Posted by: John Elliott | November 12, 2020

Modi’s BJP wins in Bihar for the first time

Son of jailed Lalu Yadav just beats the BJP on seats, promising jobs

BJP wins key by-elections in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat

Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party has expanded its nation-wide grip in India this week by gaining a dominant role for the first time in Bihar’s state assembly, while also producing good results in other state by-elections.

The Bihar election was also notable for the success of a young dynastic politician, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, the 31- year old son of Lalu Yadav, the state’s notoriously corrupt former chief minister who has been convicted in multi-million rupee “fodder scam” cases dating from the 1990s and is in jail.

Tejashwi Yadav (below) now heads his father’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, which won 75 seats in the 243-seat assembly, five fewer than in the last election, but one more than the BJP’s 74 – though the BJP’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won the election with 125 seats compared with Yadav’s broad based Mahagathbandhan (MGB) coalition’s 110.

Yadav achieved that score primarily by offering the hope of jobs in a state that was hit hard by the migrants’ crisis stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. Modi introduced a sudden national shutdown in March and millions of migrant workers deserted the cities to trudge home, some 2.5m of them to Bihar.

Nitish Kumar, who heads the regional Janata Dal United (JDU) party, remains chief minister for a fourth term at the head of the NDA coalition, even though his party won only 43 seats, 28 less than at the last election in 2015.

The BJP seems likely to replace him some time soon. He switched his government’s alliance from the Congress Party to the BJP in July 2017, and failed as chief minister to live up to the development record of his earlier terms in office. There was little economic development in terms of roads, bridges and electric power and virtually no job creation, though health services improved.

Five years ago, when I visited Bihar during the election campaign, Shaibal Gupta, who runs the locally based Asian Development Research Institute, said the state needed to expand from its largely government-funded economy, and from farmers producing mostly for their own consumption, to productive private sector business activity. That meant the government should encourage entrepreneurial activity.

Lalu Prasad Yadav

This did not happen, and the massive number of migrants returning home earlier this year dramatically illustrated the lack of local jobs. Speaking two weeks ago while voting was taking place, Gupta said “in the absence of any industry or private sector and given the state’s poor governance model, providing jobs is the most significant factor that will determine the outcome of the election”. 

Yadav’s success in winning so many seats is significant because it shows that voters will support a dynasty with a familiar name, providing the message is one of hope – in this case a promise of the jobs that are being demanded by the youth in one of India’s poorest states.  (That is something Rahul Gandhi consistently fails to do with his family’s Congress Party, which won only 19 seats as part of Yadav’s MGB coalition).

Yadav, who was not taken seriously as a politician till relatively recently, has a long way to go re-packaging the family reputation and establishing himself. He tried to sideline the memory of his father’s crimes – syphoning Rs950-1500 crore (estimates vary) from the state government’s animal husbandry department.

His line was that his father, who later became a Congress government railways minister, had introduced dramatic social change for the poor and low castes during the years that he (and his wife Rabri when he was jailed) were in power. 

Now, said Tejashwi Yadav in a whirlwind tour of election meetings, was the time for economic development, which he would introduce.  He promised the creation of one million government jobs, though the BJP said it would generate 1.9m employment opportunities. 

In other state assembly by-polls the BJP, which has not done well in some recent state elections, won 19 out of 28 seats in Madhya Pradesh, routing the Congress Party. It won all eight seats that were vacant in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, and six out of seven in Uttar Pradesh, along with other successes elsewhere.

Modi claimed that the Bihar and other results endorsed the way that the pandemic had been handled. Certainly the results are at least partly an endorsement of his national leadership, and yet another illustration of how he manages to maintain national support and praise even though the economy has slumped and there have been 8.7m coronavirus cases. In Bihar however, the cry was for jobs and development, and the BJP will be judged on whether that happens.

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