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Bihar Polls: Elections That Will Change the Course Of Indian Politics

Newsclick, in collaboration with The Real News Network, interviewed Shankar Raghuraman, Assistant Executive Editor of The Times of India and a political analyst, on the Bihar Assembly election results. Raghuraman said the reason for NDA's debacle in the polls was not only due to its attempt at communal polarization but also due to people’s disenchantment with the Modi regime. He added that if one looks at the Lok Sabha elections, the divided vote of the opposition resulted in NDA’s massive victory which got reversed due to the formation of the Grand Alliance. On the question of communal polarization, Raghuraman said it's uncertain whether the RSS and the BJP would go on the back-foot or communlise further. He, however, said that at this juncture - keeping in mind the justification given by the BJP for the defeat - it looked like the threat of communalism may become stronger. Assessing the impact of the result, Raghuraman explained that the economy of the country was dependent on the stability of the Modi regime. His continuous loss may lead to economic instability, Raghuraman argued.

Rough Transcript:

Pranjal - Hello and welcome to our program. Since 2014 General election, since then there was no uneven such election which has created so much hype. We are talking about Bihar today. To discuss the issue, we have with us Shankar Raghuraman, who is a political analyst and he is also Assistant Executive Editor of Times Of India.

We have seen that a complete clean-sweep for the Grand Alliance. What do you think are the reasons for this when we had already had BJP is winning four elections last year and then Delhi and now Bihar?

Shankar Raghuraman - Well, actually if you look at 2014 general election results in Bihar, while in terms of seats, the NDA swept the elections winning about 31 if I remember right of the 40 seats. In vote share, it was not as dominant in Bihar as it was in UP. In Bihar, the NDA vote share was about 39%. So it was really the splintering of the opposition vote, that ensured the sweep for the NDA during the Lok Sabha elections. So the moment the opposition came together by and large, the three major formation in the opposition - JDU, RJD and Congress - it was always likely to be a very tough fight for BJP. But what results have shown, it is not just arithmetic which worked. There is also a clear decline in the popularity of Mr. Modi, which is declined in the vote share of the NDA itself. So it is a combination of the opposition uniting and the NDA's own vote share declining which has delivered such a massive verdict.

P - So there is also a talk which has been circulated, I think it is one among the reason that, the campaign lead by the Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah while there was a local leader in the phase of Nitish and Lalu leading the campaign for the Grand Alliance. So do you think this has an important role to play while where BJP did not put any local leader there?

SR - Cirtainly, I think that must have played a role and clearly both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad understood the importance of this advantage which is why they coin this slogan of 'Bihari verses Bahri' and some level that clearly has stuck in people's mind that, who is this faceless entity whom we are going to vote for? If the BJP wins Bihar, who will be our Chief Minister? It cannot be Narendra Modi or Amit Shah. So who is the person they will make the Chief Minister? I think that is also created some hesitation and uncertainty among voters in voting for the BJP.

P - But the campaign, I mean the entire issue of beef, bringing the issue of beef, DNA, reservation; while the core issue of raising prices of pulses and unemployment was never talked about when you look at BJP's campaign?

SR - Yes, I don't know how true it would be to say that, they lost because there is a beef issue. I think, it would be perhaps more correct to say that, certainly it did not work in their favor and what went against them to my mind is the fact that, voters in 2014, that enormous expectations, that Mr. Modi is promising the moon. He is saying, he will give us job, he was saying bring down prices, etc. And 18 months later, there is a clearly a feeling that none of that promises have been delivered. The job situation is not significantly different from what it was, in early 2014. Prices well; if you look at the prices of various pulses, that is remarkable how high they have become. So I think it was lack of credibility which affected the BJP's campaign.

P - Also if you look at Lalu's entire campaign, there has been a change in him. From what the media has been claiming that, his rule was jungle raj. And opposition was trying to whip up this issue, that it will be jungle raj part-2. So do you agree with that? What do you see? What will be the future course of action of the current regime which has come to power in Bihar?

