High Hopes, Disappointing Results: Why Tejashwi-Led INDIA Alliance Performed Poorly in Bihar

Tejashwi Yadav (Photo: Zee News)

M I Khan, TwoCircles.net

Patna: In politics, a week can make all the difference, and the results of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar are a testament to this. Despite high expectations, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-Congress-Left’s INDIA alliance failed to secure seats in double digits in the state. Leaders of the Opposition bloc had confidently claimed that they would win 20-25 of the 40 seats and stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s momentum.

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However, these claims did not materialize. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 30 seats, while the INDIA coalition managed to bag only nine seats, with one constituency going to an independent candidate.

This disappointing outcome for the Opposition parties, led by the RJD, raises significant questions — especially when compared to the better-than-expected performances of the Samajwadi Party-Congress combine in Uttar Pradesh and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal.

Campaign Strength Vs. Ground Strategies

Many believe that while the INDIA alliance’s election campaign was “strong”, their strategies to connect with voters on the ground and maintain their social support base were “ineffective”.

Despite securing 22.14 percent of the votes, the highest for any political party in the state in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the RJD won only four out of the 23 seats it contested. This poor performance came despite an aggressive campaign led by Tejashwi Yadav, who had high expectations from his party’s leaders, workers and supporters.

Impact on the Opposition’s Goals

This not only disrupted the RJD’s calculations but also affected the INDIA bloc’s goal to unseat the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government — disappointing thousands across Bihar and beyond.

Of the total nine seats the Opposition won, the Congress’ contribution stood at three and Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation or CPI(ML) two. The grand old party had contested nine seats, while the CPI(ML) three.

One independent, Pappu Yadav, who is close to Congress, also emerged victorious, taking the Opposition’s tally to 10.

Rise in Vote Share

Although the RJD improved from zero seats in the last Lok Sabha polls (2019) to four this time, it was not enough to meet expectations.

Official data reveals that the RJD’s vote share increased from 15.68 percent in the last elections to 22.14 percent this time, while Congress’s vote share rose from 7.85 percent to 9.20 percent. Despite this increase, the NDA managed to win 30 seats, 10 less than the previous election, with the BJP securing 12 out of 17 seats, the Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) winning 12 out of 16 and LJP(Ram Vilas) sweeping all 5 seats it contested.

JD(U)’s Increased Influence

Interestingly, the JD(U), with 12 seats, has become more influential in the new government formation, with the party president and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar playing a significant role.

Although the Opposition alliance’s vote share rose, compared to the NDA’s, from 36.47 percent to 45.52 percent, it did not translate into seats. This discrepancy has sparked discussions from streets to tea stalls and drawing rooms about why Tejashwi’s RJD, despite a vigorous campaign addressing 251 election meetings, managed to win only four seats.

Tejashwi’s Focus on Core Issues

His campaign focused on critical issues like employment, price rise and poverty, which resonated with the youth and overshadowed other topics. However, political observers noted that while Tejashwi’s efforts to expand the RJD’s traditional social support base from the Muslim-Yadav (MY) to a broader demographic showed promise, it did not fully materialize in this election. Moreover, internal party decisions and candidate selections also affected the RJD’s performance.

Despite these challenges, Tejashwi’s high vote share is seen as a strength, potentially reflecting in the 2025 Bihar Assembly polls. His efforts to address fundamental issues and mobilize voters could still yield significant results in future elections.

Campaign Strategy Vs. Opposition Tactics

Unlike the ruling NDA leaders, who focused on polarising Hindu-Muslim issues and personal attacks against RJD chief Lalu Prasad and his wife, former Chief Minister Rabri Devi, accusing them of fostering a “jungle raj” (misrule), Tejashwi concentrated on “rozgar, naukri, manhgai aur garibi” (employment, jobs, price rise and poverty). These core issues overshadowed all others in Bihar, drawing large crowds, particularly of youths, to his campaign rallies.

Expanding Social Support Base

Political observers noted that Tejashwi has been trying to expand the RJD’s traditional Muslim-Yadav (MY) support base to a broader coalition. However, this effort has not yet fully translated into electoral success.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad attempted to gain support from the Kushawaha community, a traditional JD-U base, by fielding candidates from this caste. This strategy showed some success, with Abhay Kushwaha winning the Aurangabad seat. Yet, in other constituencies, Kushwaha candidates fell short despite garnering significant votes from their community.

