The victory of RJD candidate Neelam Devi in the Mokama assembly seat and that of BJP’s Kusum Devi in the Gopalganj constituency in the recently concluded by-election sends a mixed message about the electoral arithmetic in Bihar. BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain’s swipe at the Nitish Kumar-led JD (U) after the first election since the JD(U) snapped ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and joined hands with the Lalu Yadav’s RJD to once again form a grand alliance government in the state, has some merit.
Hussain said the results sent a “clear message” that the JD(U) and RJD combine cannot defeat the BJP and that Bihar’s future lies with his party. He said the BJP would win all the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar in the next general election.
“The JD(U) severed ties with BJP and went to the RJD, but could not defeat the BJP in Goplaganj. This is a clear message that even together they can’t defeat BJP. Their victory margin went down in Mokama. It shows the future is the BJP’s. We’ll win all 40 seats in LS polls,” the BJP leader said.
In the Gopalganj constituency, BJP candidate Kusum Devi defeated RJD’s Mohan Prasad Gupta after witnessing a neck-and-neck fight. Kusum Devi vowed to carry forward the incomplete development work in the area. Singh had represented the seat uninterruptedly since 2005. After his death, the party fielded his wife who maintained the winning streak, despite the RJD’s tough fight.
This by-election was the first face-off between the BJP and the Mahagathbandhan after Kumar took oath as the chief minister for the eighth time by joining hands with the JDU and the Congress. The elections also came ahead of the crucial general elections of 2024, for which Kumar has been holding meetings with opposition leaders in an attempt to unite them into a common front to take on the BJP.
But what does the result in the Mokama seat say then? Why could the BJP not defeat the RJD+JD(U) combination in Mokama? Because this has been a stronghold of Neelam Devi’s husband Anant Singh since 2005. His disqualification in the Arms Act case necessitated the by-election. Anant Singh was disqualified due to his conviction and 10-year jail term in a case involving the recovery of an AK-47 from his house. Devi won by a margin of 16,741 votes.
BJP’s Sonam Devi is the wife of local leader Nalini Ranjan Singh alias Lalan Singh, who has been at loggerheads with fellow Bhumihar strongman Anant Singh over the years. Lalan Singh joined the BJP merely a day before the nomination. It was seen as a fight between two strongmen, but Anant Singh proved that in Mokama he has no match, whether or not he is in jail.
The BJP can take heart from the fact that it contested the Mokama seat for the first time and despite putting in a lot of effort, it could not break the bastion of incarcerated Anand Singh, who won the seat four times in the past.
Electoral arithmetic of the two constituencies in Bihar
The margin of victories in the by-election shows that the competition between Mahagathbandhan and the NDA could be stiff in the 2024 Lok Sabha election and 2025 assembly election. The BJP had to borrow a candidate matching Anant Singh’s muscle power at the last moment. It did manage to reduce the victory margin in Anant Singh’s stronghold by over half due to significant support from the people, though it did not prove enough. Last time, Anant Singh had won by over 35,000 votes, but this time, his wife won by a little over 16,700 votes.
In Gopalganj, the BJP ‘s Subhash Singh had seized the seat with more than 36,500 votes in 2020 over his nearest rival, the BSP”s Anirudh Prasad aka Sadhu Yadav, a brother-in-law of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The RJD did not contest the seat and Mahagathbandhan’s INC candidate had finished third.
This time, the RJD gave the BJP jitters, as its candidate Mohan Prasad Gupta came close to breaking the BJP’s winning streak in Gopalganj, the native place of both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rabri Devi. Eventually, the BJP had the last laugh, with Kusum Devi winning by a slender margin of around 1,800 votes.
The RJD’s Gupta, a Baniya candidate fielded to erode the traditional BJP votes, gave a stiff fight till the end, despite Sadhu Yadav’s wife Indira Yadav and the AIMIM candidate playing the role of a vote-cutter. Together, the two gathered over 20,000 votes. The AIMIM fought there for the first time.
The by-election results have a message for both the NDA and Mahagathbandhan, former director of AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies DM Diwakar told The Hindustan Times. “Mahagathbandhan should have its house in order in people’s perception. Nitish Kumar not campaigning for whatever reason sent a message of an internal feud.”
“Anant Singh winning in Mokama is not something big for the RJD to trumpet,” Diwakar sai, “as the winning margin has dropped there. A victory in Gopalganj, the native district of Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, would have meant something big for Tejashwi Prasad Yadav. Thanks to his clout, Anant Singh has been winning from Mokama with or without the support of any party. Similarly, the BJP, too, does not have much to write home about in Gopalganj due to a narrow victory with vote splitters apparently playing their part.”
Diwakar said that both alliances should not read much into the by-election results in the context of the 2024 general election or 2025 state election, given that Bihar politics is complex. “That is far away right now and a lot of water may flow down the Ganga by then. It remains to be seen how the Mahagathbandhan takes the result of Gopalganj. It is just a consolation for both sides. If Mahagathbandhan needs to do well, it will have to present cohesion, which unfortunately is missing. Similarly, to take on a united GA, with both Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad on one side, the BJP knows the arduous journey ahead. But in politics, new players and new circumstances don’t allow anyone to sit on past laurels. As former Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi recently said, two plus two is not always four in politics,” he noted.
Social analyst NK Choudhary said the voters have shown the mirror to both alliances that the fight could get stiffer in the months to come. “The results give a message that political parties should not take voters for granted. The message is louder to the RJD in Gopalganj. With Nitish Kumar not campaigning, losing Gopalganj is a message to Tejashwi not to hurry things up for the power transition. It is a message that the JD(U) is not a spent force and that Nitish Kumar on either side could make the difference and that the power transition will happen on his terms. The BJP knows that taking on Mahagathbandhan will never be easy, so it will try to do what it did in Gopalganj – make it a multi-cornered contest,” he said.