SR - Actually for that we have to wait to see how the RJD plays it's card now. It will certainly feel that, it has proved a point. Not only the alliance has won, the RJD is the single largest party and for Lalu Prasad, that is the major achievement. But it is more than just achievement for him, his support base, the Yadavs, will also feel that after ten years of being out of power, and sort of singled out by the upper castes and Kurmis and so on, finally we are back. Now that sense of achievement could possibly translate into desire oneself to assert in all kind of face. It remains to be seen whether Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar are able to contain that and give it a positive direction rather than allowing into express itself in the form of goondagardi.

P - As far as I remember, when Lalu spoke at the rally in Bihar, the first rally took place, he said that it is not about our politics to be revived, it is about the nation and we have to save that first. So do you think, is the Bihar results is the check point of the agenda of RSS and the BJP?

SR - There is no doubt that, it represent the rejection of that kind of politics. Whether BJP or RSS will draw that lesson from it or not is a different question. The hard core elements within the RSS-BJP are just likely to argue that we failed because we did not push Hindutva hard enough. Because our signaling was very mixed. You know we had some development 'Vikas' kind of issue and Hindutva issue and all got mixed up. So we need far more clear in our messaging. It is entirely possible that they will take that kind of stance. I think it will be a matter of debate within the BJP, what course they should take and it remains to be seen whether they will as many liberals assume automatically takes the lesson that Hindutva politics doesn't pay.

P - So there are chances that, this may even get worse than what we are seeing today?

SR - Oh yes, it could get worse.

P - OK. And also the socio-engineering which has taken place in Bihar; OBCs, Dalits, Muslims together coming to vote out BJP. Do you think, this socio-engineering will take place in upcoming election in 2017, specifically when we talk about Uttar Pradesh because that is going to change the dimension in the Rajya Sabha?

SR - The politics of Bihar and UP are not identical, though we are often think of them are very very similar being part of the Hindi heart line. I think in Bihar, what in terms of caste dimensions of the election, what happened was that, there was a near total consolidation of the upper caste vote in favor of BJP very early in the campaign. In fact even before the campaign had begun. And for the intermediate caste, what are generally known as OBC, this represented to my mind, a threat of returned to the situation which is pre-Mandal. And I think both JDU and RJD, in particular Lalu Prasad, were able to drive home this point, that the OBCs faces the prospect of being dis-empowered again. I think that was their singular success. But the same logic cannot be necessarily apply to; we first remember for instance, even in 2014 general election, UP had a much greater communal polarisation than the Bihar had. And that kind of tension once built up, doesn't dissipate very fast. So it is easier to stock it up again. My feeling is that, at least in parts of UP, one could well see communal polarisation is playing a much greater role then it didn't.

P - What do you see the impact of this entire result on the Indian politics and also on economy?

SR - See, as far as markets are concerned, the markets are reflecting the views of this development, that "investors". Now business in general sees the Modi government as a very friendly government. So anything weakens the government, is seen as the set-back for the business as a whole also. So the fallen in a market is simply a reflection of that. As far as what impact this will have on national politics and the economy to very large extend, that will dependent on how BJP reacts to this development. As I said, that remains as an open question as of now. It could react by drawing the right lessons. But early signs are that, it is unwilling to draw the right lessons. I mean for instance, there analysis of election is that, it is nothing other than a coming together of the opposition. That is all that happened. They are quite not even willing to see the fact, that their own vote share has come down and come down drastically. So therefore will it change the nature of domestic politics, not to my mind as far as the BJP's behavior is concerned. What could happen now and what is likely to happen is that, the opposition parties will feel far more assured and confident in taking on the government then they have done so far.

P - Thanks Shankar giving us your time and as the things proceed, we will be coming back to you on such issues. Thanks a lot. Thank you for watching our program.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for Newsclick are typed from a recording of the program. Newsclick cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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