Why Mahagathbandhan will blame Congress if they lose Bihar
With no vote bank of its own, its success depends on the alliance partners.
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In the intensely caste-dominated Bihar Assembly elections, all major political parties are banking upon their traditional vote banks - be it the BJP, LJP, RLSP and HAM of NDA or RJD and JD(U) of the Grand Alliance. Even marginal players like NCP and AIMIM have their earmarked constituencies.
However, Congress is the only party which is in the fray sans any traditional vote bank. It is the weakest link in the Grand Alliance. Its upper caste base has shifted to the BJP, Dalits have gravitated towards LJP and HAM, while Muslims have switched allegiance largely to the Grand Alliance or even to the NCP and AIMIM in certain pockets.
Now left with no committed voters' bloc or even cadres, the Congress' success is solely dependent on two factors - transferability of votes from its alliance partners RJD and JD(D), and strength of individual candidates.
Kurmis and Yadavs are traditional rivals as the former are land owners, the latter are tillers under them. Though reluctantly, the committed Kurmi voters of the JD(U) will vote for Yadav and Muslim candidates of the RJD and vice versa. The Kurmis will be influenced from the factor that their caste leader Nitish Kumar will retain the chief minister's post. The Yadavs and Muslims will vote for the Kurmi candidates by taking into account the fact that they will still be sharing power, even if they will not be at the helm. But Kurmis and Yadavs do not have many reasons to vote for the non-Yadav, non-Kurmi and non-Muslim candidates fielded on the Congress quota.
As it is, the Congress has got a much larger share of 41 seats to contest which is disproportionate to its strength in the state. It had fought on all the 243 seats in the 2010 elections and won only four. In the ongoing elections, it finds itself weak on 16 seats where it has fielded upper-caste candidates and 10 seats where it has fielded SC/ST candidates.
The Congress is in a strong position in about 15 seats where it has fielded Muslims or backward caste candidates. At most of these places, the votes of the Muslims, Yadavs and Kurmis are being transferred to the Congress. For instance, the victory of Jangannath Prasad Rai, a Yadav, from Hajipur is a foregone conclusion. Similarly, the other Yadav candidates like Ramdeo Rai from Bachhwara, Amita Rai from Begusarai and Poonam Yadav from Gobindpur find themselves in a comfortable position.
In contrast, upper caste candidates like Vinay Verma from Narkatiaganj, Akhilesh Prasad Singh from Tarari, Madan Mohan Tiwari from Bettiah, Brajesh Kumar Pandey from Govindganj and Bhawna Jha from Benipatti find themselves on a sticky wicket as it will neither fetch the upper caste NDA votes nor the Muslim, Yadav and Kurmi votes of the Grand Alliance.
As against this, transferability of votes among the NDA allies is easier. The alliance of the BJP, LJP and RLSP is a time-tested and a proven one, having contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as allies. Of the 40 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP had won 22 of the 30 seats it contested, LJP won six of the seven seats while RLSP won all the three seats it contested. HAM is a newcomer and it is contesting only 20 seats. The BJP is in the fray in 160 constituencies, LJP in 40 constituencies and RLSP in 23 constituencies.
While the main players in the Grand Alliance - JD(U) and RJD - are contesting on lesser number seats and thus reducing the chances of increasing their tally, the BJP has considerably increased the number of seats it had contested in 2010 polls. It had fought on 102 seats and won 91 - a success rate of 89.22 per cent. It has increased its share to 160 seats this time around and sought to minimise any damage because of the smaller alliance partners.
The prospects of the Congress candidates are also weak because of the poor visibility of its top leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. Sonia has visited Bihar only twice so far while the Congress vice-president has toured only on three days, covering only about 10 constituencies. He is slated to make two more trips and will not be able to cover all the 41 seats. On the other hand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD supremo Lalu Prasad are all over the campaign.