Nitish Kumar has taken oath as Chief Minister of Bihar for a record successive fourth term. The National Democratic Alliance’s council of ministers has taken charge of their ministries. Tejashwi Yadav’s Mahagathbandhan (MGB) lost out narrowly to the NDA by 125 to 110 seats.
Tejashwi is being appreciated for the ‘great’ fight the Rashtriya Janata Dal-led MGB put up against the mighty NDA. Political pundits and analysts have hailed him as a leader of the youth. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that Rahul Gandhi should learn from Tejaswi's campaign.
While all this is fine, Tejashwi, and squarely him, needs to be blamed for this defeat, where all the odds were in his favour, not from day one, but as the voting phases progressed.
Nitish was battling against history. Only two chief ministers of big states had gone on to win a record fourth term, Naveen Patnaik from Odisha and Jyoti Basu from West Bengal.
Narendra Modi was made chief minister of Gujarat midway during his first term in 2001. That’s why technically he doesn’t qualify to be in the same league.
Coupled with history, Nitish was facing massive anti-incumbency. The mishandling of the migrant crisis, the loss of lives and livelihoods during the pandemic, and skyrocketting unemployment levels had swelled anger against him on the ground.
This was clearly visible in the pre-poll surveys with people wanting a change/new leader in the state of Bihar.
In addition, Nitish was facing rebellion within the NDA. Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, put up candidates against Janata Dal United in all seats to diminish JDU’s chances of a victory. An analysis of results shows that LJP damaged the prospects of JDU in 33 seats.
‘Nitish hatao’ emerged as the central theme of the campaign in Bihar. Even hardcore supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party wanted a change in leadership with a BJP chief minister at the helm of affairs. The overall mood and hawa were against Nitish.
Despite the undoubtedly appreciable work done by Nitish in the last 15 years, the economy was still lagging behind. Bihar’s per capita income is less than one-third the national average. Bihar’s per capita income is the lowest in the country.
Families living below poverty line in the state account for more than 30%, whereas the national average is 22%. Urbanisation in Bihar is at 11%, compared to national average of 31%. Unemployment rate in Bihar too is higher than the national average.
On the acclaimed law and order front, all was not hunky dory. Kidnappings increased by more than 300%, while thefts grew over 200%.
This was corroborated by the fact that crowds were swelling at Tejashwi’s rallies to hear him speak on kamai, dawai, sinchai, padhai (jobs, healthcare, agriculture and education). His promise of 10 lakh sarkari jobs became a hit with the youth.
Nitish’s nervousness was visible in the rallies. He had to face protests and he often lost his cool. He was on the back foot on the jobs issue giving excuses like lack of financial resources and land-locked status of Bihar as reasons for high unemployment.
There was a trust deficit between the two partners in NDA, the JDU and the BJP. Both parties were working to pull down each other’s tally, compounded by the presence of LJP, reportedly at the behest of BJP.
The impact of this was clearly visible in Phase-1 performance where the NDA lagged behind MGB by 25 seats.
With so many factors in favour of change, Tejashwi failed to capitalise and win the state, which was there for the taking.
Some tactical mistakes were committed during the campaign. You either go the whole hog on a presidential style of election or focus on a localisation strategy. A mix of this normally doesn’t work for the Opposition unless you have someone like Modi as a star campaigner.
The ‘Iss baar Tejashwi tay hai campaign’ could have been avoided when the RJD was focussing on local/bread and butter issues. This was akin to harakiri and falling into the BJP trap to make the elections a personality contest.
This helped BJP attack the governance track record of the Lalu Yadav family, evoke fear of jungle raj (yuvraj ka jungle raj), raise issue of dynasty politics (double yuvraj ki sarkar).
This impacted the voting decision of the undecided voters. As the phase-wise election progressed, this lot increasingly backed the NDA as seen from the graph below. The number doubled from 36% in Phase-1 to 72% by Phase-3.
While a lot of criticism has been meted out to Congress for winning just 19 out of 70 seats allocated, it is clear from the strike rates that RJD, too, failed to win a good amount of seats.
Although it emerged as the single largest party, the RJD recorded 5 fewer seats than its 2015 tally. Its strike rate was only 52% versus 67% of the BJP. It was the man in form in the MGB and needed to win at least 60% of its seats which it failed.
Tejashwi contested on more seats than 2015 and won less seats than in 2015.
In the end, two months of campaigning did not make up for Tejashwi Yadav’s regular absenteeism on the ground.
Contrary to popular perception, Tejashwi has emerged as the biggest loser in this election.
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