Tejashwi has also sought to attract support from the Mallah (fishermen) community, traditionally loyal to the NDA. During the campaign, Mukesh Sahni, leader of the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and a prominent Mallah figure, joined Tejashwi, signaling a potential shift in support.

Despite these efforts, Kamlesh Kumar, a teacher in a government school in Patna, observed that while the RJD-led INDIA alliance managed to limit the BJP-led NDA from replicating its previous success and won more than half a dozen seats, the RJD’s overall performance was disappointing.

“Tejashwi’s efforts, although significant, did not meet the high expectations set for him,” he said.

“The latest poll results clearly indicate that the social support base of the Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi alliance remains largely intact on the ground. While the ‘Nitish magic’ and ‘Modi factor’ might not be as visible, both leaders still maintain a strong grip over their respective constituents,” said Suresh Singh, a shopkeeper.

The Role of Social Chemistry

A noted political commentator, who did not wish to be named, noted that Tejashwi worked hard, raised basic issues during the campaign and garnered a high percentage of votes.

“Credit for this goes to him, but the vote share has not translated into seats. Sometimes, social chemistry affects outcomes differently in various constituencies. Tejashwi has successfully mobilized people, and while it might not be reflected in the Lok Sabha results, his high vote share is a strength that will be evident in the 2025 Bihar Assembly polls,” said the educationist.

He also pointed out the role of social chemistry in poll outcomes. For instance, RJD candidate Rohini Acharya lost the Saran seat to BJP’s incumbent MP Rajeev Pratap Rudy by just 12,000 votes. Rohini, Lalu’s second daughter, contested polls for the first time.

Two independent candidates garnered more than 36,000 votes, damaging her support base and resulting in her defeat. A similar scenario occurred in at least four or five other seats, including Araria.

Caste Equations in Bihar Politics

Another analyst, who too refused to be named, noted that Bihar’s politics remains entrenched in a vicious cycle of caste equations.

“The RJD continues to struggle in gaining support from non-Yadav OBCs and EBC voters. While the party does attract some Dalit support, Nitish Kumar, by default, continues to secure backing from non-Yadav OBCs and a significant portion of EBCs. This alignment bolsters the BJP’s core support base among upper castes, OBC Vaishyas, Dalits and others. Consequently, the NDA’s vote share exceeds that of the RJD-led INDIA alliance by nine percent, a difference clearly reflected in the number of seats won,” he pointed out.

Dalit Support for NDA

He said the NDA has a strong base of Dalit voters. Two of its allies, LJP(Ram Vilas) headed by Chirag Paswan and HAM led by former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, are key Dalit leaders. Of the six reserved seats in Bihar, LJP (Ram Vilas) won three, including Hajipur, while JD-U and HAM each secured one seat. The Congress won only one reserved seat, Sasaram.

In contrast, the NDA’s strong support base among various social groups, including Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs), remained intact, contributing to their electoral success. Nitish Kumar and Narendra Modi’s combined appeal continued to resonate with their constituents, ensuring the NDA’s dominance in Bihar.

Strategic Missteps

The RJD also made some decisions that negatively impacted their performance in the Lok Sabha polls. One such decision was preventing Congress from fielding Pappu Yadav in the Purnea seat. As a result, Pappu Yadav contested as an independent and defeated JD-U’s incumbent MP Santosh Kushwaha, while the RJD candidate, Bima Bharti, came in third.

In another instance, the RJD failed to persuade Hena Shahab, the widow of former party MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, a notorious figure known as Bahubali (muscleman) to run as the party’s candidate from Siwan. Hena allegedly felt that the RJD had ignored her family after Shahabuddin’s death and refused Lalu Prasad’s offer.

She had previously contested the Lok Sabha polls from Siwan unsuccessfully three times since her husband’s imprisonment in 2005. This time, she ran as an independent and lost, but her candidacy also led to the defeat of the RJD candidate, senior party leader and former Bihar Assembly Speaker Awadh Bihari Choudhary.

Campaign Challenges

Additionally, the RJD’s campaign was less effective, largely due to being single-handedly led by the 34-year-old Tejashwi, who had to counter seasoned politicians such as Modi, Nitish Kumar, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and J P Nadda. Modi visited Bihar nine times to campaign for NDA candidates and even held a roadshow in Patna on May 12, a first for a sitting prime minister.

Besides Modi, Nitish Kumar and numerous Union ministers and chief ministers from UP, Assam and Madhya Pradesh also campaigned extensively.