Debating India

BIHAR 2000

The return of the RJD

Friday 31 March 2000, by DAYAL*Harishwar, GUPTA*Shaibal, KUMAR*Sanjay

This article on the electoral verdict in Bihar, among the States where Assembly elections were held recently, follow from the first instalment of the feature, which was published in the March 17 issue. This article (besides articles on Haryana and Orissa which will be published in the next issue) draws on the findings of a post-election survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). The survey was sponsored by New Delhi Television (NDTV), and the survey results were first b roadcast on Star News channel.

The survey was conducted in 15 randomly selected constituencies in each of the three States. The total number of respondents was 2,225 in Bihar, 1,336 in Orissa and 1,182 in Haryana. The respondents were selected randomly from the voters’ lists of four p olling booths in each of the constituencies sampled. The interviews were carried out in the days (or the day) after polling and before the counting of votes began on February 25.

The survey was coordinated by Sanjay Kumar, Shaibal Gupta and Harishwar Dayal in Bihar.


FOR both the National Democratic Alliance and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the two principal contenders for power in Bihar, the outcome of the Assembly elections represents a setback, in different ways. It is more pronounced in the case of the NDA, since ce ntral- and State-level leaders of the constituents of the alliance had made tall claims of a decisive win for the NDA. The NDA had fared well in the Lok Sabha elections just six months ago, winning 41 of the 54 parliamentary seats and establishing leads in 199 of the 324 Assembly segments. Throughout the campaign, until a day before counting began, NDA leaders confidently talked of securing 170 to 180 seats. The final tally, however, was only 125, including four "unofficial" candidates who won outside t he NDA seat-sharing arrangement. This was also one short of the 126 seats secured by the RJD and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The RJD, which won 124 seats and secured 28.2 per cent of the popular vote, emerged as the single largest party in th e Assembly; the Bharatiya Janata Party finished way behind, with 66 seats and 14.5 per cent of the vote.

The RJD too suffered a big erosion in its legislative strength, and to that extent experienced a setback. Even so, the RJD’s defeat is being read as a victory. This is because pre-election opinion polls in the media, which were largely insensitive to gro und-level polarisations in Bihar, had painted a bleak picture of the RJD’s prospects, and in the end the RJD won many more seats than had been forecast.

Laloo Prasad Yadav presided over a historic shift in the social balance of political power in 1990; that shift was reaffirmed by the results of the 1991 Lok Sabha elections and the 1995 Assembly elections. However, the results of the parliamentary electi ons of 1998 and 1999, and the Assembly elections of February 2000, have shown up Laloo Prasad’s inability to consolidate the social shift into an enduring political entity, as the Left Front has done in West Bengal. The loss of 43 seats as compared to th e 1995 Assembly elections must be read as a verdict against the RJD’s poor record of governance. In fact, the RJD’s tally might well have been lower than the NDA’s but for a strange coincidence: the RJD won five of the seven seats which were decided by m argins of less than 500 votes, and four of 12 other seats which were decided by margins of between 500 and 1,000 votes. The NDA, however, claims that this was no coincidence: it alleges that pressure on administrative officials influenced the counting pr ocess and proved decisive when the race was close.

The region-wise profile of the results gives a clear picture of the relative strengths of the parties in the three regions of the State. In 1995, the BJP and the Samata Party did not contest as allies. A comparison of the results of the Assembly election s of 1995 and 2000 shows that the NDA made gains, in terms of seats and vote share, in all three regions. The gain in terms of seats for the NDA is more or less in proportion to the total number of seats in the region; in terms of the vote share, however , the alliance performed much better in southern Bihar as compared to central and northern Bihar. Yet it failed to sweep the Jharkhand region. Going by these results, it is very likely that if a Jharkhand state were carved out, it too would have a hung A ssembly. The RJD, which in 1995 fared well in all the areas except the eastern pocket of northern Bihar, has this time lost the most number of seats in this region. Even so, it won 74 of its 124 seats in this region. In central Bihar the RJD increased it s vote share by nearly 6 percentage points but lost seven seats. This is largely because it did not have an electoral understanding with the CPI. Unsurprisingly, the RJD has not performed well in southern Bihar.

