With just two weeks left before the first phase of Assembly election starts in Bihar (12 October), the electorate seems to be confused over whom to choose. Large section of voters, especially the middle class, are not able to decide between Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They neither dislike Nitish, nor want to ignore Modi.
The divorce between the Janata Dal (United) JD(U)) and the BJP is something a majority of electorates are still unable to cope with. Now the question is who will they opt for? Nitish or Modi. There is also confusion over who will garner the votes of Extreme Backward Castes (EBCs). Since 2005, EBCs have been regularly voting for Nitish’s JD (U). However, in the 2014 Lok Sabha election they supported the Modiled BJP. This time by aligning with Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the BJP has almost cornered the votes of Mahadalits. So for the JD(U), with Mahadalits almost out of the equation and the uncertainty over the EBC votes, signs are ominous.
Another problem with the JD (U) is that many of its supporters are not happy over its alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). For a large number of electorates, the Grand Alliance between the duo has brought back the memories of the ‘jungle raj’ of Laluera. “Bihar suffered a lot during the 15 years of Lalu’s reign,” says Vinod Kumar, an auto driver in Patna. “Law and order situation was terrible. Nitish changed all that. Development was back on the agenda. However, by forming an alliance with Lalu’s RJD, Nitish has shot himself in the foot and put Modi-led BJP in an advantageous position,” says Vinod.
Vinod belongs to EBC category and his views reflect the prevailing mood of a large section of people in Bihar. Despite various parties jumping into the fray for the upcoming polls, the fight is basically between chief minister of the state and Prime Minister of the country. This is very much evident in Bihar on the huge billboards in various parts of Patna featuring either Modi or Nitish.
Though there is no anti-incumbency factor, the partnership that the BJP has formed with parties such as the HAM, the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RSLP) and its efforts to win over the votes of EBCs, has put the party in the driver’s seat. The BJP’s candidates’ list is indicative of the special care the party has taken to accommodate various castes, which were earlier with the JD (U). Out of the 160 seats being contested by the BJP, the party has already announced candidates for 154 seats. Though candidates belonging to upper castes dominate the list, the party has given 33 seats to EBCs. The saffron party also hopes to retain the support of Yadav community, which has been given 22 seats in the upcoming election.
Since the last Assembly election, two important leaders have left Nitish’s camp. The deciding factor for Nitish could be how to make up for the losses of Manhji, a Mahadalit, and Upendra Kushwaha, a prominent OBC leader. The Mahadalit community, which Nitish carved out in 2005 from Dalit category, has contributed immensely to his previous electoral successes. However, the community is no longer with him after his open spat with Manhji, who formed a separate party. The presence of Asaduddin Owaisi’s All-India Majlis e-Ittehad ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), Left parties and the alliance of Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Jan Adhikar Party would ensure that Grand Alliance does not have a smooth run in the election.
Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) tells TEHELKA , “The mood in Bihar is changing. With more and more class groupings taking place in the state, the caste-based calculations of the dominant political parties are bound to fail.” Dipankar might be pointing to the change of attitude among certain section of people, however in reality Left alliance is ill-equipped to prevent people from drifting towards the BJP.
Nitish seems to be aware of the odds stacked against him. He knows that the fight is between him and Narendra Modiled BJP. Harping on his good governance thus far and carefully selecting seats for the JD(U), Nitish hopes to blunt the attack of the opposition. In the final list put out by the Grand Alliance, 134 seats have been given to candidates belonging to the backward castes.
Out of the 101 seats the JD (U) is contesting, the party is directly confronting the BJP in 18 seats. In contrast, Lalu’s RJD crosses swords with the saffron party on 50 seats. Eventually, how the electorates view his partnership with Lalu, who is desperately trying to remain relevant in the political space of Bihar, will be a determining factor in the electoral fortunes of Nitish.