Predicting elections is a risky business as the entire image of the predictor is put at stake. Psephology, in spite of its past blunders is still called a science. While pollsters claim using statistically validated sampling techniques and swear by their results within the predicted margin of error, yet there are enough occasions when their forecasts have fallen in the category of jokes. The Delhi election is a case in point. In spite of being the smallest state, all pollsters had to eat crow when the astounding results came. In fact, this author’s study which suggested an upper level of 56 seats for AAP (published in Indian Exponent before Delhi results), perhaps, came the nearest to the results amongst all the opinion polls. The point being made is that notwithstanding its scientific basis, psephology is seriously flawed and can never be trusted in making predictions with confirmed accuracy.
How then do we go about assessing the outcome of an election? An election result is an outcome of complex factors that are dynamic and constantly in a state of flux. This explains the fact while AAP drew a blank in Delhi in the Lok Sabha polls but swept the State Assembly election. So, while the electorate was the same, the dynamic factors within the system had changed. My experience is that if we can catch this dynamic of the factors that relate to an election, the outcome can be predicted with far more accuracy than psephology.
In keeping with this hypothesis, here are 11 factors that suggest NDA led by BJP is heading for a defeat in Bihar:
1. The Fallacy of Lok Sabha VictoryDrawing any parallel with the runaway success of NDA in the Lok Sabha polls is hugely fallacious. NDA swept Bihar with 31 of the 40 seats while UPA with 7 came second. Nitish with his humiliating performance of 2 seats had to even sacrifice his chief ministership.
However, there were two major factors behind the NDA victory- the division of votes in a triangular contest and the Modi factor.
Let us first consider the Modi factor first. Go back to that period and you’ll find there was a huge anti-incumbency against the Congress mainly owing to the corruption scams and the failing inflationary economy which was failing to create new jobs and leading to spiralling prices. The ever astute Modi seized this opportunity and positioned his campaign on three factors-corruption, inflation and unemployment.
Since this was not a state election, he struck a chord cutting across the caste divide where the traditional vote base of JDU shifted towards the NDA (This was confirmed in a post-poll survey by CSDS which showed 19% Yadav,26% Kurmi and Koeri, 53% lower OBC, 68% Dushadh, 33% Maha Dalit and even 2% Muslim vote had shifted to NDA). However, if it were a bipolar election, NDA even with this shift could have still faced a crippling defeat but won because of the splitting of votes in a triangular contest. So, despite Modi’s dynamism, NDA could secure only 39% vote share, while UPA got 29% and JDU 16%.
Now, that RJD and Congress have made Mahagathbandhan with Nitish’s JDU, they already have a 6% lead over NDA even if you freeze the factors to the Lok Sabha stage. A 6% lead in a bipolar election can have a devastating impact on the NDA.
2. The Caste FactorCaste is so deeply ingrained in Bihar that it just cannot be cast away. Caste is a major factor that in consonance with other factors will swing this election convincingly into the Mahagathbandhan fold. What is the caste arithmetic? Well, it goes like this:
Yadavs -------------- 14 %
Kurmis -------------- 4 %
Muslims --------------16.9 %
EBCs -------------30 % (Including Kushawas, Koeris ,Telis)
Mahadalits and Dalits ----16 % ( Including Dusadh and Musahars )
Forwards -------------- 15 %
So, while the 35% Kurmi, Yadav and Muslim vote stands consolidated behind the Mahagathbandhan ,( a factor which even BJP leaders acknowledge without going on record),
The 15% forward caste vote is with the NDA. Now the real battle is for the nearly 50% Mahadalit, Dalit and EBC (Extremely Backward Caste) vote. It was the grand hope of the BJP to bag a major chunk of this vote, especially after the prize catch of Jitan Ram Manjhi that had led to victory euphoria.
This factor remains the most powerful in the analysis of this election. It is a simple arithmetic that wherever this major chunk shifts will swing the result in that formation’s favour. Though the arithmetic is simple but the factors causing that swing are rather complex. If any one can predict this swing he can predict the outcome of this election.
