Bihar Election: What India's Biggest Commentators Said About The Results

09/11/2015 3:51 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - AUGUST 19: Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar during Bihar Samman Samaroh at Mavalankar Hall function organised by Delhi Government on August 19, 2015 in New Delhi, India. Aam Aadmi Party leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal will campaign against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the run-up to the Bihar assembly polls. (Photo by Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

NEW DELHI -- The Bihar State Election result has set the nation, its people and its pundits talking, analysing, and shaking their heads over a tremendous rejection of communal and divisive politics.

While it was widely anticipated that the Grand Alliance of the Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress Party, fronted by Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad and Sonia Gandhi, had an edge, they were not expected to drum up a stunning 178 seats in the Bihar Legislative Assembly.

With 53 seats, the BJP cannot even lay claim to forming the single largest party since the RJD took 80 seats followed by JD(U) with 71. Even the Congress Party bagged 27 seats.

Counting day on Sunday was a breathless and confusing affair, with TV channels projecting different leads till almost 10:00 in the morning. Today, the BJP along with the rest of the country is exploring the how and why of Bihar's stunning result.

Several political observers have spoken about how BJP's defeat in Bihar is a rejection of communal polarisation, a wake up call for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a blow to BJP President Amit Shah's dominance.

HuffPost India has put together some of the insightful commentary on the Battle For Bihar which takes the conversation forward.

Decency Wins Out

In the Hindustan Times, columnist Vir Sanghvi writes that it is time for Modi to stop campaigning and start governing, especially because tooting one's horn without delivering is really starting to annoy people.

"First of all, he needs to stop seeing himself as prime campaigner and recognise that he is actually prime minister. His stated aim may be to create a Congress-mukt Bharat where the BJP is a dominant force. But that's not what he was elected to do," he wrote.

Eventually, Sanghvi writes, the Biharis preferred Kumar's understated decency to Modi's blustering especially in the backdrop of the horrifying remarks against minorities being bandied about BJP leaders.

"In contrast to this unpleasantness and bigotry - much of which found its way into the Bihar campaign - the word most often used to describe Nitish Kumar is 'decent,'" he wrote.

"While Modi fought a high-cost, high-voltage, high rhetoric, high-in-a helicopter campaign, Nitish went quietly from village to village, addressing relatively small meetings and refrained from personal attacks or any kind rudeness. Bihar is not Madison Square Garden and Nitish's s low key unflashy style connected better with voters." Vir Sanghvi, Hindustan Times

Trust And Confidence

In The Indian Express, Pratap Banu Mehta, who heads the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, writes that "hubris and arrogance are besetting sins in a democracy," while pointing out that Shah's remark about - crackers in Pakistan if BJP lost in Bihar - was deeply contemptuous of the voters, who had answered back.

Explaining why Kumar and Yadav made a great team, Mehta credited the two leaders with cultivating a political culture which has remained free of massive communal violence, staying confident in their own identity and trusting their core constituents, and never ceasing to think politically.

"Admittedly, their survival was at stake, but contrary to expectations, they politically worked well together in the election, marrying Nitish’s governance persona with Lalu’s social base and organisation," he wrote. In stark contrast, he described Modi as "a prisoner of his own mythology, where the gap between his own sense of destiny and his achievement is growing by the day."

"It is the peculiar dignity of Indian democracy that it so often provides a new dawn. Kishan Pattnayak once called Bihar the graveyard of all revolutions. Now it is a source of hope. It is up to Nitish to consolidate what is already a stunning legacy in the annals of Bihar politics."Pratap Banu Mehta, The Indian Express

A More Prime Ministerial - Prime Minister

In the Business Standard, columnist Shekhar Gupta writes that Bihar has put to rest any doubts that Modi's momentum from 2014 is now "fully over," and elections will be decided on performance, which requires the Prime Minister to actually get down to the nuts and bolts of governance.

"It will be wonderful if Modi now brings the focus back on governance with greater commitment than image building, electoral campaigning and divisive politics. In short, it will be a real gain if this setback persuades him to become more prime ministerial." Shekhar Gupta, Business Standard

Gupta also pointed out that ministers for four central portfolios which are important for the public - agriculture, telecom, food and skill development - come from Bihar and they aggressively campaigned in the state.

""Each portfolio is a disaster. Dal prices are at historic peaks, agriculture has stalled as the minister does no more than hold forth on "Javik Kheti" (organic farming), the promise of two crore news jobs is a joke, and if this is a smartphone generation, call drops, rising tariffs and fishy ambiguity on net neutrality also infuriate it," he wrote.

Bihar Vote More Positive Than Negative

In The Hindu, Sanjay Kumar, who heads the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, writes that the Bihar electorate voted for the development, which they had already witnessed under Kumar, rather than Modi's grand promises.

The Bihar Election is a positive endorsement for Kumar rather than a negative vote against Modi, according to Kumar.

"In the personality contest between Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi, people may not have completely rejected Mr. Modi, but have overwhelmingly accepted Mr. Kumar as their next Chief Minister. It is more a positive vote for Nitish Kumar than a negative vote against Narendra Modi." Sanjay Kumar, The Hindu

Muslims Cannot Be Herded

Much has been written about the lesson against communal polarisation which the Bihar Election holds for the BJP. It does the same for Asaduddin Owaisi, the lawmaker from Hyderabad, who made a bid for power in Muslim-dominated northeast Bihar in the midst of turmoil over beef ban, cow slaughter and the Dadri Lynching.

It didn't work, and the Muslims stood behind the Grand Alliance.

In The Times of India, Dipankar Gupta, Distinguished Professor at Shiv Nadar University, suggested that politicians really need to stop flashing the religious card.

"To believe that Muslims can be herded into a shed by flashing the religious card has failed so often and yet, somehow, politicians insist on giving this ploy a shot," he wrote.

Was NDTV covering "A Bunfight In The Drones Club?"

In The Telegraph, columnist Mukul Kesavan flays NDTV's "magisterial recklessness" in which Prannoy Roy declared that the BJP would win a comfortable majority in the Bihar Election just an hour after the counting started.

If television channels put out wrong information, the punditry which follows is obviously questionable.

On Sunday, Kesavan pointed out, NDTV was rolling out explanations which fit its announcement on BJP's win, and then its pundits were forced to backtrack. "It was almost as if they were reporting on a bunfight in the Drones Club, not a election that had the country riveted, that actually meant something to the people watching television," he wrote.

"The broad moral of the results, according to Prannoy Roy, was that the people of Bihar wanted much more than bijli, sarak, pani: they wanted vikas. They were, naturally, aspirational.

The prize for Most Irresistible Comeuppance belonged to Shekhar Gupta, once editor of the Indian Express. Gupta's commentary is a blend of insider knowingness and vatic generalisation." Mukul Kesavan, The Telegraph.

Gupta attributed Nitish Kumar's loss to arrogance, his treatment of Jitan Ram Manjhi, and his dreams of ruling India.

Kesavan's takeaway: "Mistakes happen, but sometimes they happen because pundits mistake knowingness for realism."

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