The political temperatures in Bihar has gone up after the election date was announced by the Election Commission of India (ECI) on September 25. The election for the 243 Legislative Assembly seats of the State will be conducted on October 28, November 3, and November 7 in three phases. Nearly 7.3 crore eligible voters are going to exercise their duty that will decide the fate and future discourse of Bihar. It is to be known that this election is the first Assembly election conducted by the ECI amidst Corona pandemic after the Delhi Legislative Election in January this year. Steps taken by ECI due to the COVID-19 situation include various restrictions from political campaigning to the conduct of the election. The major change in this election is minimising the electorate numbers to 1000 from previously 1500 in a polling station resulted in a 63 per cent increase in polling stations. The Election Commission department will avail proper availability of hand gloves for voters, sanitisation of the polling station, thermal scanners along with other amenities adhering the social distancing norms and other safety procedures will be followed during the election process.
The Coalition Dilemma
The various political parties are in a fray of luring the voters. The old and new parties are toiling hard to win seats and have an aspiration to play a critical role in the formation of the government. The legislative election statistics post-partition of Bihar (the Year 2000) highlights three vital trends. Firstly, neither State political party nor national party succeeded in crossing the majority mark of its own. Secondly, the vote percentage of State parties combined is more than that of national political parties. Thirdly, none of the contesting parties had ever crossed 30 per cent vote share. Then the coalition form of government comes into play in the political scenario. It has been in practice subjected to different alignments, regional strongholds, caste matrix, national-level coalition, etc. The upcoming Bihar election is also going to witness interesting ‘Coalition Vs Coalition’.
The Incumbent NDA
The ruling party Janta Dal-United (JDU) under CM Nitish Kumar has enjoyed the confidence of the ally Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party has always thrown weight under Nitish Kumar leadership in Bihar from the beginning and shared power with JD (U) with Sushil Modi as the face of Deputy Chief Minister since 2005 except for the period of 2013-2017 including last Assembly Elections in 2015. Nitish Kumar became the hope of the masses and soon gained popularity among the commoners who were fed up with increased crime, misgovernance, corruption by the then Lalu- Rabri Government. The BJP and JDU had performed very well in Assembly Polls 2005 & 2010 and Parliamentary Elections 2019. Both the parties were successful in increasing vote share and building trust among the masses. Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is part of NDA from the General Election 2014. The recent change in the party leadership from Ram Vilas Paswan to his son Chirag Paswan and his ambitious campaign of ‘Bihar 1st Bihari 1st’ reflects the aspiration, but the foot holding of the party is not much to bargain with the other two giants. The result of the last Assembly Polls is a witness to that, where they failed to win even two-digit seats. Jitan Manjhi’s Party Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) is also in talks with JDU and expected to be in NDA. Though the tussle for seat sharing is visible among the partners and the demand for the change of face or new Chief Minister candidate from BJP has been pop up from time to time, finally Nitish Kumar is all set to become the face of NDA. The slogan for BJP is #AatmanirbharBihar whereas JDU’s slogan is “Kyun Kare Vichar, Thikke toh hai Nitish Kumar.” (Why to think, When Nitish Kumar is fine)
The socio-economic schemes like ‘Mukhyamantri 7 Nischay Yojna’ targeting the backward class are commendable. After coming back with the old ally BJP in 2017, NDA registered a landslide victory in the General Elections further cementing the chemistry. Narendra Modi-led NDA Government at Centre is proving profitable to the State
Since Lalu Prasad Yadav is in jail, Tejashwi Yadav has become the face of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). He got the reign from his father though the decision-making wing of the party lies at the bungalow of the Director of Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS). The Congress leadership is rallying behind the RJD. Congress has no other option in the absence of the core votes, cadre or State level leadership. The RJD (Major ally) is keen on forming a mega alliance with Left parties, Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP), and others to avoid splitting of vote. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has also demanded seats in Bihar. Moreover, there is no consensus within the Mahagathbandhan on Chief Minister’s face. Tejashwi Yadav has been lashing out at the present government on issues like unemployment for attracting young voters and started his own website for the registration of unemployed youth with a promise giving employment to 10 lakh people after forming the government.
