Bihar verdict

Brig Anil Gupta
The recently held assembly elections in Bihar may well turn out to be a watershed in Indian politics. The month plus electoral battle has not only broken many myths but has also strengthened many time tested beliefs. The election results have not only surprised everyone but also thrown many lessons that will script the election campaigns in future. The electorate has proved that its memory is short-lived and it is more concerned with the present than the past or the future.  The electorate is willing to forgive and forget the past as long as it benefits them in the present. The phoenix-like rise of Lallu Yadav has proved that the politicians with mass bases have a long span of political life and cannot be written off easily.  The Bihar verdict, it appears, has re-ushered the era of “Maha Gathbandhan”, a legacy of the  nineties and early twenties as far as the electoral politics in India are concerned.  “Maha Gathbandhan” or the “Grand Coalition” signifies the politics of opportunism and coalition of convenience, contrast and compromise.  How far it will succeed would depend on the lessons learnt by the constituent parties from the similar experiments in the past. The past experience, however, has not been very pleasant. In the instant case it would be too early and premature to give any judgement.
End must justify the means and not the vice versa is one of the major lessons learnt from the current elections. In the military parlance it is called “Selection and Maintenance of Aim”. Once the Aim is selected the entire energy must be focussed towards its achievement. The Aim is ‘fixed’ and should not be fiddled with. Various plans of actions are made to cater for different contingencies and means/ resources are allocated accordingly. If a mid- course correction is needed, a new plan of action should be unleashed rather than shifting the goal post. Ambiguity confuses the voter and a confused voter is vulnerable to be misled. A focussed, sustainable and balanced campaign appeals to the voters. Hate politics and negative campaign in any form is dis-liked and not appreciated. Cheap gimmick and “name-calling” may temporarily enthral the audience but do not have long-term impact. The myth of incumbency has also been shattered. The voter has proved that the performance matters more to them and they are willing to vote again and again in favour of those who deliver. Perform or perish is the unambiguous message given by the electorate in Bihar. Adiyta Yogi Nath, an Indian law-maker, has tweeted “Bihar happens when Hindus vote for caste and the Muslims vote for religion.” I think this is also a myth. The Biharis have voted for continuity and rewarded the incumbent Chief Minister for his good performance. Many attribute “arrogance” as one of the causes of defeat of BJP. That’s another myth. Was Lalu less arrogant in anyway?
‘Bahaari’ versus ‘Bihari’ has proved beyond doubt that the Indian voter has still not divorced the concept of regionalism. The notion of “Gair” and “Apna” still continues to be a major factor in swaying the voters. Too much of centralisation at the cost of local talent tends to wean away rather than attracting the voters.  Local leaders and cadre cannot be ignored irrespective of how strong the central leadership may be. The national parties will have to encourage and nurture local leaders to compete with regional parties. Victory will come to those who encourage “team work.” Individual performances alone will always be found wanting. ‘Timing’ also plays a vital role in deciding the mood of the voters. Nobody can deny the fact that Daal-Dalit- Dadri and Intolerance had a major impact on the electorate in the current election. It has also been proved that price-rise continues to be a major deciding factor in the polls. The soaring prices of onions in an earlier election and Daal(pulses) in the current election have been a major cause of concern with the voters. The other issues even if “manufactured” were timed in a manner to have a great impact on the psyche of the voters. Enemy within is more dangerous than the enemy outside. The tendency of self-goal is suicidal. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley while speaking to NDTV admitted that “ comments that deflected from our main theme of “development” contributed to the party’s humiliating defeat in Bihar.” Excess in any form is also counter- productive. Too much use of social media and personal attacks on the opponent leaders do not go well with the voters and on the contrary creates a sympathy wave in their favour. Kejriwal and Lalu are the case in point.
No political party can afford any more to approach the electorate with mere promises. The voter very carefully and critically examines the past performance before deciding to give its mandate. A new trend that has emerged in the current election is the “transfer of votes”. The Indian voter till now was considered to have a rigid political loyalty. However, in this election transfer of votes of one party to the other as part of “Maha Gathbandhan” has taken place. It is yet to emerge whether it is a change of mind-set or a result of better “election management” by the leadership of “Maha Gathbandhan ?”
Bihar verdict has once again confirmed that Indian voter is becoming very secretive and selective. That is why most of the opinion polls and exit polls are proving to be much off the mark time and again. The voter has an open mind and weighs various pros and cons before making his choice. The voter can no longer be taken for granted. Last but not the least most important fact is that success in an electoral battle is never permanent. It needs tremendous effort and resources to win an election but it needs equal amount of hard work and good performance to retain the favourable public opinion.
(The writer is a Jammu based political commentator, security and strategic analyst. The views expressed in the article are entirely personal.


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