In an incisive study done by NDTV, the voting pattern of the caste based on historical data is as under:
70% of forward castes vote for NDA while 20% for the Gathbandhan. 30% of OBC vote for NDA while 50% for the Gathbandhan. 45% of SC votes for NDA while 55% for the Gathbandhan. If we correlate this voting pattern with the caste structure and superimpose the Muslim factor, the Gathbandhan gets a hands down winning advantage based on this historical data. But, as stated earlier, electoral results are not the outcome of simple static factors but rather complex dynamic factors. The interplay of these complex dynamic factors with recent developments are going to conspicuously shift a major part of the caste/minority mix into the Gathbandhan fold. This will be evident in the explanation of most of the remaining nine factors.
3. Modi Factor: Over-exposer and audience fatigueGo back to the Lok Sabha election and recall Modi’s speeches. He was a new face on the National political scene. With his astounding oratorical skills he would leave his audience spellbound, arousing their aspirations and rekindling their dying hopes by selling a seductive dream of ‘acche din’. The audience suffocated by the polluted political environment and frustrated by the plethora of brazen corrupt practices which lay glaringly exposed by the mainstream and social media, were just helplessly drawn to him. They forcefully expressed their angst against the existing system by overwhelmingly voting him to power. This was not a BJP victory. This was singularly a Modi victory.
However, there is an inherent danger in becoming a larger than life cult-figure that Modi became when he rode the crest of change to an unprecedented victory.Politics is largely a matter of perception. People believed in his charishma and promise of deliverance. And there lay the potential danger. Hopes once raised are irreversible. People, long repressed by political neglect were impatient for results. Their unfulfilled aspirations would not last for long. So, the Modi magic worked in Haryana, Rajasthan and Maharashtra but bottomed out in Delhi. Modi, the mighty colossus till Maharashtra was exposed in Delhi with brittle feet of clay. And Bihar is after Delhi where the Modi magic has already failed.
Unfortunately, almost a year and a half has elapsed and now the spectre of ‘acche din’ is coming back to haunt Modi himself. By over exposing Modi BJP has made a tactical blunder without realizing the phenomenon of ‘audience fatigue’. His words are repetitive, his dialogues monotonous, his metaphors tasteless, his comparisons banal and his language too pedestrian to befit the highest executive office of the nation. How crowds are managed in meetings is well exposed now and are no more an indication of an electoral victory. It is extremely doubtful that the thirty rallies that he addressed in Bihar are going to reap any dividend for his alliance. On the contrary, these meetings may have an adverse impact on the electorate which has by now not only seen through his glibness but has also felt the emptiness of words which have come to symbolize promises without delivery.
4. The Recency FactorIn elections, the Recency Factor plays a critical role. What is this factor after all. It refers to a series of events that precede an election which affect the electorate negatively. The Recency Factor is simply loaded against BJP. It began with Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS supremo’s remark that Reservations need to be reviewed. This was a priceless gift to the Nitish-Laalu camp on a golden platter and like seasoned politicians they exploited every grain of it. Reservation is a very sensitive issue in a highly mandalized state like Bihar. It is rather strange that a person of such stature and wisdom as Mohan Bhagwat could make such an untimely, indiscrete and potentially damaging statement. It created waves of resentment in a community that more or less is the deciding factor of political outcomes in Bihar. By the time BJP came out with clarifications for damage control, it was too late. Again, irreversible damage had already been done.
The most unfortunate Dadri lynching aroused a national uproar and enduring media coverage. It could not have come at a worse time for BJP. Bihar is a state with a very high proportion of minority community. Minority community is extremely sensitive to such issues and security of life and property are always its foremost concerns. One can imagine that with the raging media attention what impact it would have on the psyche of this community.
This was followed by the burning of two Dalit children in Sunpedh, Faridabad. This horrendous incident lead to an outrage across the nation. Haryana has a BJP government and it left an ugly scar on its image for such a culpable failure to protect a dalit family. With the kind of media coverage one can again imagine its damaging effect on the mind of the weaker and vulnerable sections that are going to vote in a state. As if that was not all, general V.K.Singh came out with his ‘dog’ remark. Though in all likelihood he said it unwittingly but it became a media issue with adverse repercussions on the polls.
For all the damage control by BJP, the negative impact of these Recency Factors in a bipolar election can be extensive.
