Heady victory; cold shower: how to read the BJP's MLC victory in Bihar
- BJP trounces JD(U)-RJD in Bihar Legislative Council polls.
- Wins 12 of the 24 seats on offer, JD(U) reduced from 15 to 5 seats.
- BJP says it\'s the beginning of the end of Nitish\'s rule.
- Council polls are hardly an indicator of voter sentiment.
- They are driven by money power and lobbying, not issues.
- Win may give NDA a temporary morale boost, rally cadres.
- Seat-sharing disputes can quickly erode any gains.
Friday wasn't a good day for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The result was declared for the 7 July election to the Legislative Council, the largely inconsequential upper house of the assembly, and the ruling alliance stood roundly beaten.
In an ordinary time, as setbacks go, this would have barely registered as a concern, or, indeed, merited the victor's march that the NDA is displaying.
But Bihar is going to assembly polls in three months, and any defeat of the incumbent, however tangential, will be a morale-booster, even if fleeting, for the opposition ranks.
In any case, in an election season, rivals are constantly on the lookout for any sign of weakness to seize on.
'The people and public representatives have rejected the Lalu-Nitish alliance,' says Jitan Ram Manjhi
True to script, the BJP, which took half the council 24 seats on offer, a gain of seven seats, is portraying the 10 July result as the first blow in its battle to dislodge Nitish.
Nitish's JD(U) slumped from 15 seats to five, while his ally, the RJD, lost one seat to settle at three.
The Congress managed a solitary seat. The BJP ally Lok Janashakti Party took one seat, as did an Independent, while one result is still to be declared.
"The result is a clear indication that the people as well as public representatives aren't with the Nitish government. They have also rejected the Lalu Prasad-Nitish Kumar alliance," said Jitan Ram Manjhi, former chief minister and leader of the Hinduatan Awam Morha who is allied with the BJP.
The BJP and the LJP ventured similar declarations. For their spokespersons, who have been on the defensive for much of the past month over the Lalit Modi saga, the Vyapam scam and other controversies, the result offered a welcome relief.
They presented the result as a reflection of the public's mood in the state before the assembly election.
"It shows they are going to lose badly," said BJP's Shahnawaz Hussain. "Janata Parivar ke saath parivar to hai, lekin janta nahi hai! (They have their families with them, the Janata Parivar. But not the public!)
Manjhi as well as LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan were even more certain: "The NDA will win the assembly election with a two-thirds majority".
There's only one spoiler. Is this result really a reflection of the public mood?
Not quite. Members of the Legislative Council are not elected by popular vote, but by the MLAs, local body and panchayat representatives.
And more often that not, these elections are driven more by the use of money and lobbying, rather than issues.
Still, the win could do the NDA good. They can use it to rally the cadre and to build a slogan of anti-incumbency against the Nitish-Lalu alliance.
The ruling party leaders admit as much. "This result will helped the NDA for the time being but it has a short life. As for us, we are clear about our strategy and things are going well," said a JD(U) leader who is considered close to Nitish.
'The BJP is desperate to build its campaign around this result. It won't help them,' - JD(U)'s Ali Anwar
Another senior party leader put the loss down to mistakes in the selection of candidates. "We went with some old faces. The BJP preferred new faces and their 'other efforts' were more effective," the leader said.
Fellow senior leader Ali Anwar added, "Don't be confused by these results. We were more focused on the assembly election. The BJP has nothing to go into campaign with. They were desperate to win this and then try to build the campaign around it. This is not going to help them."
It will, indeed, be a challenge for the NDA to sustain this boost through the next three months of campaigning, particularly given that simmering tension over seat-sharing among the allies could easily erode the gains of this victory.
For now though, the NDA has received a shot in the arm.