In Bihar Polls, What Did Mahagathbandhan Get Wrong?

Mahagathbandhan failed to consolidate beyond Muslim-Yadav votes & couldn’t lure Dalit and MBC voters in Bihar

5 min read
Image of Tejashwi Yadav used for representational purposes.

Bihar witnessed a repeat of the 2004 general elections, when the exit polls had also gone horribly wrong. The Mahagathbandhan (MGB), which was expected to win as per most pollsters, fell short of the magic figure by a whisker, while the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) sneaked in, reminding us of a similar contest in Gujarat in 2017. It is one of the rare occasions on which opinion polls proved to be accurate, and exit polls were proven wrong.

C-Voter and Lokniti-CSDS, which had predicted a clear victory for the NDA in their pre-poll estimates, gave an edge to the MGB in post-poll estimates. Axis My India, which has the best track record among exit polling agencies, failed again – as it did in Tamil Nadu. Bihar proved to be tricky again for Today’s Chanakya.

The closeness of the race is illustrated by the fact that both NDA and MGB managed to wrest 37 percent vote share each. While the NDA won a simple majority with 125, MGB won 110, AIMIM 5, and LJP 1 seat.

Data: Amitabh Tiwari
Data: Amitabh Tiwari
(GFX: Aroop Mishra / The Quint)

Why Was Mahagathbandhan Lagging Behind NDA From The Very Beginning?

From the beginning, the MGB was lagging behind NDA purely on caste arithmetic, relying heavily on the Muslim-Yadav vote bank which accounts for just 31 percent of the state population. On the other hand, the NDA enjoyed the support of upper caste, MBCs, Mahadalits and NYOBCs – that is, 62 percent of Bihar’s population. With LJP contesting separately, the Dalit vote bank of 6 percent slipped away from the NDA.

No caste group / community offers 100 percent support to any political party. Usually anchor voting segments go up to maximum 75-80 percent. Given this context, the MGB’s vote share from its core vote bank was around 25 percent, and the NDA was around 47 percent, a clear lead of 20+ percent for the NDA.

Considering this, the MGB’s performance is commendable; it was able to add up to 12 percent votes apart from its core vote bloc, while the NDA lost up to 10 percent support due to anti-incumbency, waning popularity, migrant crises and joblessness.

However, the MGB was not able to make any significant dents in any other caste / community strongholds of the NDA. As seen in the graph below, the NDA continues to garner maximum support from SCs, STs, NYOBCs/EBCs and General Category voters.

Data: Amitabh Tiwari
Data: Amitabh Tiwari
(GFX: Aroop Mishra / The Quint)

The Caste Arithmetic Mahagathbandhan Would Have Had To Master, To Win

The split of the Opposition vote worked against the MGB.

The LJP, GSDF (BSP, RLSP, AIMIM) and PDA (Pappu Yadav’s front) together bagged 26 percent vote share.

  • LJP (5.7 percent vote share) was able to capture disenchanted Dalit and Upper caste votes as it put up many JDU and BJP rebel candidates
  • BSP (1.5 percent vote share) managed to garner Dalit votes, especially in Phase 1
  • RLSP (1.8 percent vote share) managed to get a slice of the Koeri / Kushwaha votes
To win, MGB needed to make a serious dent in either the MBC or the Dalit / Mahadalit vote bank of NDA.

However, in terms of representation it gave 60 percent tickets to Muslim-Yadav candidates. This didn’t send a good signal to the disenchanted supporters of the NDA who were considering switching sides.

The party, in an effort to bridge the caste arithmetic gap with the NDA, brought in Left parties in the alliance – experimenting for the first time in a caste-plus class strategy. This worked especially in Phase 1 and Phase 2, where the CPI(ML) has good support amongst the poor, the landless and the peasantry.

Left parties together won 16 out of the 29 seats allocated. However, their restricted presence and lack of state-wide appeal impacted the MGB in other seats where RJD / Congress candidates were contesting.


NDA’s Waning Support: A Missed Opportunity For MGB

Tejashwi eased out Manjhi (HAM), Sahani (VIP) from the MGB. These two parties jumped onto the NDA bandwagon, and won crucial 8 seats in the end.

Should it have kept these two in alliance and adjusted their seats with the Congress which pulled it down? They bagged around 3 percent vote share.

The Congress failed as it recorded a strike rate of less than 30 percent, winning just 1 more seat other than the Left, while contesting on 41 additional seats.

The LJP, putting up upper caste candidates in many seats, caused a split of anti-NDA votes in the general category. The Congress party, which gave almost half of its tickets to upper caste candidates, failed to enthuse this category.

In the last phase which was the clincher, the RJD wasn’t able to consolidate even its core vote block of minorities, with Owaisi’s AIMIM making a serious dent in Seemanchal, bagging 5 seats out of the 14 it contested. The MGB had accused AIMIM of being the ‘B-Team’ of NDA and a ‘vote katwa’.

4 of these 5 seats were won by the MGB in the 2015 state elections. A counter polarisation and split of votes dented the hopes of the MGB, and it failed to score a good win in an area considered to be its stronghold. BJP’s star campaigner Yogi, made a serious bid in these seats – holding rallies and sabhas.

A comparison of the 2019 general elections and 2020 state elections caste / community support shows that the NDA was losing amongst all sections, but the MGB was not being able to exploit this opportunity.

Data: Amitabh Tiwari
Data: Amitabh Tiwari
(GFX: Aroop Mishra / The Quint)

To sum up, the task was uphill, and the MGB did give a close fight, but it wasn’t able to consolidate votes beyond the Muslim-Yadav vote bank, with the leakage of minority votes to AIMIM in its stronghold Seemanchal, and the split of Opposition votes among Dalits, OBC and EBCs.

(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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