Bihar: Decoding the RJD's Win in Bochahan By-Poll

The seat was earlier held by the Vikassheel Insaan Party, a former NDA ally. Does this signal a 'rebellion' against the government, as Tejashwi Yadav believes?

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Patna (Bihar): The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has won the Bochahan assembly seat of Muzaffarpur, taking it from former NDA member Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). The RJD candidate Amar Paswan won the seat with a margin of 36,658 votes, three times more than the margin posted by the VIP in the 2020 assembly poll.

The by-poll was necessitated due to the demise of VIP MLA Musafir Paswan. While the election was held on April 12, counting began on Saturday morning. Though initial trends suggested a close fight between the RJD and the BJP, by noon the former increased its margin. Amar Paswan got 82,547 votes, whereas the BJP got 45,889 votes. The Congress got just 1,336 votes – less than NOTA.

Bochahan has around three lakhs voters, among whom the upper-caste Bhumihar and the Sahani (fishing community) were decisive. Early analysis suggests that the Bhumihars voted in favour of the RJD, along with the party’s core Yadav and Muslim voters. 

The NDA’s loss can be attributed to the VIP fighting alone. Experts believe that if Mukesh Sahani remained part of the NDA, the alliance would have given a tough fight to the RJD – if not win the seat.

The sympathy vote also worked in favour of Amar Paswan, who is the son of deceased MLA Musafir Sahani.

The main contenders

Three main candidates were in the fray in the Bochahan assembly seat. The BJP had fielded its office bearer Baby Kumari, who had won the seat in the 2015 assembly election as an independent candidate – defeating nine-time MLA Ramai Ram.

VIP, which was part of the NDA until this year’s UP assembly elections, had earlier fielded Amar Paswan. But when Amar joined and was fielded by the RJD, the VIP fielded Geeta Devi, daughter of Ramai Ram.

The Lok Janshakti Party (Chirag) did not field any candidate. It was rumoured that Chirag Paswan had promised to help the BJP win the seat. Before the poll, Chirag Paswan had met the BJP MP from Muzaffarpur. The Congress had fielded Tarun Chaudhary.

Also Read: The Story of Bihar Minister and VIP Head Mukesh Sahani Shows How BJP Cuts Wings of Smaller Allies

What does the result mean for VIP?

Mukesh Sahani, a Bollywood set designer turned politician, made his entry into politics in 2014. He campaigned for Narendra Modi in 2014 but left the party soon after. Later, he formed his own party in 2018 and joined hands with the Mahagathbandhan [a ‘grand alliance’ of Congress, JD(U) and RJD] but failed to win a single seat. In the 2020 assembly election, Sahani joined the NDA and won four seats. He was included in the Nitish Kumar cabinet and was minister of the fisheries department.

But when the VIP announced its decision to field candidates in the UP elections, the alliance was broken. All his MLAs joined the BJP and he had to give up his department.  

So when the Bochahan by-poll was announced, Sahani decided to fight alone. 

In the 2020 assembly election, the VIP was able to garner 77,837 votes – which included those who traditionally vote for the BJP and other NDA partners. But, in the bypoll, the VIP fighting alone got around 29,276 votes. This shows that the party can perform well if it works with the Sahani community on the ground. The Sahani community is classified as an extremely backward class. Mukesh Sahani had for a long time demanded that Sahani be included in the Scheduled Caste group. 

Political analyst Suroor Ahmed said, “The result indicates that Mukesh Sahani is getting popular in his community. If he focuses on his caste group and allies with another party, he can make his political space.”

Officials count votes during result day of Bihar Assembly Bochaha by-elections, at a counting centre in Muzaffarpur, April 16, 2022. Photo: PTI

A boost for RJD?

RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav tweeted, “People have voted against unemployment, inflation, poor health and agriculture sectors, deteriorating law and order situation in the state and defeated four parties of NDA alone.”

RJD state president Jagad Anand Singh termed this win as a “mutiny” against the government. He said, “This win shows that people have trust in the leadership of Tejashwi Yadav and their voting is a symbol of mass rebellion against the government.”

Though the RJD has won the seat as well as increased its vote share, political experts warn against reading too much into it.

They believed that bypolls are largely fought on local issues and different caste segments vote keeping in mind their local interests.

“Bhumihars had substantial votes in Bochahan. So it may be that in this segment, Bhumihars have voted for the RJD but it cannot be said that Bhumihars are banking on the party. Maybe they have found their local interests in the RJD and voted accordingly. If they have to vote politically, they will hardly go with the RJD,” political analyst Mahendra Suman told The Wire.

He further said, “If the RJD believes that the result is an indication of public anger against the NDA, it will be making a mistake. The RJD needs an overhaul at multiple levels.”

“If there is any message that comes from this bypoll, it is that all is not well in the NDA. The result indicates a cold war between the BJP and the JD(U),”  he added.

However, political analyst Suroor Ahmed said that the BJP traets every election – be it panchayat poll or by-poll – with the same vigour. This loss indicates that apart from Narendra Modi, the BJP does not have any bankable leaders.