The Congress(I) went it alone this time, perhaps hoping for a revival of the sort it experienced in Uttar Pradesh. But that was not to be. It won only 24 seats and secured 11.1 per cent of the popular vote. As compared to 1995, the party contested more s eats in northern Bihar this time, and although it did not lose seats, its vote share went down by 7 percentage points. In southern Bihar, although the party lost two seats as compared to 1995, it increased its vote share marginally.

The results are a setback for the Left parties as well.

Taken together, the CPI, the CPI(M), the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Marxist Coordination Committee, won 40 seats in 1995; this time their collective tally fell to 13. Both the CPI and the CPI(M) faced an overall decline. After a long time, the CPI contested without a mainstream party as its ally and fared badly: it won only five seats, down 21 seats since 1995, and lost its position as the dominant Left party in the State. The CPI(M-L), which contested fewer seats than the CPI, won six seats, one more than the CPI. The CPI(M), which was in alliance with the RJD, won two seats, down four since 1995, but its vote share remained much the same. A.K. Roy’s Marxist Coordination Committee, which won two seats in 1995, was blanked out this time.

A comparison of the performances of the constituents of the NDA shows that the BJP performed much better than its allies in all three regions. The BJP won 39 per cent of the seats it contested and secured an average vote of 29 per cent in the seats it co ntested. The Samata Party won 28 per cent of the seats it contested and secured an average vote of 23 per cent. The Janata Dal (United) won only 24 per cent of the seats it contested and secured an average vote of only 13 per cent. Both the BJP and the S amata Party faced a slide in their traditional strongholds, southern and central Bihar respectively. Although the BJP polled the most votes in southern Bihar, it failed to win a sizable number of seats in the region. Similarly, the Samata Party contested the largest number of seats in central Bihar, but won only one-fourth of these. The only region where the Janata Dal(U) has a presence is northern Bihar.

NDA leaders claim that the principal reason for the alliance’s poor performance was the multiplicity of NDA candidates in a large number of seats owing to the constituents’ failure to fine-tune the seat-sharing arrangement. However, an analysis of the co nstituency-level results indicates that this was not a decisive factor. Alliance candidates contested against each other in 37 seats, and in 11 of these the winner was an NDA candidate. In 15 other constituencies an NDA candidate finished second, but the victory margin in each case was substantial, and even a united NDA may not have been able to tilt the scales. A united NDA would have made a difference to the outcome only in two constituencies, Mohiuddin Nagar and Kurtha, where the RJD won by narrow ma rgins.

Of the 324 seats, 182 changed hands between parties. Although the NDA’s tally this time was more than double the collective tally of its constituents in 1995, it did not retain even half of its own seats. The Congress(I) retained just seven of the 29 sea ts it won in 1995, lost 10 to the NDA and six to the RJD. Not only did the Left parties lose a large number of seats, they were able to retain only a few. The RJD retained 94 of the seats it won in 1995 and lost 57 to the NDA.

There is some dissatisfaction with the political representatives at the constituency level. The CSDS-NDTV post-election survey tried to find out how satisfied people in each constituency were with the performance of their MLA during the past five years. Nearly one-third of the people feel dissatisfied with their MLA; only 15 per cent feel very satisfied. This dissatisfaction is more or less evenly spread among all sections. The educated sections are more dissatisfied than the uneducated. The level of di ssatisfaction is much higher among the "upper castes" and Dalits. A majority of the women do not have an opinion on this issue.

Although the RJD’s seats tally has seen ups and downs in the past few elections, the party’s vote share has remained fairly steady - an indication that it has a committed support base. But does this mean that the same group of people voted for the party over the years? The CSDS-NDTV survey’s analysis of the social profile of the RJD vote showed that it had not changed in the last few elections.

There is a sharp contrast between the profiles of those who have always voted the RJD and those who have never voted for the party. While more than 50 per cent of the RJD vote comes from Yadavs and Muslims, only 6 per cent of those who have never voted f or the RJD belong to these two social groups. Among the other backward classes (OBCs), the RJD has at best mixed support. On the one hand, nearly 21 per cent of the RJD vote comes from OBCs; on the other, of those who have never voted for the RJD, 26 per cent belong to the OBCs. There is practically no change in the composition of the RJD vote. The Opposition parties have failed to make any inroads among the diehard supporters of Laloo Prasad Yadav. There is firm opposition to the RJD from among the upp er castes, who account for half of those who have never voted for the RJD in the last 10 years. Among Dalits and adivasis too, there are some sections that have never voted for the party.

