In 2020, together with the bets in the assembly poll enormously high, all the significant players in the game have chosen to operate with alliances rather than struggle by themselves. Nitish Kumar, who has ruled the state for nearly 15 years now and is famous because of his fourth consecutive victory (technically sixth duration ) as chief minister, decided that sticking with the BJP was the JD(U)’s best bet. The BJP brushed aside concern among its workers over the rising tide of anti-incumbency from Nitish and chose to continue using the alliance. That’s also because the BJP is acutely conscious that despite its impressive performance from the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it cannot win the nation by itself. Moreover, a victory in Bihar is critical as the outcome of these polls will be a referendum of sorts on the Modi government’s handling of this Covid crisis. The results will also have a bearing on the BJP’s chances in key states that go to polls in 2021, including West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
The opposition parties, also, have understood the power of forming key alliances. As opposed to go it alone, the RJD chose to stay with the Congress under the mahagathbandhan (MGB) bannerads, though the Grand Old Party includes a gloomy poll record in Bihar. Though it got the Left parties on board, it failed to keep a plethora of minor parties, even together with the NDA gleefully composed two of them: Jitan Ram Manjhi of those Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) or HAM(S) and Mukesh Sahni of those Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP).
The results of the election will be no less important for the MGB components either. For the Congress and its chief Rahul Gandhi, following its dismal showing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, it’s a opportunity to redeem themselves in the Hindi heartland and show that it is the only national party that may nevertheless take on the BJP.
To evaluate the mood of the electorate, the Lokniti-CSDS unite conducted a comprehensive opinion survey between October 10 and 17, for which the India Today Group obtained exclusive rights. The findings demonstrate that though the NDA share of votes might drop to 38 per cent as compared to 2019 Lok Sabha share of 46.3 per cent, it was still an impressive six percentage points before the MGB combine. In terms of seats, however, the NDA could have a clear majority, projected to win 133-143 chairs. (Bihar includes 243 assembly seats and a party needs 122 chairs for a simple majority.) The MGB is estimated to acquire 88-98 chairs while the LJP, led by Chirag Paswan, who left the NDA per month and a half before the survey and decided to competition on its own, is expected to win only six chairs. Lokniti-CSDS does strike a cautionary note, though. Nearly 14 percent of those respondents stated they might change their voting decision in the weeks ahead and another 10 percent chose not to reveal their choice. This usually means that one out of four voters remains undecided and could play a decisive part in the weeks ahead.
Another significant findings of the opinion poll are that while Nitish Kumar still remains the most popular selection for chief minister, together with 31 per cent respondents voting in their own favour, Tejashwi comes a close second with 27 per cent. What’s worrying for the chief minister is that the number satisfied with his performance has dropped from 80 per cent in 2015 to 52 percent today. Conversely, those dissatisfied with his performance have grown from 18 per cent to 44 percent within this poll. Forty-three percent of those respondents also stated they had been against another word for him compared to 38 per cent who wanted him to return as CM. All these are clear indications of an anti-incumbency mood. What appears to be functioning to neutralise this rising tide of discontent is that a clear majority of respondents are happy with this Narendra Modiled NDA government at the Centre. The survey shows that NDA voters are more inclined to base their votes on the Modi government’s performance instead of that of Nitish Kumar. Narendra Modi and the BJP is going to be critical to Nitish when he is to become re-elected, our survey shows.
Much will depend on the campaigning strategy of the two alliances in the months beforehand. Bihar will be holding a three-phase assembly election on October 28, November 3 and November 7, together with the results to be declared on November 10.
For the Nitish Kumar-led NDA, the script is apparent –as is your plan. The NDA is pitching”15 years of age Nitish rule versus 15 decades of the RJD’s” and expects to run off with the prize because Nitish’s achievements dwarf people of the Lalu-Rabri government between 1990 and 2005. The NDA has set forward this smart approach to neutralise anti-incumbency and any potential disillusionment. Though neither Lalu nor Rabri is contesting the electionthey stay symbols of the alleged anarchy that the JD(U) and BJP never tire of reminding people around.