5. ‘Kya Hua Tera Vada’We have already discussed the over-exposer of Modi. However, a parallel factor that took away the wind from the BJP campaign was the impressively successful manoeuvre of both Nitish and Laalu to expose the hollowness of the promise of ‘acche din’. Modi was an amazing marketer. He had marketed himself like a wizard to the nation. But this had its potential consequences. Over promise and under delivery is considered a marketing sin and that’s precisely what happened. Laalu, with his inimitable rustic humour was able to lampoon the farce of ‘acche din’ to a drooling audience that lapped up every word of his spicy and witty speeches. Nitish was not far behind. Though diametrically opposite of the persona of Lallu he in his own sober way conveyed the sham of ‘acche din’ through the parody ‘kahan gaya vo usko dhundo’. And instantly,much to the discomfiture of BJP, this went viral on the social media after being transformed into a musical satire.
BJP perhaps had forgotten that if the promise of ‘acche din’ could win it a national election, the lack of delivery could also cost it one in a state. Nitish was able to convey to the people with convincing data about the floundering economy and non-creation of jobs. The price first of onions and then ‘Arhar Dal’ was enough to burst the myth of controlling inflation creating another Recency Factor to the detriment of the NDA prospects. Corruption of course remained as pervasive as ever offering no respite to the common man. Once the balloon of the promise of ‘acche din’ was burst, there was little the BJP campaign could offer that would carry credibility with the public at large.
6. The Perfect AmalgamWhen Congress, RJD and JDU decided to go for the Mahagathbandhan, there were legitimate sceptics. The track record of such alliances was far from flattering. While Congress was reduced to almost a nonentity in Bihar and could be and even seemed to be overtly pliable, Laalu was a different ballgame. His ambitions would be difficult to supress and being a hard bargainer would be beyond the wits of Nitish to control.
While questions on his past image and actions could be handled, but how about his so called lust of power. It is easy to announce an alliance but when it would come to the nitty-gritty of things like seat sharing and choice of CM, expectedly the alliance would crumble under its own weight. The NDA camp must have been waiting for this eventuality with bated breath and even preparing itself for the last laugh only to be rudely dismayed at the perfection with which three parties formed the Mahagathbandhan. It was an incredible ‘jugalbandhi’ where from sworn enemies of past, Nitish and Laalu became ‘entwined twins’ and sacrificed the identity of their individual parties on the altar of the Mahagathbandhan. While ticket distribution in the NDA camp created many ripples and heart-burning the Mahagathbandhan much to the disdain of the NDA did it with incredible amicability and sense of understanding.
The killer move however was the announcement of the CM candidate. Once Nitish’s name was announced, it was almost an election clincher. Laalu’s self-abnegation touched such a soft chord in the Nitish camp that his workers embraced the other from the bottom of their heart. Now, there was no RJD, no JDU no Congress but one and only one Mahagathbandhan. In a classical jugalbandhi, two soloists are on an equal footing and both act as lead players in a way that it cannot be distinguished who is the soloist and who the accompanist. Such was the perfection of this jugalbandhi. Laalu addressed a record breaking242 rallies to the 220 of Nitish. In every rally he showed moving deference to Nitish and much to the shock of the other camp never ever gave even a spec of indication that there was an iota of mismatch in the alliance.
One can imagine the extent of synergy this must have caused at the ground level. How much excitement, warmth, vigour and exuberance this must have created in ground level workers. And, when the teams of three camps would have campaigned in such perfect unison what an amazing influence it would have had on the mind of the electorate.
7. The Myth of DevelopmentModi rode to power on the powerful development plank. Development is a powerful concept and can work wonders if it comes with credibility. Modi had established that credibility in 2014. It worked wonders. It continued to work wonders even after Lok Sabha in many states. Agreed development has a time constraint but trends can be established in the hue of policy decisions. In the almost one and a half years of governance, there was hardly any indication of a pro-poor direction in policy. Rather, a conspicuous perception seemed to get established that this Government was pro-rich, not pro-poor. So, by the time it was Bihar’s turn for election, development had become an over-used weather-beaten word arousing more disdain than hope. Its further over-use could hardly be expected to cajole the imagination of the voter. And by the time Bihar’s turn came, development was like an engine that had run out of steam. (Some more on this in the next factor)
8. Changing Strategy- A sign of panicIf an army is winning battles does it change its strategy? If a marketing strategy is giving super results will that strategy be changed? Strategies are reviewed and changed when they don’t produce results not in the midst of glowing success. BJP opened its Bihar campaign again on the development plank. We have however seen in factor 7 that it wouldn’t work. But, in the wisdom of BJP’s campaign managers the thinking was otherwise. So, that is where the strategy was in the first two phases. A sober campaign focussed on development. Once the two phases were over, they got enough indication that they were getting a drubbing in the 81 seats. So, the strategy had to be changed. The new strategy was from sobriety to aggression. No effort was spared in pulling out punches. All the cadres were mobilised into action. The tone of the speeches started becoming virulent. The attacks changed from policy to person. The tantric video was released and made viral. Tantric found a pounced mention even in the PM’s speech.
