The war of words is heating up between incumbent Nitish Kumar and challenger Tejashwi Yadav. While opinion polls predict a sweep for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), things are not looking so great for the alliance on the ground due to trust deficit between the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party, Chirag Paswan’s googly and natural anti-incumbency.
Tejashwi is seen closing the leadership gap at least on . He is drawing good crowds at his rallies and is raising hyper-local issues like unemployment, which are finding resonance among the youth. Tejashwi has promised 10 lakh jobs if the party comes to power in the state. Nitish hit back saying that they (Lalu’s family) may start their own business in the name of giving jobs.
The Bihar Cricket Match
The elections in Bihar are like a cricket match. Congress is the vice-captain of the Mahagathbandhan/United Progressive Alliance team. It is contesting from 70 seats, around 30 percent of the total constituencies. In the 2015 elections, it contested from 41 seats and won 27 with an impressive strike rate of 66 percent – two-thirds.
The party has bargained hard with Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Tejashwi Yadav, who has granted it 15 seats more in my opinion. The Congress has managed to pocket a lion’s share of seats, which would have otherwise gone to Manjhi (HAM), Kushwaha (RLSP) and Sahani (VIP), had they remained with the Mahagathbandhan.
Some of the seats which the Congress is contesting have not witnessed a Congress MLA for the last three decades.
Tejashwi has granted the grand old party 70 seats to avoid a split of minority votes, which account for 17 percent of the state population. Some RJD candidates are contesting on Congress tickets, the exact number is not quite known.
Tejashwi needs Congress to do very well, a minimum strike rate of 50 percent, if he wants to become the chief minister for the first time dethroning Nitish Kumar. This is a tall task for a party that has lost considerable vote share to mandal and kamandal parties since the early 1990s. In 2015, it performed very well, primarily on account of vote transfer from the JD(U) and RJD.
Party Performance Since the Bifurcation of Bihar:
The BJP is the in-form player in the ruling camp, expected to bag the highest number of seats in the elections. Even if this turns out to be wrong, there is consensus among political pundits that it will do far better than partner JD(U).
Out of the 70 seats, Congress is contesting, 37 are against the BJP, slightly more than half. These are not going to be easy contests for the grand old party as BJP candidates may not suffer from the anti-incumbency of Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), as the saffron party has somehow succeeded in pinning all blame on the CM for the non-performance of the NDA government. It also has the Modi factor to bank upon.
The best shot Congress has is on the 28 seats it is contesting against the JD(U). Though the JD(U) is the captain of the NDA, it is in poor form. With the help of the RJD, whose votes get transferred to the Congress, without much leakage, the party will have to nail these contests. It will also have to sweep the five contests against weaker opponents like the HAM and VIP.
Who Votes for Congress?
The party has been in alliance with Lalu’s party for most of the past two decades and has been piggybacking on its strengths. After having lost most of its traditional vote, today, two-thirds of its voter base comprises Muslims and Yadavs, followed by OBCs and Dalits.
The party has been weakened by the exodus of ex-state President and Dalit leader Ashok Chaudhary, who along with three MLCs joined the JD(U) in 2018. In September 2020, two MLAs of the Congress again joined the JD(U). It didn't have a president for many months after Chaudhary left.
The party doesn’t have an organisation left in the state. It has more leaders than workers and cadres. Most leaders were absent from the ground during the pandemic and floods, which gripped the state.
Congress Attempting to Revive its Traditional Vote Bank
The Congress is attempting to revive its traditional vote of the upper castes, Dalits, backward castes and minorities in Bihar through a new experiment. It has appointed a Brahmin Madan, Mohan Jha, as its state president. However, he is not one of the tall leaders of the community. Will it end up failing as the similar experiment of naming Sheila Dixit as CM candidate of Uttar Pradesh?
An analysis of the Phase 1 candidates of the Congress shows that the party has given 60 percent of the tickets to members from the upper castes. It is contesting 21 seats in Phase 1 and has given 12 tickets to Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars and others. It has not given a single ticket to the minority community, and only one to MBC.
Out of the 12 upper caste candidates, eight (75 percent) are pitted against upper-caste candidates of the BJP. These are very tough contests for the Congress. The NDA won 73 percent support of the upper caste votes in the 2019 general elections. General category voters are one of the anchor voting segments of the party. This strategy can be very risky, not only for the Congress but for the Mahagathbandhan on the whole.
Caste-wise Break-up of Congress Candidates – Phase 1:
It shows that the grand old party has not changed much. It continues to be an upper-caste-dominated party, which used to draw the support of Dalits, minorities and backwards castes from the 1950s-1980s in the Hindi heartland, as it was the dominant party then. Having drawn support from the vulnerable sections, it used to appoint upper caste MLAs/chief ministers in most cases, having under-represented other communities.
According to Crowdwisdom360, the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), along with the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) and numerous other smaller parties and Independents, is likely to win a much larger proportion of the votes compared to 2015, thus splitting the Opposition’s vote.
In such a scenario, Tejashwi Yadav has to not only ensure that the RJD does well, it needs to pull up the prospects of the Congress, which is contesting 30 percent of the seats. The captain needs its vice captain in form if the Mahagathbandhan has to win Bihar. Will the Congress spur or ruin the dream of Tejashwi Yadav? We will get to know on 10 November.
(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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