Nitish’s campaign concentrates mostly on his own record in delivering the seven settlements of his’Saat Nishchay Yojana’, which has carried into the NDA. These include piped drinking water in every household, building of toilets, electricity connections, pucca roads, the financial empowerment of the youth, 35 per cent reservation for women in government jobs and greater educational centers in most districts, including establishing Industrial Training Institutes and Nursing Training Centres.
Along with the chief minister has lots to show on these counts. In electricity, his administration has ensured an energy connection in each household of the state. There is increased availability of power from an average of 6-8 hours to 20-22 hours at rural regions and from 10-12 hours to 22-24 hours in metropolitan areas, according to the Bihar Economic Survey 2019-20. His government’s listing on paved roads is also impressive. From only 35 percent in 2015, the duration of paved rural roads grew at an annual rate of 15 per cent and their share reached 75 per cent in 2019. He’s also fulfilled his promise of 35 per cent reservation for women in government projects and finished more than 80 percent of their aims to build toilets and provide drinking water. Bihar looks set to cover most of its 10.9 million rural households with faucet connections for drinking water supply from next year.
But his record about the financial empowerment of childhood and better educational centers in most districts leaves much to be desired. This, despite the chief minister asserting that over 1 million youth are granted skilled training and the procedure is on to recruit 70,000 youth this past year. And that while only 95,734 individuals were recruited in government throughout the RJD’s 15-year rule, the NDA government has in the previous 15 years provided employment to over 600,000 youth.
However, in a country with a projected population of 140 million people, the figures fall far short of expectations.
While warranted in focusing on his achievements on the front in his campaign, unemployment is turning out to be a big bugbear for Nitish, particularly using Covid exacerbating matters. The Lokniti-CSDS poll reveals growth (29 percent ), unemployment (20 per cent) and inflation (11 percent ) are the top three issues. Forty-seven percent of the respondents for whom development was the main electoral issue said they would vote for the NDA on growth. But when it came to unemployment, the number of those who would vote for the MGB about the problem was greater than those for the NDA. The unemployment rate in Bihar had already gone up from 7.2 percent in 2018 to 10.2 per cent in 2019. Covid-19 and the yield of close to two million migrants made the situation even worse, with the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) pegging the unemployment rate for the month of April at 46.6 per cent.
It’s this opinion, particularly among the nation’s youth,that Tejashwi Yadav has tapped into and converted into a poll plank that appears to be having some effect.
He could have little administrative experience, barring the 20 weeks since deputy chief minister, also led the RJD to the worst showing ever in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, once the party drew a blank in the nation’s 40 chairs. However, the younger son of Lalu and Rabri is apparently gaining some traction in the recent past. His rallies are attracting more crowds than the distanced affairs that Nitish’s public meetings have been. His concept of employment is also finding increasing resonance with all the state’s youth. It remains the most important electoral issue for 27 percent of the respondents in the 18 to 25-year age group from the CSDS poll. (The 18 to 29-year age group constitutes 23.6 percent of the nation’s electorate.) Accordingly, Tejashwi was telling his youthful audience that the first signature he will put down in his very first cabinet meeting is to give 1 million youth occupation. He has also promised to raise old-age pension from Rs 400 to Rs 1,000, ensure regular pay to contractual teachers,
Increase honorarium to anganwadi workers, write off farm loans and bring down electricity charges to half.
But try as he might, the young scion cannot shake off the baggage of the RJD’s past. Father Lalu stays in judicial custody at the fodder scam cases, whilst mother Rabri, although a part of the legislative council, is at semi-retirement mode. But while he has inherited Lalu’s heritage and a 20 percent hitter Muslim-Yadav vote Tejashwi has also become the target of the opposition’s assault on the 15 decades of his parents’ misrule.
