How Will Bihar Shake Out?

6 November 2015

The exit polls are out in Bihar, and we are none the wiser. It is seemingly a photo finish between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Janata Dal United [JD(U)]-Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress Grand Alliance. The Bihar election is ending as it began, full of theatre and intrigue. We can only guess how it ends. We were making our way to East Champaran; we didn’t realise Narendra Modi’s rally would be in Gopalganj district that day. The rally was over, but traffic had stopped moving 2 km from the rally site; we would be stuck at the same spot for the next few hours. Nowhere else to go, we got out of the car and started chatting with rally-goers. An exuberant BJP supporter exclaimed, “We have 8-10 lakh people today!” This was clearly an overestimate, but the crowd was bigger than we had seen elsewhere. We stopped in at a roadside stand where 4-5 men were being served their thalis and asked from where they had come to attend the rally. “Dewaria,” responded one man (Dewaria is in Uttar Pradesh (UP), not Bihar). He went on, “None of us are from Bihar. People are coming from Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Allahabad. The Party gives us enough money to eat lunch as well.” The Muslim shopkeeper who was cooking for them, the only person there who would actually be voting in Bihar, was clearly supporting the Grand Alliance, but he was happy for the extra money generated from the rally. The real reason for the traffic bottleneck then became clear. The road had narrowed to a single lane. While we headed further into Bihar, bus after bus, each with a “UP” license plate, was headed the other way. We analysts often mistakenly use rallies to gauge the hawa for a party. But, ultimately, rallies are about theatre and spectacle, while elections are won on the strength of the ground-level campaign. 

Privately, a section of BJP workers have been telling us that they can now see the NDA losing in this election, not something we heard in the first couple of weeks of the campaign. In our previous piece, using available data, we argued that the NDA would have to do very well in the third and fourth phases of this five-phase election if it is to win, something that even BJP leaders have now said publicly. Given that the NDA was well ahead in 2014, the NDA might still pull off this victory. It is clear, however, that the Grand Alliance has run a stronger ground campaign than the NDA, and that the campaign has had a major impact on changing voters’ minds. The NDA now seems unlikely to get near the 172 assembly constituency (AC) segments it won in 2014. In the remainder of this piece, we assess the structure of the Grand Alliance, how it shaped the campaign, as well as how the campaigns, for both NDA and the Grand Alliance, conducted themselves during this election.