By-election Pointers from Bihar and Jharkhand

Even as the attention of the me- dia and political observers remains riveted mostly on developments in Uttar Pradesh, by-elections held for three Lok Sabha seats in Bihar and Jharkhand on November 6 have meanwhile served some interesting pointers. The results of these by-elections reflect a growing popular disillusionment with not only the UPA and NDA in general but also with the regionally dominant parties like the RJD and the JD(U).
All these three seats – Nalanda and Bhagalpur in Bihar and Koderma in Jharkhand – were won by the NDA in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Koderma was in fact the only seat that the BJP could then win in Jharkhand where former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi was the party’s nominee. The winners from Nalanda and Bhagalpur were the two NDA stalwarts from Bihar, Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi. The three seats had fallen vacant following resignation of the three MPs – Babulal Marandi resigning both from his party and the Lok Sabha, while Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi are currently heading the NDA government in Bihar.
Between May 2004 and November 2006, the political landscape in the country has changed considerably. There is a UPA government at the Centre for which the by-elections could be seen as a sort of mid-term referendum. Viewed from this angle, the results are quite a disaster for the ruling UPA. Interestingly, the UPA continued to remain divided in Bihar. The RJD fielded its own candidate in Bhagalpur while in Nalanda it threw its weight behind an erstwhile JD(U) leader who contested as an independent. The Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, on the other hand decided to back the CPI(M) and the CPI from Bhagalpur and Nalanda respectively. It may be recalled that the CPI(M) had won the Bhagalpur seat in 1999 with the RJD’s backing while in the last nine Lok Sabha elections, the CPI had won from Nalanda on three occasions while finishing second on four other occasions.
Significantly enough, voter turnout at both Nalanda and Bhagalpur was only around 30 per cent. The NDA nominees managed to retain both the seats, the JD(U) from Nalanda and the BJP from Bhagalpur. Candidates backed by the RJD finished second with the CPI(M) and CPI coming a poor third. In 2004, Nitish Kumar had polled more than 4,50,000 votes while his UPA contender too polled close to 4,00,000 votes. This time round, the JD(U) candidate, a sitting MLA from the district who recently secured bail in a case in which he stands accused of harassing a dalit woman, could not even poll 2,00,000 votes while the RJD backed candidate had to remain content with only 50,000-odd votes.
The scene was only marginally different at Bhagalpur where the BJP nominee Shahnawaj Hussein polled 2,21,001 votes while the RJD finished second with 1,65,390 votes. Quite evidently, neither the UPA ruling in Delhi or the NDA ruling in Patna are able to enthuse their respective supporters. It is also significant that the JD(U) suffered a net loss of nearly 3,00,000 votes in Nitish Kumar’s home district of Nalanda while Laloo Prasad’s once formidable social following can now barely cross the 50,000 mark in a Lok Sabha  constituency.
Koderma too presented a largely similar picture. Here the UPA of course fought as a united entity and managed to finish a distant second by polling a little more than 1,30,000 votes, but this was only half of what a divided UPA could poll in 2004. With the resignation of Babulal Marandi from the BJP and the ouster of the Arjun Munda government in Rnchi, the BJP too could only poll around 1,00,000 votes. It is of course significant that Babulal Marandi managed to retain his seat with a nearly unchanged vote share despite all the political changes in Delhi and Ranchi. Whether it is an electoral reward for his ‘bold’ act of resignation from the BJP and the Lok Sabha or his continuing political currency as a former CM and MP, this is by far the best performance ever put up by a ‘former’ BJP leader.
It however remains to be seen what kind of political future Marandi builds for himself. So far we have seen three models in action. We have the Baghela model of Gujarat where the former BJP leader is now a Congress Minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet; the Kalyan Singh example of Uttar Pradesh where the ‘prodigal’ son has returned to his political home, and the Uma Bharati trend where an attempt is on to rebuild the ‘true BJP’ by fashioning a new outfit for the politics of Hindutva. It will be interesting to see if Marandi can come up with a different pattern in Jharkhand.

As for the Left, the best performance in these by-polls has been that of the CPI(ML) in Koderma even though the party’s vote tally fell from 1,30,000-plus in 2004 to nearly 90,000. By contrast, even with the backing of the Congress and the LJP, the CPI(M) and CPI could only poll around 80,000 in Bhagalpur and 30,000 in Nalanda. The CPI(ML) had also contested the Nalanda seat, but in spite of an increase in vote share, the party finished fifth with a total vote of only around 18,000. For communists interested in increasing their political presence and role in the Hindi belt, the by-polls have delivered a clear message. There is no future for the pro-UPA and Congress-backed Left in areas beyond its traditional strongholds. Communists can only march forward through systematic mass political work among the rural poor and the crisis-ridden peasantry and bold and consistent opposition to the disastrous UPA-NDA policies.