Bihar Defeat Sends Clear Message to Modi

Published: November 08, 2015 16:36 IST
A few quick lessons from the Bihar results:

It's a victory for development.

The decisive triumph of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), with Nitish Kumar re-elected to serve a third term as Chief Minister, is clearly a vote for his strong message of "vikas" (development). It was Nitish, in his earlier stints as Chief Minister,who brought "bijli, sadak, pani" (good roads, electricity and safe drinking water) to large areas of Bihar that had been deprived of those basic amenities, as well as programmes to promote girls' education. These were the things voters recalled when asked about their voting intentions, and they proved true to the leader who had provided them.

It's also a victory for communal unity.

The Mahagatbandhan's other poll message was "shanti" (peace), in contrast to the BJP's communally-charged polarizing tactics and rhetoric that attempted to take divisiveness to new heights and split the vote on religious lines. Journalists reported before the voting that shanti or peace was a frequently-cited theme in their conversations with voters. Bihar, with nearly 17% of its people Muslim, may seem ripe for the communal treatment, but its survival depends on communal harmony which the Mahagathbandhan argued has been woven into the very fabric of Bihari society. The comments by BJP leaders (shamefully including the very top leaders) about Nitish and Lalu intending to give reservations to Muslims at the expense of OBCs, the statements that Pakistan would celebrate a BJP defeat, and the headline-stealing beef controversies - all whipped up to generate communal polarization - had very little impact on voters, who were far more concerned about their own livelihoods, security and their children's education.

It's a triumph for Opposition Unity.

From the start, the Congress Party and Rahul Gandhi personally worked to construct the Mahagathbandhan and keep it going. It refused to encourage any rivalry between Nitish and Lalu - no "divide and rule" here - and firmly insisted both on Nitish being the alliance's CM-designate and on the two allied parties enjoying strict parity in ticket-distribution. The results are evident for all to see. Rahul Gandhi has clearly found a winning formula that can be developed and extended all the way to 2019.

The time has come for Prime Minister Modi to perform.

I had incurred the displeasure of many in my own party last year by acknowledging that Modi's statements suggested he recognized the importance of switching from the politics of religious identity (which his party had been so notorious for propagating) to a politics of performance (which seemed to be the burden of his speeches promising "sab ka saath sab ka vikas" (development and progress for all). Unfortunately, it has become clear with every passing month that my critics were right - that Modi's actions or lack thereof prove that his development rhetoric never went beyond speech-making. There has not only been no development, no sign of economic reform, no national transformation and no jobs for the young - but far worse, there has been an over-emphasis on communal division and a distasteful display of Hindutva triumphalism across the board. The voters of Bihar have now followed those of Delhi in sending a clear message to Mr Modi: this is not what we voted for you for. For the nation's sake, let's hope he gets the message.

It's bad news for pollsters.

I have been arguing for some time now that polling is a deeply inexact science that can't work well in India because our voters simply do not reflect the homogeneity and predictability that validates random sampling in the far more uniform societies of the Western democracies. Time after time, the pollsters have been falling flat on their faces and it's happened again today, with those who predicted a close contest (and the inappropriately-named Chanakya, which confidently predicted an NDA sweep) being made to look silly. The only polling organization which got it right found the TV channel that had commissioned it refusing to broadcast its predictions because it felt they were insufficiently justified by the raw data. Personally, I stopped taking pre-election polls seriously after the Delhi debacle, but Bihar suggests that even exit polling techniques need radical revision. The only samples that can make sense would have to take into account our differences of religion, caste, region and sect, but such samples would be too large to be viable for polling organizations to reach. Simple lesson: trust the voters, not the pollsters. The only polls that count are the ones that actually involve pressing buttons on an EVM.

Finally, it's good news for Indian democracy.

The voters of Bihar have done Indian democracy a great service by rewarding development and unity, and punishing communal bigotry, polarization and arrogance. After Delhi and Bihar, the BJP government may just be chastened enough to concentrate on what the nation thought it had voted for when it gave them the mandate of 2014: development for all. The Opposition, in turn, has received a boost that will give it the confidence to stand up boldly for its values of democracy, pluralism, secularism and social justice, despite its relative paucity of numbers. 

The tide has turned. The main beneficiaries of this transformation can only be the Indian people.

(Dr Shashi Tharoor is a two-time MP from Thiruvananthapuram, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, the former Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Human Resource Development and the former UN Under-Secretary-General. He has written 15 books, including, most recently, India Shastra: Reflections On the Nation in Our Time.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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