Ahead of the assembly elections in Bihar, the Election Commission (EC) is framing regulations to ensure safe ways of conducting polls in the state that is currently struggling with the coronavirus pandemic. The EC is also in a process to formulate rules for electoral campaign during this unprecedented period.
Bihar is suffering from the distress of Covid-19 and disastrous floods so the election mood is not yet very upbeat, but a quick conversation with people reveals that most of them have a barrage of complains against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his government. But almost all of them end the conversation with a statement on the lines of, ‘Koi vikalpbhi to nahi hai (there is no better option in sight.)’.
This sentiment points at the sheer helplessness of people and the change they want to see in Bihar but have not yet found a better alternative to replace Nitish Kumar-led JDU-NDA government. This alternative term is going to emerge as a tagline for future electoral discourse in Bihar. The term anti-incumbency, which explains change of power many times and in many states, may not appear as an appropriate term for understanding electoral canvas of Bihar.
People may be disillusioned with the current state government but whether a change in power will take place or not will be determined when people place their trust on an opposition leader as a better alternative of Kumar. Sometimes the ruling government, in spite of its many failures, gets another term because people don’t find a better replacement.
Tejaswi Yadav, leader of Rastriya Janta Dal (RJD), is trying hard to expose the current government and its failure, but he is yet to evolve as a mature and visionary alternative to Nitish Kumar’s politics. While Tejaswi has a strong voter base and party organisation at the grassroots level, a section of people are skeptical about his leadership as the chief minister of Bihar. He perhaps knows these troubling social zones in the Bihar society and is trying to regain confidence and trust of the people in his leadership. The confidence about his leadership among people may be strengthened when he will accumulate trust capital in his political account. This trust capital gets accumulated slowly based on political action, integrity, and moral authority of the leader. This trust capital when, it reaches a certain point, places the leader on a vacant space of ‘alternative’.
When the leader emerges as an alternative, a major of people shift their political inclination towards the new potential leader. In the context of Bihar politics, Tejaswi is working hard to increase his trust capital, but is yet to reach a point from where he may emerge as an alternative to Nitish Kumar for the larger section of the people of Bihar. He is trying to be visible at most moments of distress which are appearing in the life of the people of Bihar such as floods and coronavirus.
While Nitish Kumar is trying to respond to the ongoing health crisis and flood situation, due to various reasons, a lot of dissatisfaction against him has emerged. If he gets another chance to rule Bihar in the coming elections, perhaps the main reason would be not his governance but the lack of a good alternative — a sentiment which the people still understand and express during public discourses.
As the elections draw nearer, we may hear two terms — alternative and trust —constantly during popular public debates. These terms are not mere political vocabulary but will determine change or no change in power in Bihar. As one Bihar native rightly resonates the relevance of these terms: “Jab takvishwasna hoi, kehuke vote kaise diai? (How does one vote for a leader in the absence of trust?)’.