The Election Commission has announced the dates for much awaited Bihar elections. The polls will be held in three phases from October 28 to November 7 with counting on November 10.
It has squeezed the schedule between Dussehra which falls on October 25 and Diwali which falls on November 14, so that the festivals are not affected.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is seeking a fourth term and if he wins then he would equal the record of the likes of Narendra Modi, Naveen Patnaik and Jyoti Basu.
The final seat distribution for the alliances is yet to shape up. Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party is in National Democratic Alliance or out is still not clear. Jitan Ram Manjhi has already left Mahagathbandhan (MGB), talks of Upendra Kushwaha, also joining the NDA are is doing the rounds.
In Bihar politics, caste is cast in stone and, as always, it is likely to play a key role again in the election results. Both NDA and MGB are trying to create perfect caste arithmetic on each seat to sail through. It is called as jaatigat ganit in Bihar circles.
Caste Matrix of Bihar
Lalu Yadav came to power in Bihar riding on the support of the backward classes, Muslims and Yadavs which account for two-third of state’s population.
The OBC reservation provided by the V P Singh-led Janata Dal propelled the party to snatch power from Congress in Bihar.
He remained in power for 15 years, the Muslim-Yadav combination, famously called as MY, proved to be the catalyst.
Slowly and steadily the backward castes got disillusioned with the excessive Yadavization of Lalu’s party.
In 2005, the combination of Nitish Kumar and Sushil Modi, two strong leaders from other backward caste (OBCs) together with consolidation of upper caste voters, managed to end the jungle raj of Lalu.
Nitish is a Kurmi which accounts for 4% of the state's population. He created two vote banks, one called Mahadalits and other called Most / Extremely Backward caste. (Yadavs in a way are considered as well off among the OBCs).
He designed specific schemes for both of them which cemented his popularity among them. These two categories account for 34% of the state population.
Along with the upper caste which accounts for 15% of population, this becomes a deadly unbeatable combination, as visible in 2010 state and 2019 general elections.
The addition of Paswan to the alliance has also brought in the dalit votes (6%). NDA bagged 54.3% vote share in Lok Sabha elections 2019 almost equal to its support base (34%+15%+6%).
Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal has been reduced to an MY party, both these groups accounting for 31% of population. In a bipolar contest, this is not enough to win elections.
Resultantly, the RJD-led MGB recorded just 28.3% vote share in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2005 and 2010 state elections, RJD led alliance vote share was 31% and 26%. In 2014 Lok Sabha elections RJD+ bagged 30% vote share.
The party has not been able to expand its vote base beyond these two groups. This exclusive strategy (perceived as MY party, alienating others) has made matters worse for RJD.
2015 was a different ball game as RJD and JDU contested together in an alliance when Nitish left NDA. Nitish brought together with some of the EBC and Mahadalit votes and MGB recorded 43% vote share.
The parties have changed partners frequently in Bihar, JDU contested with BJP in 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections, alone in 2014 Lok Sabha, with RJD in 2015 Vidhan Sabha and again with BJP in 2019 Lok Sabha. However, they have held onto their respective support groups, vote bases.
More or less different caste groups favour different parties as shown below:
In 2014, when the Janata Dal (United) contested alone it got reduced to 16% vote share, which is almost half of MBC/EBC, Kurmis plus Mahadalit votes. The Bharatiya Janata Party, its partner, retained the other half and along with upper caste and dalits it bagged 39% vote share.
RJD realised its folly of being labelled as MY party and tried to expand its vote base by inducting Mukesh Sahani, Upendra Kushwaha and Jiten Ram Manjhi, too woo voters from these communities. However, it failed, as these leaders are not considered as stalwarts among their community, as they claim.
If RJD, which has been written off by many political analysts, wants to give a tough fight, it has to adopt an all inclusive strategy, give more tickets to members other than MY community. Only then it has any chance, otherwise the caste arithmetic is heavily stacked against the MGB.
Currently, as per crowd prediction platform, Crowdwisdom360, NDA is about 9% ahead, enough to win between 135 and 167 seats in the 243-seat Assembly.
As per C-Voter survey, NDA is comfortably expected to win anywhere between 141-161 seats, which reinforces my point on jaatigat ganit not in favour of RJD.
Having said that, it is still too early, dates have just been announced, alliances still firming up, candidates not yet announced. Hence, it’s too early for opinion polls as I tweeted yesterday.