Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bihar verdict: the bare numbers

The people of Bihar have spoken. So have the political pundits who pretend to be able to read their minds. And what do explanations do the pundits have for the verdict? The BJP's brand of intolerance and communal politics will not pay. The RSS chief did great damage with his comments on rethinking caste-based quotas. Nitish Kumar did a great job on the development front. The BJP top brass was arrogant in its dealings with local  leaders and this led the latter to switch off. Modi hurt the pride of the people of Bihar with his comments about the DNA of the Bihari. And so on.

Alas, the numbers tell a rather more prosaic story. Two is less than three but two plus two is greater than three. In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2010 assembly polls, the JD (U) of Nitish Kumar and the RJD of Laloo Yadav went it alone. In 2015, they formed an alliance. The anti-BJP vote thus got consolidated and translated into a massive win for the Mahaghatbandhan (MGB).

Let's look at the numbers (taken from ET, Nov 9). In 2010, the NDA had a vote share of 23.3%. This rose to 34.1% in 2015, an increase of nearly 11 percentage points. In 2014, the NDA had polled 39.4% of the vote share, so, yes, relative to the peak of 2014, the NDA has seen a decline of around 5 percentage points. The MGB vote share declined from 43.8% in 2010 to 41.9% in 2015. In 2014, the vote share was almost the same as in 2010- 43.5%. Note that the MGB too lost vote share relative to 2014 albeit of only 1.6 percentage points.

A simple reading of the verdict would be:
  • The MGB is more popular today than the NDA which was also the case in 2010
  •  The NDA has become more popular in 2015 than it was in 2010 and the MGB less so.
  •  Relative to 2014, both the NDA and the MGB are less popular; the decline in popularity of the NDA has been greater.
What about the individual members of the alliances?  The JD (U) vote share has fallen from 22.6% in 2010 to 16.8%, so Nitish Kumar is less popular today than he was five years. The RJD vote share is almost intact- 18.84%. and 18.5%. The BJP's vote share has soared by 16.5% in 2010 to 24.6% in 2015 (although there is a decline of 5 percentage points relative to 2014).

What inferences can we draw from these numbers? Well, the following:
  • Arun Jaitley is right in saying that it was the political arithmetic that is primarily responsible for the BJP's defeat
  • By having the largest vote share amongst all parties, the BJP has emerged as the leading party in Bihar
  • But for Laloo Yadav retaining his popularity, the MGB may well have lost the election. So, it was not Nitish Kumar's development record but Yadav's caste base that helped the MGB romp home
  • The decline in BJP vote share relative to 2014, to some extent, reflects the wearing off of the party's sheen in recent months. One can speculate about the factors that have caused this.
  • The consolidation of the anti-BJP vote is absolutely crucial to the victory of the non-BJP parties. Any rift that emerges will damage the MGB's chances
  • If the BJP is able to get back to its vote share of 2014- by showing better results on the economy, by playing the Hindutva card more adroitly, etc- its fortunes in Bihar will be very bright indeed.
In short, the BJP may have lost a battle but could still win the war. 


K.R.Srivarahan said...

I think vote share percentage has to be related to number of seats contested. BJP has contested in many more seats that JD(U) or RJD. Viewed in this light, BJP's popularity is declining.

Amit Kumar said...

Since BJP contested on 160 seats and RJD and JDU contested on 100 seats each, so in my opinion comparison based solely on vote share may not be a good idea.

T T Ram Mohan said...

Srivarahan and Amit Kumar, I take your point about the number of seats contested. However, it's hard to reject share of votes as a measure of popularity. A vote share of under 40% contributed to majority for BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. So, a vote share of 34% in Bihar is not to be sniffed at. It has the potential to deliver seats the moment the opposition vote is fragmented.


Anonymous said...

Hi Prof,

Thanks for the analysis and bringing some sanity check. Some comments have suggested a decline in voteshare for BJP relative to 2014. It appears to be the case to some extent since vote share per assembly segment of the LS constituencies in 2014 has come down for BJP in this election for the 160 seats.

This is partly because agrarian distress is real ... the Upper castes or other land owners in primarily agrarian economy who otherwise might have voted for the NDA may have stayed away, abstained or even reposed faith in Nitish led alliance because of less than sufficient increase in MSP of their agricultural produce, a land acquisition bill which probably have been in their minds and a price-sensitive women to the rising prices of food essentials. Maybe one solution is in the offing .. if heads have to be rolled... change Arun Jailtey from FM protfolio.

The other take away also is that people still view development through the prism of caste based reservation that unless one's own caste representative is not present in the hierarchy it would not be possible to have roads, schools, employment etc in your area.

By the way it was amusing to watch the NDTV results esp the likes of political analyst like Shekhar Gupta who had answers to why either sides were winning or losing in the see saw vote counting that went on.


T T Ram Mohan said...

Deepak, Yes, some of the economic factors may have played a role and it does appear that Nitish Kumar got the benefit of good work done. Still, the consolidation of the anti BJP vote was, perhaps, the bigger factor.