Bihar Results: Did ‘Silent Voters’ Rescue a Sinking Nitish Kumar?

Mahadalits, EBCs and women are said to be Nitish Kumar’s silent vote bank. Did his last minute appeal work?

3 min read
Going in for Assembly polls in October 2020, Bihar continues to be a laggard when compared to other states on almost all parameters.

The Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance appears to be moving towards a majority in the Bihar Assembly elections.

This goes against most of the exit polls, which had predicted a win for the Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagathbandhan. While many of the polls had still predicted a respectable showing by Nitish’s ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Janata Dal (United) has also done slightly better than what the polls had predicted.

Of course, the JD(U)‘s tally has reduced by over 25 seats compared to the 2015 Assembly elections and for the first time, it has fallen behind the BJP.

However, the JD(U) recovery is not insignificant, especially given 15 years of anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar and also the fact that the Chirag Paswan-led Lok Janshakti Party put up candidates specifically with the aim of harming the JD(U).

In the end, it may have been the silent voters who might have saved Nitish Kumar from embarrassment. This article will try to answer two questions:

  • Who are Nitish Kumar’s silent voters?
  • Did his last-minute appeal have an impact?

Who Are Nitish Kumar’s ‘Silent Voters’?

The answer to this lies in Nitish Kumar’s social engineering. Kumar’s primary support base comes from ‘non-dominant’ caste groups, who are usually less assertive than say BJP’s Upper Caste supporters or Yadav supporters of the Rashtriya Janata Dal.

  • Despite coming from the OBC Kurmi caste and getting enthusiastic support from the community, Nitish Kumar is not quite a Kurmi leader the way Lalu Prasad is seen as a Yadav leader and Ram Vilas Paswan a leader of Dusadh Dalits.
  • In his nearly 15-year-stint as CM, Nitish Kumar built a support base of Extremely Backward Castes and Mahadalits, by giving them separate recognition within the OBC and SC category respectively.

Legacy of Karpoori Thakur

  • According to political analyst Sajjan Kumar, Nitish Kumar followed the reservation formula of former CM Karpoori Thakur who had called for implementing the recommendations of the Mungeri Lal commission. Thakur, himself an OBC from the numerically small Nai (barber) caste, stood for sub-categorisation within the OBC framework so that the benefits aren't grabbed by the numerically stronger and more assertive Yadav caste.
  • The other model was laid down by the BP Mandal commission and championed by Lalu Prasad - which provided for no subdivision within the OBCs.
  • Similarly, Nitish Kumar provided for sub-quotas within the SC quota for Mahadalits, which helped them against the more dominant SC group - the Dusadh or Passi community.

Leader of Non-Dominant Backward Castes

  • Nitish, therefore, emerged as a leader of all the "non-dominant" castes within the OBCs and SCs. These were caste groups who not only felt threatened by Upper Castes but also relatively more dominant castes within OBCs and SCs.
  • Nitish Kumar also tried to do the same in the case of Pasmanda Muslims, many of whom felt that they didn't get adequate representation due to the alleged domination of Upper Caste Muslims. However, his return to the NDA fold in 2017 and the sidelining of Pasmanda leaders more or less ended this outreach.
  • But Nitish Kumar has tried to revive this during the campaign for the third phase of polling by repeatedly stressing communal harmony and assuring that no one will be harmed due to the CAA.

Women Voters

  • The other section of 'silent voters' that may have helped Nitish Kumar appeal are women. A number of Kumar's schemes and his prohibition measure are aimed at women. He has consistently had an advantage among women voters in most of the past few Assembly elections.
  • In the current election, the voter turnout among women was significantly higher than men across the state. This could have worked in Nitish Kumar’s favour. Though there are limits to that as many women are missing from the electoral rolls. So despite a higher turnout in percentage terms, the number of women who voted is less than the number of men who voted.
  • However, it is quite possible that women were among the silent voters whose vote wasn’t captured adequately by the exit polls. The India Today Axis survey for instance only had 31 percent women in their sample and had to add weights to scale it up to 50 percent.

Did Nitish Kumar’s Last-Minute Appeal Have an Impact?

On the last day of campaigning, Nitish Kumar made an emotional appeal to voters saying that this is his last election and urging them to vote for him. Did this appeal have an impact on voters?

It is possible that there was some impact due to this appeal, at least among the voters who may have traditionally supported Nitish Kumar but weren’t enthusiastic about voting. They may have decided to come out and vote instead of staying away.

Trends do show that the JD(U) did do reasonably well in parts of the Kosi region that voted in the last phase of the elections, just after Nitish’s appeal. There’s a possibility his appeal may have had some impact here.

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