What the anatomy of Bihar election reveals about political muscle in the state
Going to poll amidst pandemic, polarisation and political manoeuvring, Bihar remains an open house.
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Both Bihar and USA will go to poll amidst the pandemic. The 7.2 crore voters in Bihar will vote in three phases from October 28, 2020. “Man by nature is a political animal,” as Aristotle put it. He emphasised on the compulsion of politics, which becomes inevitable when Bihar goes to elections.
Nitish Kumar has been the Chief Minister of Bihar for a long time except for a brief period of nine months when Jitan Ram Manjhi became the CM. Along with BJP, Nitish Kumar’s party JDU has led the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Bihar for 15 years, other than those three years when the Bihar CM parted ways with the BJP over Narendra Modi’s appointment as Campaign Committee Chief for 2014 General Elections. Nitish has been a popular CM courtesy his social engineering effort where he carved out ‘Mahadalits’ after he became CM in 2005, and the welfare-oriented socialist-populist schemes that he has been championing ever since he assumed office. But then, he is up against an anti-incumbency of 15 years.
Nitish’s ally BJP has always had a decent cadre in Bihar, but their problem is with leadership. The Deputy CM Sushil Modi doesn’t inspire confidence and is largely seen as Nitish’s prodigy, who prefers to remain status quoist. Another NDA ally, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is confined to a few areas in Bihar. With the demise of Ramvilas Paswan, his son and LJP supremo Chirag Paswan faces the challenge to carry forward his father’s limited legacy. Certain social media political enthusiasts might see him as the next CM, but the facts on the ground do not corroborate with their whims. LJP has never performed well outside Vaishali (Tirhut region) barring the 2005 Assembly elections (Chirag Paswan and Mehboob Ali Kaisar are the only two exceptions).
LJP has decided to field its candidates against JDU but not against BJP, which is being termed as clever political manoeuvring. However, let’s not remain oblivious to the fact that it took Nitish 20 years to unseat the Yadav warlords of RJD in Bihar. Hence, it would be unrealistic to assume that Chirag could pose any severe threat to Nitish in the upcoming Assembly elections. However, he might get some sympathy votes due to the demise of LJP patriarch Ramvilas Paswan.
Nitish has been a popular CM, courtesy his social engineering efforts and the welfare-oriented socialist-populist schemes. (File photo: Reuters)
The opposition camp of Mahagathbandhan (MGB) has Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD) and Congress. Despite the popular belief, Lalu continues to be a key factor in Bihar politics. RJD’s vote share in 2019 Lok Sabha election was 15.4 per cent amidst a Modi tsunami. So, in the Assembly elections, Lalu Yadav remains a force to reckon with. His sons Tejpratap and Tejasvi also face a litmus test of filling in their father’s shoes. It remains to be seen if they can pull it off this time.
Going by regional analysis, the Bhojpur region can be divided into two — Aara, Buxar on one side and Chhapra, Siwan and Gopalganj on the other side of the Ganges. NDA has a stronghold in the Aara-Buxar region, thanks to the relative urbanisation of this block, while the other side of the Ganga remains an RJD stronghold, given the sheer number of Yadavs who swear by Lalu. Convicted or innocent, in jail or outside, the Yadav strongman has a magical influence on his core voters, which is more evident in the Assembly elections and one has to see this to believe. However, BJP — riding high on Modi wave — made a huge dent in Yadav vote base in last two Lok Sabha elections. The Magadh region consists of capital Patna, Gaya, Nalanda and Jehanabad. This region has witnessed the significant impact of both the NDA and the MGB. BJP has an edge in Patna, thanks to the Kayastha and Baniya votes. But a careful seat selection by the RJD might swing a sizeable Baniya vote from BJP. Nalanda remains a JDU bastion because of the large number of Kurmi voters. South Bihar consisting of Sasaram, Dumrao, and some parts of Aara and Buxar has been good for the BJP. But RJD isn’t too far away here.
Seemanchal consisting of Kishanganj, Katihar, Khagadia, Purnea, Farbisganj and Saharsa is traditionally a bastion of MGB. The considerable Muslim population in this area makes it a tough nut to crack for the NDA, though JDU managed to make a small dent in previous elections. With the entry of Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Seemanchal has now become a different ball game altogether. Qamrul Hoda is the lone AIMIM MLA from Kishanganj and now with Owaisi’s decision to field his candidates in 50 seats in Bihar, this looks unfavourable for the MGB. The secular arithmetic might change. Owaisi took strong objection to being alleged as a ’Vote katua’ (vote splitter), but even a small percent swing could upset the secular arithmetic in Bihar. If the Muslim population of Seemanchal prefers AIMIM over MGB, it is bound to cause a counter polarisation. The result is advantage NDA.
The Tirhut region comprising Vaishali, Hajipur, Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Begusarai, Sitamarhi, Khagaria are strongholds of RJD. These are primarily rural areas (except Muzaffarpur) with significant Yadav population. Also, the Rajputs have often sided with the RJD in previous elections as they have preferred to remain in the good books of the incumbent RJD for a long time. Late Raghuvansh Prasad Singh was a Rajput leader for the party and the state RJD unit chief Jagdanand Singh also happens to be a strong Rajput leader. The 2010 Assembly clean sweep by NDA in Tirhut is the only exception. Lastly, the Angika region with the towns of Bhagalpur, Banka and Munger have traditionally favoured BJP. This is because the twin factors of upper caste population and urbanisation are said to be on the right side of BJP.
NDA has one face in Bihar, and that is of Nitish Kumar. However, his charisma has surely abated in past few years. PM Modi continues to remain a crowd puller anywhere in India. However, with an ongoing pandemic, the virtual rallies might not engage the voter with the same effect. Not to forget, this is the first election amidst the pandemic, so it will also measure the anti-incumbency impact of Covid-19. Bihar remains an open house.