Lessons from Bihar for upcoming state elections in Assam

29 March 2016
Lessons from Bihar for upcoming state elections in Assam
In conversation with Neelanjan Sircar

Neelanjan Sircar, Senior Fellow at CPR, provides a detailed data analysis of the Bihar election in 2015, and why the BJP performed poorly in Assessing Party Performance and Alliance Dynamics in the 2015 Bihar Election.

Drawing on key arguments from the Bihar analysis, he shares below the learning for the BJP for the upcoming state elections (Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Pondicherry) between April–May, 2016, with a special focus on Assam.

How do the upcoming state elections look for BJP in general?

The BJP is clearly not doing well in the state elections, and if they do not win one in 2016, they would have gone without having won a single state election for nearly two years, which is not good for any party. Four out of the five states slated for election between April and May are not in play for them at all. The only state in which the BJP may do well is Assam, and it is important for them to win this so that their base feels energised and the morale of the party workers is boosted.

What should the BJP learn from the Bihar outcome?

There are two big lessons for the BJP from Bihar:

1. They must figure out a way to work with the state outfits—this was a problem in Bihar. Unlike the Congress, which is really a collection of quite independent state level Congress parties, this avatar of the BJP is far more centralised. In Assam, the BJP state election is being led by a Congress defector, and it might prove tricky to lead a state election through a centralised campaign, which requires negotiating with an opposition party defector.

2. If there is one state where playing the Hindu cultural issues is likely to work, it is Assam, given its Muslim population and the Bangladeshi migrant issue, which are existing fault-lines. That being said, if that is the only card played, it will be hard to win. Tarun Gogoi is weighed down by anti-incumbency, but I always tell people that 'anti-incumbency' is an observation, not an explanation ; it only means that people are tired of the incumbent. The BJP needs to develop an explanation in order to appeal to the floating population of voters that may be swung in its favour. Issues like economic growth and infrastructure development tend to draw floating voters and expand vote share. The BJP failed to develop these sorts of narratives in Bihar, often focusing on cultural issues. It must be remembered, however, that such cultural issues can motivate the BJP's core base of voters but are less effective in drawing the floating voters necessary to win an election. 

To what extent will the current debate around ultra-nationalism be a factor in Assam?

It is an open question. As it appears, since a lot of state elections are not going well, the BJP’s return to power in 2019 is unlikely to happen through these state elections. As a result, they are creating this national narrative around nationalism, with the 2019 general elections as the goal.

Sircar and his team will be regularly sharing data analyses; positing trends; field notes; and detailed post-analyses from April through June for all state elections.

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.