The first phase of Bihar elections is on 28th of October. Nominations have closed and parties have announced candidates. Both main alliances have launched their slogans. While NDA is going with “Nitish sabke hain”, MGB has launched “Is baar Tejashwi tay hai”. Allegations and counter allegations are flying in the air. Chief Minister Nitish and Leader of Opposition Tejashwi have started their whirlwind tours. Prime Minister Modi is slated to hold rallies soon in the state to garner support for NDA.
Initial polls indicate a NDA victory. However there are several contradictions in the predictions. Most polls suggest Nitish is facing severe anti-incumbency. His popularity ratings have nosedived to 30 percentage points. More than half respondents want change in government as per C-Voter survey, still NDA is predicted to win with 2/3rd majority. JDU is projected to get more seats than RJD.
So what’s going wrong for RJD led Mahagathbandhan (MGB).
1. Tejashwi has conceded too many seats to Congress
RJD was initially considering contesting on 160-165 seats leaving 40 for Congress and another 40 for smaller parties like HAM, VIP and RLSP. With all three shown the door, Tejashwi brought in Left parties to contest on 29 seats. However, under pressure from Congress, which was dilly dallying on announcing Tejashwi as Chief Ministerial face of the alliance, the party not only gave these 10 seats to it, but also another 20 from its quota.
Result, RJD is contesting on 144 seats, which is 20 seats lesser than required in my opinion. To give Congress half of the seats RJD is contesting is like committing harakiri. Congress has no dedicated vote bank of its own and has been piggybacking on Lalu and now Tejashwi for past 2 decades in the state. It has lost significant vote share among upper caste, dalits and backward caste. In 2015 it got both JDU and RJD votes and won 27 seats.
Of the 20 seats it is contesting in Phase 1, it has put up mostly upper caste candidates, without any representation to MBCs / EBCs. Upper caste is a solid vote bank of the BJP in Bihar.
2. Making it Presidential elections
MGB has fallen in the trap of BJP and made it a Presidential style contest. Tejaswi Tai Hai versus Nitish sabe hain. Though Kumar’s popularity ratings have declined from 40%-45% to 30%-35%, he still is leading the pack of most preferred CM candidates. Tejashwi lacks the charisma of Lalu. Even father-son duo combined ratings are lower than Nitish. Lalu still enjoys half the popularity ratings of Tejashwi.
In such a scenario, it is always prudent for the opposition to make it a seat by seat contest. Make it a local / hyper local contest, highlight local issues, highlight failures of MLAs of the ruling party. There is merit in following a localization strategy. The NDA has been in power for almost 15 years. Many of their MLAs are in their 2nd / 3rd term and facing natural anti-incumbency. This needs to be exploited by MGB.
As soon as you make it a personalised contest, focus shifts way from issues. NDA gets the chance to highlight the jungle raj and corrupt tenure of Lalu-Rabri, thus creating doubts in the mind of swing / neutral voters. While JDU has 2/3rd of its MLAs in their 2nd / 3rd term, for BJP the corresponding number is 50%.
3. Left Parties are a pale shadow of their glorious past
Tejashwi has brought in Left front parties CPI, CPM, CPI(ML) into the MGB fold and allotted them 29 seats. The Left parties combined won just 3 seats in 2015 and garnered 3.6% vote share. With decline of Left nationally, it is highly doubtful if they have the resources to contest elections and that too against heavyweight machinery of NDA candidates.
4. LJP is splitting the opposition vote
The LJP has put up candidates against JDU, HAM and VIP. They have spared the BJP the trouble of contesting their alliance partner in the state. While it is being touted as BJP’s strategy to weaken Nitish, what it does is split the opposition vote. It’s impact is seat specific. On some it is seen damaging MGB and on some NDA candidates.
As per Crowdwisdom360, LJP due to its strong Dalit base is also gaining the anti incumbency dalit votes which may have otherwise gone to the RJD Congress alliance.
5. The Caste Conundrum
MGB is lagging behind in the caste arithmetic game. Unfortunately it is, but Bihar is known for caste politics. In a bipolar contest, an alliance needs 45% to be sure of a shot of victory, with 42%-43% it can still clear the hurdle. However, MGB enjoys the support of only Muslims and Yadavs which make up 31% of the state’s population. Tejashwi eased out Manjhi, Kushwaha and Sahani who claimed support of Mahadalits, Koeris and Nishads accounting for 24%-26% of population.
Though it is true that the three parties do not enjoy majority support among these communities as they claim, even a one-fourth support could have added 6%-7% vote share to MGB, taking it closer to 40% vote share. As it stands today, NDA has a clear edge in the caste combination in the state.
To sum up, the poll fever is catching up in Bihar. Festivities might dampen the campaign for a week or so, but it is likely to pick up post Dussehra. If the NDA wins despite anti-incumbency it would be due to the strategic mistakes of Tejashwi.