The vote in Bihar this time was sharply polarised on caste lines. Yadavs and Muslims offered solid support to the RJD, but the proportion of Muslims who voted for the party was lower than expected. The upper castes decisively tilted in favour of the NDA, although the polarisation here was much less pronounced. Dalits and the lower OBCs were clearly split. However, such levels of polarisation are not uncommon in Bihar.

No caste or community except Yadavs can be said to constitute a "vote bank", for there is a fair degree of cross-voting in each section. Yadavs tend to favour the RJD to a higher extent than any other caste favours any other party. Although the Janata Da l(U)’s Dalit leader Ram Vilas Paswan, who was projected as its chief ministerial candidate, campaigned hard for the NDA, the RJD managed to secure a fair share of the votes of Dalits. A gravitation of the votes of Muslims towards the NDA is discernible, but the RJD nevertheless enjoys some support among the minority community. There are sections among Rajputs who voted for the RJD. Besides the votes of adivasis, the Congress(I) secured a fair share of the votes of Brahmins.

The CSDS-NDTV survey shows a correlation between the voters’ level of education and their voting preference. Educated voters tended to support the NDA. On the other hand, the RJD is more popular among the uneducated sections. The Congress(I) has support among both sections. Since education is a function of class, it reflects the RJD’s support among the lower classes and the NDA’s support among the upper classes.

The survey reveals that the RJD enjoys a high degree of support among some sections, and very low degree of support among a few others. Does the high level of support among some sections reflect their happiness with the performance of the RJD Government?

A big segment of the people is dissatisfied with the kind of governance provided by Laloo Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi over the past 10 years. Only a small section is very satisfied with their performance. Yadavs and Muslims are more satisfied on this cou nt than most other sections. A majority of the upper castes are highly dissatisfied on this score.

How has the State government performed on different issues?

Nearly 45 per cent of the people feel that corruption has worsened during the past 10 years. Nearly a third of the people feel that development issues have been set back and that social tension has increased. A majority of the people, however, feel that the social standing of the economically weaker sections has improved during this period. About 61 per cent of Yadavs and Muslims held this opinion, as did 33 per cent of people belonging to OBCs and 28 per cent of Dalits. However, only 19 per cent of the upper castes concurred with this opinion.

About 48 per cent of the people believe that Laloo Prasad Yadav is involved in the fodder scam; about 37 per cent appraise Laloo Prasad Yadav as either a bad or a very bad leader. On many of these issues too, Yadavs and Muslims hold opinions that are vas tly different from those of other sections. About 32 per cent of them believe that Laloo Prasad Yadav is involved in the fodder scam while 30 per cent hold no opinion on this, but in the estimation of a majority of them, the government has performed cred itably. Nearly 80 per cent of them classified Laloo Prasad Yadav as either a good or a very good leader.

Besides, 33 per cent of the respondents said they believed that Muslims felt more secure during the last 10 years than earlier. Nearly 60 per cent of Muslims and 55 per cent of Yadavs concurred with this opinion. A majority of people from among OBCs and Dalits too held this view; on the other hand, a majority of the upper castes disagreed with this proposition.

There is a widely held belief that in Bihar only Yadavs have benefited politically and socially over the past 10 years. The opinion was more vehemently held by the upper castes as compared to others. Only a small section of Yadavs agreed.

The demand for a Jharkhand state was an important campaign theme. How far does it count with the people?

A majority of the people in the State were aware of the demand for a Jharkhand state, but only 18 per cent favoured it. There seems to be a pronounced divide between southern Bihar and the rest of the State on this issue. Not surprisingly, adivasis are m ore informed on this issue and there is greater support for this among them. As the demand for a Jharkhand state has been central to the politics of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, a greater number of supporters of that party felt that the statehood demand w as justified, as compared to those who voted for the BJP or the RJD. Only a minuscule section of RJD voters support this demand. The JMM seems to have benefited from its unwavering commitment to the Jharkhand cause. Although the JMM is not as united as i t was in 1995, the party managed to win 12 seats, two more than it did then, and increased its vote share by 6 percentage points in southern Bihar.

See online : Frontline


Volume 17 - Issue 06, Mar. 18 - 31, 2000

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