Assessing Party Performance and Alliance Dynamics in the 2015 Bihar Election

By Neelanjan Sircar and Gilles Verniers
28 March 2016

The 2015 Bihar election represented a stunning reversal of fortune for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In the 2014 national election, the NDA won 172 out of 243 assembly constituency (AC) segments. But in the 2015 Bihar election, just 18 months later, the NDA won only 58 ACs. In this piece, we investigate electoral data from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to provide a nuanced picture of the shift in Bihar. We argue that poor party coordination within the NDA, in addition to campaign dynamics, account for the magnitude of the NDA’s defeat. Prior to 2014, the JD(U) and the BJP were in alliance together under the NDA banner, but the JD(U) left the coalition over the choice of Narendra Modi as prime ministerial candidate and decided to contest the 2014 election alone. In 2014, without the JD(U), the NDA won 31 out of 40 parliamentary constituencies, with the JD(U) winning just two seats. In the 18 months between the 2014 and 2015 election, once bitter foes, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav, and their respective parties, Janata Dal (United) [JD(U)] and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), joined forces along with the Congress to form the mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance to defeat the NDA. The NDA, comprised of the BJP, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) in 2014, stayed intact and added a new party, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), to its ranks. In the election post-mortem, many have offered explanations for the NDA’s reversal of fortune. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has argued that the NDA’s poor performance was due to the “social arithmetic” of caste and less about the its message or campaign strategy (1). Observers of the Grand Alliance have pointed to campaign manager Prashant Kishor’s effective campaign strategy and coordination across all parties in ticket distribution and voter mobilization (2). Our data analysis suggests that the outcome of these elections was less about caste arithmetic and more about the poor coalition strategy of the BJP. In particular, the ways in which the BJP treated its allies contributed to the magnitude of the NDA’s defeat. At the same time, we find that although the parties in the Grand Alliance coordinated their efforts better than the NDA, they did not attract more voters than in 2014.