Bihar elections are set to be held in October-November this year. Politics of Bihar has always had a national importance. This would be the first state election to be held amidst covid-19. Nitish Kumar has been the Chief Minister for 15 years sans the brief interruption when he anointed Jiten Ram Manjhi as CM. Kumar will not have an easy run owing to anti-incumbency despite support from India’s largest party, BJP. From the test of Narendra Modi’s popularity to Covid management and migrant issue, a lot would be in play this year’s potboiler election, including caste arithmetic.
Anti-incumbency in play
Fifteen years in power is a long time to develop natural anti-incumbency. A sort of lethargy, boredom starts creeping into voters’ minds. Many top politicians have lost elections while seeking a re-election for the fourth term says a trend with Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Sheila Dixit (Delhi), Bidhan Chandra Roy (West Bengal) Tarun Gogoi (Assam)and Lalu Prasad Yadav / Rabri Devi (Bihar). The JDU wants to beat anti-incumbency against certain sitting members who are in their second or third term by denying them party tickets. Kumar has personally met more than 1,000 party workers from different constituencies to gauge public opinion.
Nitish-Modi: The tumultuous pair
JD(U)-BJP first combined in 2005 to win Bihar polls when Nitish became CM for the first time. In 2013 Nitish left NDA when Modi was announced as PM candidate. In 2014 general elections JDU contested alone and faced a drubbing. In 2015, Nitish and RJD chief Lalu formed an alliance with Congress to win Bihar elections.
Nitish made a gharwapsi in 2017 breaking away from Lalu. With elections closing in, Nitish and Modi, need eato support each other to retain power.
BJP can afford no new face while Nitish can have no better backing than a patronizing face of Narendra Modi. While the stakes are higher for BJP, they are trying to superimpose the Modi government’s initiatives over the Nitish government’s performance in the state to counter anti-incumbency.
Prevalent caste equation
Lalu’s son Tejaswi Yadav has understood that his lifelong M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) equation won’t work this time, so Rajputs, the caste they have been fighting against so far, have become the linchpin of their entire campaign. Party has appointed a Rajput as its state head and is expected to give tickets to Rajput representatives.
On the flip side, RLSP head Upendra Kushwah has left Mahagathbandhan (MGB) and formed an alliance with BSP, dividing the Kurmi-Koeri vote bank of Nitish Kumar. NDA is sitting pretty with the support of upper caste, MBCs / EBCs, Kurmis, Dalits and Mahadalits. LJP is creating troubles and if it breaks away then it would take away the Dalit vote bank.
Poor governance and weak opposition
The insensitive handling of the migrants’ crisis by the Bihar government, its poor record in providing MNREGA work and atrocities against scheduled castes has dented Kumar’s popularity as ‘sushasan babu’. Similarly, lack of charisma of Tejaswi might result in permanent decline of Bihar’s principal opposition party triggering a new phase of social engineering and political realignments. RJD and its allies have no Dalit leaders of repute in their ranks against Jitan Ram Manjhi and Chirag Paswan.
Women could play role of kingmaker
As many as 59.92% women turned out to exercise their franchise against 55.26 per cent for men during 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Lack of employment opportunities in the flood prone regions forced men to migrate in search of jobs and agricultural labour.
Voting in a caste-ridden patriarchal society was largely left to women, which explains their high numbers on the electoral lists.
Though the schemes, like the Mukhya Mantri Cycle Yojana, Mukhya Mantri Napkin Yojana, Jeevika rural livelihood self-help groups and Kanya Vikas schemes, that the Nitish Kumar government has offered to the women since 2005, cannot be slipped up on. NDA coalition will add up a list of schemes like Ujjwala Yojana to the platter. The jungle raj during Lalu’s regime still works against majority of women voters.
Covid-19 takes campaigning online
The campaign mode this year will not be the same with the parties failing to reach out of masses through big rallies and public meetings. BJP has an expertise in virtual campaigning, hence overcoming any challenge posed by the spread of coronavirus. The paradigm shift in electioneering and greater dependence on technology might play in favour of the NDA. Nevertheless, Tejashwi Yadav is on full play with his social media handles attracting the youth voters.
Voters’ turn-out during ‘new normal’
A long list of guidelines in wake of covid-19 outbreak, might make the elections process tedious. With over 30 lakh migrants, having returned to Bihar, number of voters may increase, though many would have voter IDs already. The EVMs and VVPATs being sanitized frequently, thermal scanners for every voter and many other regulations, at that, the fear of covid-19, however, can lessen the voters’ turn-out.
The fate of the country’s third largest state, home to 104 million population, will decide the fate of Nitish Kumar and Tejaswi Yadav. Interesting battle ahead…