One of the prominent faces in Bihar politics Papu Yadav who led the Jan Adhikar Party (Loktantrik) had declared its alliance with the Bhim Army. Ex-Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha led Party Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), which was a former ally of BJP in the 16th Parliamentary Elections has now allied with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Janwadi Party (Socialist). All India Mujilis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) had won a Kishanganj Assembly seat in the by-polls, ushering its presence among Muslims in Bihar. The Party of Asaduddin Owaisi forged an Alliance with Samajwadi Janta Dal (Democratic).
The new Parties like Plurals is already a social media sensation nowadays with Pushpam Priya Chaudhary declaring herself as the Chief Minister candidate. She is the talk of the town, talking about the new Renaissance of Bihar, she is bringing new political movement which is new to the land.
Rashtriya Jan Jan Party is another Party formed by Brahmin Bhumihar Ekta Manch National President Ashutosh Kumar. The party is contesting from all the seats. Ashutosh Kumar has been vocal for the cause of two prominent upper castes of the State.
They may not bring numerical output in terms of seats, but they have potential to upset the equations for the major alliances in certain constituencies.
Vibrant Politics, Low Turnout
The land of the world’s first republic and Karmabhumi of one of the tallest political philosopher of Indian history Chanakya, Bihar is the most politically awakened State of the nation. The post-Independence leaders like Jay Prakash Narayan, Jagajivan Ram had an everlasting impression on Indian polity. When it comes to voting percentage in General Elections, the State registered voter turnout is second lowest in India after J&K both in 2014 & 2019. In legislative Assembly Elections also vote percentages are not impressive but have shown some positive growth in the last two decades. The voting percentage indeed plays a crucial role in any election as rightly observed by the political scientist Larry Sabato “Every election is determined by the people who show Up”.
A project report on sample survey of Knowledge, Attitude, Behaviour, Beliefs and Practices (KABBP) published by Office of Chief Electoral Officer (Bihar) found migration for livelihood as a major factor for lower voter turnout.
The Y Factor
The ‘Youth in India’ report published in 2017 by Central Statistics Office (CSO) of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation has highlighted education, employment, civic engagement and migration as the key major issues concerning youth in India. The densely populated Bihar has has a substantial share of the young voters. Lack of private universities and industrialisation, poor performance in Ease of Doing Business, fragile infrastructure, closure of traditional mills resulted into widespread unemployment . Though the State had come up with a startup policy and other schemes to encourage job creation, especially in the rural areas but failed to attract investments in the State.
Annual floods is a recurring issue in Bihar. This year due to the COVID-19 crisis the impact of floods was even worse which has angered the masses. The citizen’s anger had taken the shape of Social media campaigns with Top trends #IndustryInBihar & #FloodFreeBihar. Even regional language folks Songs underlying these problems went viral at the digital platforms. Still, infrastrucutre development and freedom from jungle raj are key positives for the Nitish-led alliance. There is no denying the fact that Bihar has recorded the highest GDP growth rate in the country under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. The socio-economic schemes like ‘Mukhyamantri Nischay Yojna’ targeting the backward class are commendable. After coming back with the old ally BJP in 2017, NDA registered a landslide victory in the General Elections further cementing the chemistry. Narendra Modi-led NDA Government at Centre is proving profitable to the State. The long-pending road, bridges and railway projects are the cornerstone of the Central Government. ‘Double Engine’ government is mostly used phrase by the state BJP while narrating their works in Bihar. NDA seems to be enjoying an edge over other parties or coalition.
Mahagathbandhan is failing to bring all opposition on board to fight against NDA. Fodder scam convict Lalu Yadav presently serving jail may not be seen in action on-ground, but he is actively engaged in political activities from Ranchi. The seat-sharing maths is failing due to confused leadership and miscommunication
On the other hand, Mahagathbandhan is failing to bring all opposition on board to fight against NDA. Anti-incumbency may favour them amalgamated with a young leadership. The old Yadav-Muslim combine is still the backbone of the RJD. Fodder scam convict Lalu Yadav presently serving jail may not be seen in action on-ground, but he is actively engaged in political activities from Ranchi. The seat-sharing maths is failing due to confused leadership and miscommunication.
Other coalition and political parties will only come into action in the condition of a fractured mandate. The upcoming six weeks in Bihar will be full of heated debates and political brickbats for the battle of Pataliputra. Whether Modi-Nitish combine manage to win the historic forth term for the NDA, only the EVMs tally on November 10 will tell.