Now, the question is if the development strategy was so solid, where was the need to change it mid-stream. Obviously, it had lost its sheen and a new strategy was required. Now, news came that the polling in the third phase was lukewarm. Another strategy had failed. The shift from policy to person could not excite the electorate. With three phases seemingly lost there was virtual panic in the NDA camp. The fourth phase was their last hope. This was their strongest hope based on caste equations. When the polling touched almost 58% it brought cheer to a depressed camp. But, a deeper analysis suggested that higher polling would favour the Mahagathbandhan. This was also portrayed by Pranav Roy in Battleground Bihar,a programme on NDTV where he enumerated the factors favouring the Mahagathbandhan and higher turnout was one of them.
Now, the last phase remained. This was admittedly the Mahagathbandhan fortress. With their strategy failing at every phase, there was another strategy change. Now, it was polarization. Seemanchal is known for being a minority stronghold. The tone and script of the strategy changed yet again. This is being written a day before the fifth phase. However, the die for the last phase is already cast. NDA is nowhere in the scene.
Thus, we have seen that NDA kept changing its strategy over the phases and this in itself is a tacit acceptance of defeat.
9. The Incumbency FactorThe Incumbency Factor is a ruling party’s dread. However, this can work in favour powerfully if the ruling party has done work for the electorate. The greatest asset for the Mahagathbandhan is the clean image of Nitish Kumar. Even the enemy camp would not fault him on this. In fact it was only because of his clean image that they attacked him for his alliance with Laalu and kept harping on the Jungle Raj. However, the image of Nitish is so immaculate that he even created mass acceptability for the alliance. It was the irrepressible pull of his image that people were able to forgive the so called excesses of the past and were so confident that with him in the chair there would be no repeat or fallout of the past. His development work, specially in roads and electrification has mass acceptance. The law and order under Nitish was simply laudable. Thus, instead if anti-incumbency there is a visible pro-incumbency for Nitish which can spell disaster for the NDA camp.
10. The Woman VoterAn amazing feature of this election is the conspicuous turnout of the woman voter. In fact, in the fourth phase it was 60% for women compared to 54% for men. In the earlier referred NDTV programme Pranav Roy’s analysis had established that a higher woman turnout favours the Mahagathbandhan. This is real bad news for NDA because in all the four phases that have gone to the polls, the woman voter turnout has been unusually high.
11. What the Bookies SayThough illegal, the ‘satta bazaar’ is a fact of life. So much so that no election commentary is complete without a reference to it. Almost all major newspapers make it a point to tap it periodically to feel the pulse of where the election is headed. So, what do the bookies say? We have seen in factor eight that BJP has been changing its strategy after the first two phases. This is no strange coincidence that theNDA’s stakes have also been falling in the ‘satta market’after every phase. Before polling, NDA was a favourite with the bookies with 150+ seats. However, as the polling progressed, this market started lowering its performance. From 150 ,it came down to around 135, then 122 and now before the last phase stands around 110. It is strange that the market showed a surprisingly similar trend in Delhi where BJP started as favourite but towards the end AAP was favourite with 44 seats. It ended up with 67.
My gut feeling is that after the last phase NDA will drop to 90. If we go by the Delhi experience, NDA should never cross 80.
To conclude, predicting an election is a hazardous game. It all depends on whether you’ve caught the trends and relevant indicators right. However, in Bihar the pattern seems to be clear. In the final analysis it’s all about Arithmetic and Chemistry. The caste Arithmetic is working overwhelmingly in Mahagathbandhan’s favour and Nitish has got his Chemistry just right with Laalu. Congress is a Stepney that will move in whichever direction the main vechile moves. Thus, these eleven factors indicate that the NDA is in for a huge drubbing in Bihar.
Written by Milan Kumar
Retired as a Senior Trainer from LIC of India