Poll fever has caught Bihar. Candidates have been announced by major formations and manifestos have been released. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi have hopped on to the election campaign bandwagon. A cocktail of national, local and hyper-local issues are being offered to the voter.
While opinion polls suggest the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is winning despite anti-incumbency, the Maha Gathbandhan is ahead as per the satta bazaar, or the illegal betting circuit. Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav is drawing huge crowds at his rallies, but will this transfer into votes?
Since Narendra Modi’s entry into national politics in 2014, elections are increasingly becoming presidential in style. In Lok Sabha 2019, 32 percent of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) voters would not have voted for the party if Modi was not the prime ministerial candidate. The Modi factor brought the BJP 73 million votes.
As a thumb rule, people vote one-third on leadership, one-third on the party symbol and one-third on the candidate.
However, it’s also true that state elections are contested on local issues and by employing a hyper-local, state-specific and seat-specific strategy. As a strategy in Bihar, should Yadav make it a presidential contest or focus on localisation? On these lines, the RJD’s campaign song ‘Iss baar Tejaswi tay hai’ is gaining traction.
Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar’s popularity is on the wane. This is a good enough temptation to make it a Kumar versus Yadav contest. About 58 percent of voters in the state are less than 40 years of age, who could favour the 30-year-old RJD leader.
Making it a presidential contest diverts attention away from local issues and makes it personality contest. Effectively, making it a Kumar plus Modi vs Rahul Gandhi plus Yadav competition.
It also makes the RJD vulnerable to attacks on the corruption scams, for which Yadav’s father and former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad is serving time. About 65 percent of respondents in the Mood of the Nation Survey after the 2019 general elections stated that dynasty politics was over in India. This has the potential of weaning away the young, neutral and swing voters.
As per a Lokniti-CSDS survey on Bihar, 29 percent respondents (highest) are voting on the basis of work done by the MLA, 27 percent on work done by the Modi government and 16 percent on work done by the Kumar government.
This point provides credence to employing a localisation strategy and exploit anti-incumbency against NDA MLAs.As per the same survey, 40 percent voters in Bihar are dissatisfied to a great extent with sitting MLAs. The level of dissatisfaction is the highest with BJP MLAs at 48 percent, followed by the Congress at 41 percent, the JD(U) at 38 percent and the RJD at 34 percent.
Source: Lokniti-CSDS Opinion Poll
Three-fourth of the JD(U) and more than half of the BJP’s sitting MLAs are in their second or third term, which is long enough to develop voter fatigue.
The NDA has 124 MLAs in the outgoing assembly. It has denied tickets to only 28 (23 percent) of them. Of these 28, 11 are first timers, 12 are in their second term and five are in their third term. Eleven of them are in their first term.
The BJP’s denial ratio is lower than that it had in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections (32 percent). This shows the BJP is lacking in efforts to tackle local anti-incumbency.
On the other hand, MGB which has 111 sitting MLAs, has denied tickets to a large number 49 (44%), almost double of NDA.
A localisation strategy will help Yadav as it will deliver a double whammy on anti- incumbency, exploiting anger against Kumar as well as the NDA MLAs who have failed to develop their constituencies.
A presidential style campaign will work to the advantage of the BJP and it is Modi’s forte.
RJD’s localised campaign focusing on issues such as unemployment, migrant crisis, inflation is working well with the crowds. There are some prerequisites/rules for a localised campaign. Yadav should refrain from attacking Modi. He shouldn’t attack the BJP on national issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, Article 370, etc. He should take a leaf from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s books on how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fought the Delhi elections.
This Article has been originally published here