The election fervour is slowly gaining ground in Bihar. Virtual meets and training programs for party workers have started. Both the alliances – NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and MGB (Mahagathbandhan) – are busy thrashing out seat-distribution talks with partners. Prospective candidates have started jostling to put up banners and hoardings in constituencies. Research associates of polling agencies are on the ground doing their surveys. As they say, ‘dheere dheere chunavi mahaul ban raha hai’ (The election atmosphere is slowly building up).
The elections this time around are fairly complex, though it appears pretty routine and easy to predict prima facie.
This is the first election in India in the post-COVID world. The pandemic is scaling new heights daily. Parties and candidates are relying on ‘digital or virtual politics’, and the personal touch is missing. COVID-19 could potentially impact voter turnout as well.
Under the COVID circumstances, some inherently contradictory trends are emerging from the election scene in Bihar:
Nitish Is Trailing & ‘Unpopular’ – But NDA Could Still Win
As per initial opinion polls, the NDA is expected to win the elections very comfortably, riding on Modi’s popularity, and with the caste arithmetic in its favour – and of course, the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor. However, all of these opinion polls point to the fact that Nitish’s popularity is waning, and he is facing severe anti-incumbency.
As per the C-Voter survey, Nitish Kumar has received only 30.3 percent votes in the ‘most preferred CM’ poll. This is much lower than his average leadership ratings of 40-45 percent in 2015.
Further, 56.7 percent respondents said that they are angry with his government and want a change. 45.3 percent rated his performance as poor.
According to the Prashnam survey, Nitish is trailing Tejaswi in the preferred choice for CM (-1 percent women, -4 percent men). As per the crowd prediction platform , Nitish is currently trailing Tejaswi on three parameters – of trust, understanding and capability.
With 30 percent popularity ratings, I don’t recall any CM getting re-elected in recent times. Both Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh – who enjoyed 40 percent ratings – lost their respective state polls in 2018. If this is the trend, then how is NDA still winning? TINA factor? Perhaps.
JDU Might Get Fewer Seats – So, Will BJP Pull A ‘Shiv Sena’ On Nitish?
The impact of anti-incumbency and anger against Nitish is that JDU is likely to get less seats than BJP in the elections. As per a survey by VDP Associates, while the BJP is likely to get anywhere between 67-80 seats, JDU is likely to get only 34-44 seats. JDU’s tally is likely to be almost half of BJP’s tally.
Wasn’t the BJP – which boasts of a presence across all booths in India, through their network of ‘panna prabharis’, not aware of JDU’s precarious position? If yes, why did it announce Nitish as the CM candidate for the NDA?
Even in the 2015 elections, JDU had secured fewer seats than RJD (73 vs 80), but Lalu had kept his promise of making Nitish the CM.
The difference was not much – only 10 percent. In 2020 though, as per polls, the difference could be 45-50 percent between the JDU and BJP tally.
Will the BJP still accept Nitish as the CM post-results? Or will it pull a ‘Shiv Sena’ on Nitish?
The Chirag Paswan Factor
Chirag Paswan has been at loggerheads with Nitish Kumar for the past six months. Nitish is not pandering to Chirag, and this has turned into an ego battle. Chirag didn’t want BJP to announce Nitish as the CM. To this Nitish retorted that the LJP is not JDU’s alliance partner; his alliance is only with the BJP. The BJP still went ahead and announced him as the CM face.
Now Nitish is expecting the BJP to accommodate the LJP from its quota.
The LJP is demanding 42 seats, and the BJP is not willing to give more than 30 seats, as per recent reports.
If his demands are not met, Chirag has threatened to contest on 143 seats and put up candidates on all seats where the JDU is contesting. Again, this is bizarre. He is understandably angry, but why is his anger directed only towards the JDU and not BJP? Why not put up candidates against the BJP too?
Tejaswi Should Have Broadened His Voter Base Beyond ‘Muslims-Yadavs’
One of the reasons why an NDA win is being predicted despite anger against Nitish is because it has the ‘caste arithmetic’ in its favour. The RJD has been reduced to a ‘Muslim-Yadav’ (MY) party. MY accounts for only 31 percent of the population and it cannot propel Tejaswi to the CM seat in a bipolar contest.
On the other hand, the NDA enjoys the support of dominant castes like Kurmis, and most disadvantaged castes like Mahadalits and Dalits. These groups account for 60 percent of the population.
This shows that Tejaswi, the RJD and the Congress, need to broaden their social base.
They should have accommodated Jiten Ram Manjhi (Mahadalits form 10 percent of the population) and Upendra Kushwaha (Koeri/Kushwaha forms 8 percent of the population).
However, the exact opposite is happening right now.
Manjhi was forced out, and now he has joined the NDA. Kushwaha was eased out too, and he has formed a Third Front with Mayawati’s BSP.
Not Sushant Singh – It’s Livelihood Issues Which Are On Voters’ Minds
According to a C-Voter survey, unemployment and the return of migrant workers is the biggest issue in the Bihar elections. Sushant Singh’s death doesn’t feature among the major issues concerning the people. According to a Prashnam survey, 55 percent of Bihar’s voters don’t want Sushant Singh Rajput’s death to be a poll issue. However, the national media and some local channels are constantly reporting on the case and projecting it as a major issue in poll-bound Bihar.
It shows that the media may not be in tune with the public pulse in Bihar.
Interesting times are ahead in Bihar. The poll outcome will depend on how these contradictory factors play out.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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