The bugle of Bihar Assembly Polls 2020 for 243 seats has been blown. The first phase recorded 53.54 percent polling across 71 seats, while second phase witnessed 53 percent voter turn- out, the third phase is slated for 7th Nov. The fate of state will be unlocked through ballot on Nov 10. It will be a ropewalk for sitting chief minister Nitish Kumar to retain his citadel. The grand alliance on the other hand has tightened its sleeves to upset Kumar’s apple cart in Bihar with its meticulous poll strategy. Its worth mention here that voters, however, have a balance sheet of 15 years rule of RJD Versus 15 years of JD (U) for their micro inspection.
It will be interesting to witness this tussle between alliance and grand alliance in Bihar to verify if grand alliance can sail over anti-incumbency waves of JD(U). Its also a litmus test for Susashan Babu’s ‘good governance’ model canvassed by JD(U) for so long.
Janata Dal(United) is contesting over 122 seats , while its allies BJP has 121 seats and HAM(Hindustani Awami Morcha) has been allotted 7 seats out of JDU’s 122 seats. JD(U), BJP, HAM, VIP form core constituents of alliance led by JD(U). RJD is contesting 144 seats, while its allies Congress and Communists (all) had to settle for 70 and 29 seats each respectively. RJD, Congress, CPI, CPI (ML), CPI(M) have carved Mahagathbandan (grand alliance) together this time unlike in 2015 when JDU ,RJD and Congress were together . The arithmetic equations of seat sharing and ideological clashes have changed the conventional political panorama inside out in this poll.
The sudden exit of Mahagathbandan’s heavyweight and former union minister Upendra Kushwaha and his party RLSP (Rashtriya LokSamata Party ) was a big jolt for grand alliance ahead of polls. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM had already snapped ties and joined alliance and NDA. MukeshSahni’s VIP has been declared as a NDA constituent and thus has eventually forged with bandwagon of alliance led by JD(U).
As many as four bigwigs have staked their claim over chief minister’s post including sitting CM, NitishKumar , Mahagathbandan’s Tejasvi Yadav, Grand democratic Secular Front’s Upendra Kushwaha, and Pushpam Priya Chaudhary of Plurals Party.
The third front crystalized by AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi , RLSP, BSP, and Samajwadi Janata Dal is also expecting rich dividends in this poll. Political pundits believe that third front can be detrimental to the cause of alliance and grand alliance given its stronghold in Dalit and Muslim pockets. Third Front can emerge as a king maker, if not vote katua(vote cutter) on 38 seats reserved for backwards and 144 seats that have nearly 60 percent Muslims. AIMIM had just won Kishanganj assembly by -poll a year ago. It was maiden inroad for AIMIM in a North Indian state Bihar followed by municipal success in Uttar Pradesh later. The party has its stronghold in Hyderabad apart from meager influence in Maharashtra legislative assembly.
Muslims form a major chunk of Bihar electorate comprising of nearly 14.7 percent of its population. Muslim voters have been traditionally loyal to RJD for a long as Lalu Yadav had been instrumental in luring them along with Yadavs(14.4 percent). Its believed that this Yadav-Muslim combo of 30 percent had strengthened RJD rule for almost 15 years. This equation can possibly have a dent for RJD’s clout this time because Bihar voters seem to be in a mood to shed their robe of ‘identity politics’ and are willing to embrace ‘politics of development’ and ‘politics of issues’ this time.
Nitish Kumar was to some extent able to endear Muslim voters in assembly polls of 2015 as he had a split with 17 year old BJP led NDA alliance. This time his prospects with them seem bleak.
A young and inept newbie TejasviYadavis leading RJD today unlike its commanding faceLaluYadav. Tejasvi’s appeal can’t be rebuffed out rightly this time, because out of a total 7.18 crore voters, a whopping 4 crores are youth voters while another 78 lakhs are first time voters.
Tejasvi will have to cross his swords with LJP’s young and energetic face ChirajPaswan who has taken over reins of party after demise of his father, RamvilasPaswan. This may lead to division of young voters between RJD and LJP. LJP is likely to encash upon sympathy wavesfor RamvilasPaswan after his death apparently. The clouds of dilemma for LJP are unsettled so far as its alliance with BJP and NDA is concerned. Chirag has pressed that LJP will not contest against seats of BJP and has shown his affectionate leanings for PM NarendraModi.
