Debating India


Sharp polarisation in Bihar

Saturday 27 November 1999

Emerging Patterns

The four-part analysis of the 1999 Lok Sabha election results, undertaken by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, in association with a network of scholars from around the country, and co-sponsored by Frontline, draw s to a close with this instalment that consists of an examination of the verdict in the States of Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Orissa. The earlier instalments included a three-part examination of the all-India patterns of th e verdict and a closer examination of the verdict in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The State-wise interpretation combines analysis of the official election results with the findings from a nation-wide post-poll survey, National Election Study (NES) 1999. In attempting to unravel what lies behind the results in these States, the analysi s focusses on regional variations and the voting behaviour among different social groups. The findings are put in context with reference to the 1998 Lok Sabha elections.

The NES is based on a nationally representative, randomly selected sample, and is part of a larger series of surveys examining the Indian electorate that stretches back to 1967. (For a more detailed methodological note on how the survey was conducted, se e part two of the analysis in Frontline, November 19.)

While the sample is representative for the country as a whole, it is not necessarily representative for each of the States analysed here. The sample size for each State is mentioned in each article. Wherever the sample size of a particular group is stati stically small, the particular row has been marked with an asterisk, and the findings treated with caution. Similarly, wherever the survey has over-represented or under-represented the vote-share for the leading parties, the fact has been mentioned. Howe ver, these discrepancies do not seriously affect the broad conclusions since the errors tend to be evenly distributed across respondents from different social backgrounds.

Sharp polarisation in Bihar


IN a straight contest in Bihar, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally, the Janata Dal (U), won 41 of the 54 Lok Sabha seats and polled 43.8 per cent of the votes, while the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress(I) combine won 11 seats and polled 37.1 per cent of the votes. If the number of seats won is the only indicator of success, then it can be assumed that the BJP-JD(U) combine registered a massive victory in a one-sided contest. But the margins of victory present a picture of a somewhat keen contest. The difference in the vote-shares of the two alliances is close to 7 percentage points; the results in 22 constituencies were decided by margins less than a 5 per cent of the votes polled. In 1998, the victory margin was narrow only in 17 constituencies. In fact, of the last three elections to the Lok Sabha, the recent round was the most keenly contested in Bihar.

Compared to its performance in 1998, the RJD-Congress(I) alliance suffered a major loss. However, in terms of votes the RJD, with 28.3 per cent of the popular vote, remains the single largest party in the State. In fact, it managed to increase its vote s hare by a little under two percentage points.

The success of the alliance cannot be credited primarily to the rise of the BJP in the State. Although the BJP increased its seats tally by three, it lost one percentage point in terms of vote share. This, of course, might be owing to the fact that it co ntested fewer seats. To a greater extent, the success of the alliance can be attributed to the merger of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal with the Janata Dal (U) and the formidable alliance worked out by the BJP, the JD(U) and the Bihar People’s Party (BPP). This led to a consolidation of anti-Laloo Prasad Yadav votes across the State. Although the JD(U)’s vote-share fell by nearly four percentage points (considering the combined vote for the Samata Party and the undivided Janata Dal in 1998), the co nstituents of the alliance managed to increase their joint tally by seven seats.

The regional patterns show that although there were no major gains or losses for the two alliances in South and Central Bihar, there was a reversal of fortunes in North Bihar, which accounts for the largest number of seats - 26. In 1998 the RJD-Congress( I) combine won 16 of the 22 seats it won in Bihar. This time the alliance was practically decimated. Despite an increase of 3.8 percentage points in its vote-share, its seat tally dropped sharply to four. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) won the Bh agalpur seat, with support from the RJD and the Congress(I). All the gains that the BJP-JD(U) made in the State came from this region.

The merger of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal resulted in a shift in the voting pattern of different communities in Bihar. The new alliance, however, failed to transfer en masse, the support base of the Janata Dal to the BJP-JD(U) combine. The decrease in the number of votes polled by the BJP-JD(U) compared to the performance of the BJP-Samata Party-Janata Dal in 1998 bears testimony to this.

The community-wise table makes it clear that Rajputs, other upper castes and Kurmis and Keoris strongly supported the BJP-JD(U) combine. By contrast, Yadavs and Muslims were clearly favoured the RJD-Congress(I) alliance.

The BJP-JD(U) combine retained its strong support base among Rajputs, which was evident in the 1998 elections, and managed to transfer to itself the votes of the other upper castes that supported the Janata Dal. The inclusion of the Janata Dal in the all iance also consolidated votes of Other Backward Classes such as Kurmis and Koeris. These groups had supported the BJP-Samata Party in 1998 and so it is not surprising that the merger helped consolidate their support bases.

The lower sections of society had generally stayed away from the BJP, and it was uncertain whether Muslims, the Scheduled Castes and those Yadavs who had voted for the Janata Dal in 1998 would shift their allegiance to the BJP-led alliance. The CSDS surv ey answers some of these questions. In 1998, 25 per cent of Muslims had voted for the Janata Dal, whereas the BJP-Samata Party combine gained virtually no Muslim support. The transfer of Muslim votes has taken place; from the fact that the BJP-JD(U) has secured 19 per cent of the Muslim vote, it is clear that the Janata Dal was able to take most of its Muslim vote with it. Similarly, the JD(U) was able to transfer its Dalit vote base to the alliance. Ram Vilas Paswan managed to carry along with him a la rge percentage of the Dalit vote to the new alliance.

However, it was a different story with Yadavs. In 1998, the Janata Dal headed by Sharad Yadav won 25 per cent of the Yadav vote. It was widely expected that the merger and the formation of the alliance would lead to a shift of Yadav support to the BJP-JD (U) combine. However, it was the RJD alliance that benefited from a greater consolidation of Yadav votes: the support of the community for the RJD-led alliance rose from 66 per cent in 1998 to 79 per cent.

The class profile in Bihar for the two main formations is not as striking as it was in the early 1990s. Although the BJP-JD(U) combine is the most popular among the upper class, it draws considerable support from the lower classes as well. In fact, it is no longer true that the RJD-Congress(I) enjoys greater support among lower class voters. Laloo Prasad Yadav’s early success came from the fact that he was able to consolidate the lower castes/ lower classes votes. The survey found that in this round of elections, the RJD chief’s monopoly over the votes of the poorest sections of society was broken.

The voting pattern of the educated sections reveals a similar trend. In each education-wise stratum, the BJP-JD(U) enjoyed greater support than the RJD-Congress(I). The BJP-JD(U) received proportionately more support among educated voters than uneducated voters.

The survey findings thus show a sharper contrast in the voting patterns of different castes than of different classes and educational strata. Caste is still the most important political cleavage factor in Bihar.

With the Assembly elections due in March next, the Lok Sabha results may provide a useful indicator of the shape of things to come. The data released by the Election Commission have made it possible to speculate on what the overall tally of seats in the Assembly would be. Had the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections been held simultaneously, and the electorate voted in the same manner for each, then the BJP-JD(U) combine would have won a convincing majority, 177 of the 279 seats for which data are available ; and the RJD-Congress(I) would have won 81. It remains to be seen whether Laloo Prasad Yadav, one of the most adroit political entrepreneurs Indian politics has seen, can stem the tide for the RJD.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 25, Nov. 27 - Dec. 10, 1999.

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