Although he did initially defend his parents apologized for the”bhool” in the 15-year rule, Tejashwi soon realised the futility of this exercise. It was then that he came up with his’Nayi Soch, Naya Bihar’ campaign, the posters carrying just his face and not his parents’, something unthinkable a couple weeks ago. Simultaneously, he’s kept brother away Tej Pratap and sister Misa Bharti, possibly in an attempt to ward off allegations of nepotism. He’s also refrained from playing the sympathy cardalleging how his father has been a casualty of a saffron conspiracy. There is no discussion in his speeches of backward anything or empowerment to appeal to the Yadavs, something that his father would do often.
This does not mean that the RJD is not playing to its core power of Muslims and Yadavs, the famed’M-Y vote’, which ensured them 25 per cent-plus of their vote in seats they contested election . Over fifty percent of the RJD’s 144 current candidates are out of these two communities (58 Yadavs and 17 Muslims). It is just that they are not speaking about them from open platforms, part of the RJD approach to seem more inclusive.
Tejashwi has additionally given 24 chairs to the backward castes (EBCs), a section of the vote Nitish has assiduously cultivated.
The NDA, also, has played with the caste card. Nitish’s JD(U) has fielded 40 OBC candidates and 27 from the EBC. The candidate choice appears to veer towards consolidating the EBC base whilst at the same time hoping to make inroads in the RJD’s M-Y fortress.
Long to one of these two social groups (19 Yadavs and 11 Muslims). However, the EBC vote remains Nitish’s mainstay, which is why a constant stretch in his public meetings is,”Kaun poochhata thaati-pichhdon ko? (Who cared for the EBCs earlier?)” He also pushes the point of how it was his administration that got”20 per cent reservation for the EBCs, 50 per cent for women and 16 percent for those SCs in panchayati raj institutions” and this has caused the political and social empowerment of these divisions in Bihar.
The EBCs, with 113 informed castes, constitute about 30 percent of Bihar’s 7.1 million-strong electorate. Around 25 of the notified EBC groups are out of the Muslim community and entitled to the very same advantages as their Hindu counterparts.
Analysts say the electorate at Bihar throw their votes based on five broad parameters–their caste, faith, then direction, organisational strength and past record of their celebration, although not necessarily in this order. While the RJD can match Nitish in terms of caste votes (that the Yadavs versus the Kurmi and EBCs) and organisational parameters–the RJD organisation is as large and qualified as the JD(U)’s though they both pale in comparison to the BJP’s Sangh network– Tejashwi falls short on three yardsticks, direction and past record, where he’s still untested and, sadly, faith (a counter-polarisation contrary to the Muslim vote may damage the RJD).
BJP STRENGTH AND CONGRESS WEAKNESS
Another essential factor determining the results of the election is just how much of a force multiplier both national parties could be for the regional parties. This is the point where the JD(U) has an edge. Over the years, the BJP has gained ground in Bihar while the Congress has dropped consistently. Unlike in Uttar Pradesh, the saffron party in Bihar has obtained not only through religious polarisation but about the strength of its growth agenda.
Starting 2005, the BJP’s vote share has just climbed upward. From 10.97 per cent in the February 2005 assembly election to 24.4 per cent in 2015, the celebration has more than doubled its vote share. In the Lok Sabha election also, its vote share in Bihar has gone up from 14.6 percent in 2004 to 24.1 percent in 2019. Its vote share was the greatest in 2014 when it contested without the JD(U), polling 29.9 per cent votes.
The BJP also believes that the expansion of the central government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY)–where liberated ration is distributed to the poor–till the end of November has generated tremendous goodwill. The party also hopes to gain traction among the 20.3 million girls in Bihar who obtained Rs 500 per month in their Jan Dhan accounts during the pandemic months of April, May and June. Additionally, it’s relying upon the support of those 6.3 million farmers in Bihar, who’ve benefitted under the PM-KISAN Yojana.
The Congress, on the other hand, has marched in the opposite direction in Bihar.
The situation is not really different in assembly polls.