Political pundits claim that Chirag wants to keep his options open for post poll alliances by going solo this time. Besides, he is not ready to march under NitishKumar’s leadership due to some personal reservations. In last polls, LJP had a dismal performance by bagging only 2 seats.
Nitish Kumar has a track record that whomever he aligns with, grabs victory. This has been a consistent outcome at least in the last three assembly polls. This is true even for LS polls for JD(U). His only handicap is that he has been often denied a clear-cut mandate by people and is always compelled to forge alliance to form Government. Despite himself belonging to Kurmi group that has a microscopic presenceof 5 percent, Nitish Kumar has been successfully leading three terms as a CM. This shows his unflinching credibility and acceptability amongst Biharis.
Its believed that Nitish has garnered support from his new base of EBC and women. This time he has allotted tickets to more than 2 dozen women candidates. His work of distributing cycles to girls, nourishment schemes, laying new roads, liquor ban, law and order revival has to some extent brightened his ‘good governance’ image. The opposition has but debunked his ‘women safety’ measures in the wake of Muzzafarpur shelter home scandal. JD(U) has released its campaign song ‘ParkhahaiJisko, ChunegeUsiko’ that has charged atmosphere for the party.
Congress is gasping for fresh breath in Bihar. Party desperately wants its glorious days of Dr. Jagannath Mishra back. Mishra had indisputably led three terms as a CM for Congress in Bihar. The Party under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi and General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi has decided to focus on NDA’s contradictions. It’s trying to woo JD(U) supporters on contradictions of BJP. Its manifesto ‘Our Pledge for a Change’ seems quite promising for voters with assurances of fees waiver for various recruitment exams, fee exemption for Government recruitments, equal pay for equal work, especially, teachers, making casual and contractual employees permanent, and establishment of KarpuriLabour distress centers. Moreover, RJD has assured voters about creation of 10 lakh jobs and farm loan waiver and scores of other promises.
BJP has decided to portray Modi’s clout to woo the voters of Bihar. Home Minister Amit Shah is sanguine that BJP under the alliance leadership of Nitish Kumar will secure enough seats so as to stake claim over Government formation. The blitzkrieg rallies of BJP including rallies of PM Modi at Bhagalpur,Sasaram, Muzzafarpur, Gaya, and Patna were thunderously received. In 2015 assembly polls, BJP had contested over 157 seatsand won 53 seats. BJP’s support base in Bihar consists of upper castes Hindus, business groups, traders, neo middle class and upper class.
Some star contestants like Luv Sinha from Bankipur, SharadYadav’s daughter, Subhasini Raj Rao from Bihariganj, and shooter Shreyasi Singh have become talk of the town.
The changing socio-economic dynamics of Bihar in the last two decades and its growing aspirations has made this poll ‘issue based.’ Caste equations are expected to falter. Appeasement and Polarization is unlikely to move conscience of Biharis this time. Bihar has remained a backward state for a long. The demand of granting ‘special status’ to Bihar hasn’t been pursued &met either by JD(U) or RJD in the last three decades.
Nearly 80 percent of Bihar dwells in rural villages and hamlets. Agriculture, electricity, water supply are their major concerns, while cities lack infrastructural development. Its said that an hour of rain drowns and submerges Patna to such an extent that people have demanded ‘NalliThana’ (jails for addressing drainage issues) and ‘Sadak Thana’(jails to address plight of roads).
Nitish Kumar has assured farmers that he will strive to create conducive atmosphere for climate resilient sustainable agriculture.Moreover, this is first poll in Bihar during Covid Pandemic that has shattered public normalcy into shambles. The issue of migrant labourers, deteriorating health system, unemployment, poor infrastructure, bureaucratic red tapism is a cause of major worry. Bihar yearns to shun its ‘Jungle Raj’ and BIMARU status.
The land of Buddha, Asoka, Champaran, SampoornaKranti, Sarvodaya, Bhoodan has high expectations and aspirations from their leaders. If Biharis want to change their fruits, they will have to change their roots by voting prudently.
Author is a lawyer at Delhi