After a protracted election campaign, the Bihar elections finally ended on the 5th of November, Guy Fawke’s day, or for those who prefer the movie version, V for Vendetta day. Sealed in the EVMs is the future of what is most assuredly one of the most economically and socially retrograde states in the country, which has taken literally decades to move from Jungle Raj to mere Raj. With the exit polls throwing up numbers all over the place, the statistician in this author can only conclude that until the ballot boxes are opened, this election is too close to call. The 8th of November promises to be an exciting day (or half a day depending on your political leaning) and the results could have far-reaching national repercussions.
Which is why it might be worth sounding the call: Remember, remember, the 8th of November. For this will be the day when the trajectory of the Union Government, and national politics as a whole would have changed, possibly irrevocably. Whether it is for better or for worse, is left to the judgement of the reader. The way the exit polls stand, and to use the rather hackneyed phrase that cricket commentators partake in; all three results are possible and it’s worth considering them before the votes are counted.
A possible BJP/NDA win:
This is probably the easiest scenario to work out. In the midst of Award Wapsi, a clear mandate for the NDA would see an emboldened BJP, and a rattled opposition (both the political and the apolitical kind). It would once again prove that Bihar (and by extrapolation, possibly the larger Hindi heartland), is largely disconnected from the shrill discourses in TV studios, and that eloquently written open letters are naught when it comes to the political choice of the electorate. While the political opposition will be forced to retreat into their cages to lick their wounds and come up with a new counter-narrative to stop the Modi juggernaut, it is the ‘intelligentsia’ who’ll find themselves at a loss of words as they will have to come up with a new line of discourse to explain the appeal for what is presently called by may of them ‘a communal, misogynistic, anti-minority, anti-Dalit, majoritarian government.’ Such a discourse is unlikely to happen, and this author for one wouldn’t be surprised if many of them conduct a public circus of returning even more awards, and possibly leaving the Indian state and the ‘oppressive Hindu majority’ behind in protest. While such a scenario would indeed be the talking point in the TV studios and possibly social media, the direct political consequences is that which will have the strongest impact. First off is the direct benefit of winning a large state such as Bihar; more seats in the Rajya Sabha. Since the formation of the Govt., the singular strategy of the BJP has been to improve its numbers in the Upper house so as to avoid depending on turncoat political parties to pass key legislation. Unlike previous Govts., which handled backdoor negotiations in order to get the house to run, the NDA has struggled to find any support from the opposition and this is unlikely to change in the near future. The coming winter session of parliament could also see a more rejuvenated NDA try and pass important bills which have been pending for quite some time now, especially the GST bill which is supposed to be operational by FY-2016. A win would also potentially kickstart the ‘big-ticket’ reforms that Modi supporters had been hoping for prior to 2014, but have become seemingly frustrated to not see it materialize. A win for the BJP will also make the party confident enough to face the big challenge of UP in a few years’ time, which would be the coup de grace for Amit Shah et al.
A MGB win:
A Mahagathbandhan win has the makings of altering Indian electoral politics for at least a decade. This would be the second prestige state that the BJP would have lost after Delhi, and the blood-letting by the media and the ‘intelligentsia’ will be quite severe. Biased narratives aside, the result would be a vote of confidence in Nitish Kumar’s governance (which even his worst critics would concede has been good for a state such as this) and his ability to rein in Lalu Prasad Yadav and the RJD. Whether Nitish would be able to control Lalu in practice needs to be seen. While indeed Lalu Prasad is a shell of his former larger-than-life persona and is probably in the twilight of his career, he is still sure to have a few tricks up his sleeve which could cause a major headache for Nitish Kumar. It’s worth stating here that in some ways, a MGB win is Lalu’s final bid to stay relevant in Bihar and national politics. The BJP and JD-U still have a much longer road ahead of them and can recover from any losses, but Lalu cannot afford that luxury. A MGB win would also translate into a more cohesive opposition that would potentially gang up against the Govt. in parliament, and prevent legislation from passing, as they have done so far, but only in a much more confident and brazen manner. It could also see a delayed introduction of the land acquisition and GST bills, and the former could even end up in cold storage until after 2019. An MGB win would also provide credence to the theory that the BJP falls against a united opposition in the states, spelling bad news for the party in places like West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. As is quite evident at this point, most political parties might be fragmented, but are united in their opposition against Prime Minister Modi, and the Bihar example could see the formation of more such opportunistic alliances with the express purpose of stopping the BJP.
This is once again easy to predict. One of the two alliances will get support from the ostensible ‘Others’ to form the Govt., which would either muddle its way through its tenure, or collapse mid-way. In this scenario, the MGB would probably be in a better position to attract allies than the BJP. Within the mainstream media, this result would still be viewed as a loss for the BJP, and the party though not admitting it in public, might also do so privately. The national repercussions would be similar to an MGB win but on a much more toned down level, raising the chances of having a relatively fruitful winter session in the short term. Amit Shah’s strategy for the states has been to largely go at it alone, and while qualitatively maintaining that spirit, he and the party would probably look out for better allies to avoid this last-mile problem, which quite honestly has been the bane of the BJP since the 90s.
Irrespective of which exit poll comes to fruition, one thing is absolutely certain, the Congress has hit rock-bottom in most of the major states, reduced to playing second-fiddle to regional heavyweights. The BJP is de Jure, the primary national party at this point, and without extreme course correction from the GOP, unlikely to change for the next few years. Many political commentators speculate that Indian politics is no longer a BJP vs. Congress vs. the rest competition, but a BJP vs. the rest one. Bihar would simply be the final piece of evidence.