nitish is returning as chief minister as promised before the polls although his party won only 43 seats. The National Democratic Alliance, comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janta Dal (United) among others, came out the winner with 125 seats in the 243-seat Assembly while Mahagathbandhan trailed with 110 seats although it was a neck-and-neck race all through.
The victory for the National Democratic Alliance shows that the lure of Hindutva, championed by Narendra Modi, is today as strong as the secular front fortified vehemently by Lalu Prasad Yadav in the 1990s, and now being defended by his son Tejashwi. With his father, the ex-chief minister and chief of the party Lalu Prasad Yadav in jail, Tejashwi Yadav, all of 31 years, showed immense grit while facing two political giants: the Janata Dal (United), led by a three-time chief minister Nitish Kumar, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, whose star campaigner was none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The young Tejashwi single-handedly steered the party to the position of the single largest party with it winning 75 seats out of the 144 it contested. But what overshadowed Tejashwi's stellar performance and dragged the grand alliance down was the grand old party, the Indian National Congress. The Congress, again, was a pretty flop show, as it won a meagre 19 seats out of the 70 it contested. Left parties fared much better than expected. The left parties, that had got 29 constituencies in Mahagathbandhan, got elected in 16 seats.
By all means, this was an important election because it was the first one in India in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. This was a huge logistical challenge, which was pulled off pretty well by the Election Commission of India, although at the ground level, Covid-19 safety protocols took the last seat. The spirit of the grand Indian election fest did not seem to have waned much as the twin alliances organised grand electoral rallies and roadshows throughout the state, one of the poorest in the country.
For Nepalis keenly watching the Bihar Assembly elections, it has been a pretty exciting election although it did not bring in many surprises. With the BJP turning the ‘big brother’ in the Bihar Assembly with a larger vote share, and with the party already in power in Uttar Pradesh the saffron tide in Nepal’s Southern border region looks almost in full bloom. However, for the time being, there is little room for a fundamental change in the political wind in the Tarai belt of India and Nepal, as Bihar has seen a continuity, with slightly changed internal political equations within the National Democratic Alliance.