Clearly, while Nitish Kumar seems sure to gain in the business of the BJP, the RJD–with allotted Congress 70 instead of the 41 seats it contested last year–might not create a corresponding profit. A senior RJD leader confessed to india now that Tejashwi’s logic of retaining the Congress so that the Muslim vote might stay merged may prove expensive. Having lost both vote discuss and value in the country over the years, the Congress is not likely to bring much to the table. What it has also done is drive away the smaller allies, for example Upendra Kushwaha of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), Manjhi’s HAM (S) and Sahni’s VIP. Incidentally, the Lokniti-CSDS poll forecasts a 7 percent vote share for its Kushwaha-led Grand Democratic Secular Front (GDSF), which amount would have done wonders for the RJD’s 32 per cent vote share. Starting this season, nevertheless, Chirag started opposing Nitish and his administration and, eventually, broke off from the NDA in Bihar.
And though the BJP chose to decide on the JD(U) from the poll, it did not do much to defend Nitish contrary to Chirag’s attacks, triggering speculation of their LJP being BJP’s B team in Bihar. That impression only gained ground as Chirag promised to back the BJP in any post-poll scenario and started fielding candidates against the JD(U). When his dad and LJP creator Ram Vilas Paswan died on October 8, Chirag asserted an even more powerful claim on his heritage and the 5 per cent Paswan vote.
He LJP has stated it will contest 143 seats in Bihar. It seems they could contest fewer seats, but Chirag’s candidates will challenge the BJP at five or more seats. Realising that additional ambivalence will prove counter-productive in Bihar, the BJP because October 17 has publicly started assaulting Chirag and calling him a vote katwa. “I really don’t know how accurate the debate about BJP using Paswan to inflict controlled harm on the JD(U) to emerge as the big brother in Bihar is. However, controlled damage may soon become collateral damage. “If, over the years, the BJP and JD(U) have succeeded in building a formidable alliance, it is largely due to the bipolar nature of Bihar’s politics: NDA versus the expansive alliance. The RJD, also, has an electoral base of over 20 percent voters. They will bounce back to relevance if not win the minute the polls in Bihar become a triangular competition. The BJP has started talking against Chirag because he’s trying to do exactly that. By trying to make a web of confusion, he’s attempting to emerge as a key player even at the cost of assisting Tejashwi Yadav punch above his weight.
However, while Chirag might have polled 5 percent votes at the Lokniti-CSDS poll for the chief minister’s job, the LJP’s vote share of 6 percent could just prove to be exactly what Chirag himself known as the Dahi ka joran (the tablespoon of curd needed to curdle milk into thick curd) within an alliance rather than fetch him any advantage by fighting .
Considering that the raging Covid pandemic, its management is very likely to turn into a crucial marker of Nitish’s functionality.
According to authorities figures, Bihar has a recovery rate of over 94 per cent, less than 11,000 active instances in a population of over 140 million as on October 19, also was conduction 100,000 tests per day because the second week of August, bringing down the positivity rate to less than 1.5 percent.
The state also made an early start with the lockdown, 13 days in advance of the national shutdown on March 25. Its first case surfaced on March 22.
However, it was at its own perceived mishandling of its migrants that the government received flak from the opposition and the folks. The press played up pictures of Bihari migrants stranded in different states as the nation delayed arranging for trains to attract them. Nor was its approach to put them in quarantine centres for 14 days, given that more than 7 percent of those migrants were testing positive, win them any accolades even if the government claims it prevented Covid from spreading into rural Bihar. Employment for the returnees became another issue, as despite chances under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, they weren’t sufficient to match the migrants’ aspirations.
Currently, it seems to be edge NDA. Nonetheless, it is the last months of the campaign, particularly PM Modi’s rallies, that will choose the winner. Will Nitish’s expertise and maturity, together with the prime minister’s backing, win the day, or will anti-incumbency and young Tejashwi’s exuberance herald the arrival of a’Naya Bihar’?