Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, recent political developments in Bihar suggest that the Assembly elections due in the state in November are well-placed on the radar of all political parties.
All political parties and the Election Commission of India have given enough indication of political temperature building up in the state. On one side, the BJP and the JD(U) are gearing up for the forthcoming Assembly elections, and on the other, the UPA has received a jolt with five RJD members of Legislative Council defecting to JD(U) and senior leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh resigning from party position.
Political parties have organised virtual rallies, leader have issued statements, and the ECI has also indicated how it plans to organise voter awareness and outreach programmes in the changed scenario.
The ECI’s voters outreach programme may change, as could the political parties’ style of campaigning and there may possibly be some changes in how voting takes place, but what would decide the electoral outcome in Bihar is political alliances.
A continuation of the NDA alliance in its present form (BJP, LJP and JD(U)) would mean a certain advantage to this alliance. A united UPA like that of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections would mean it only being able to put up a contest in some regions, but remaining far behind the NDA in the race.
The recent defection in RJD has only weakened the electoral prospects of the UPA. Any further crack in the UPA, either on the issue of leadership or on any other, would mean a complete wipe-out. A possible third front would mean a massive sweep by the NDA during the forthcoming Assembly elections.
The election trumpet has been blown by all political parties. Home minister Amit Shah had already organised a virtual rally, and went on record stating NDA’s commitment to contest the Bihar Assembly election under leadership of Nitish Kumar.
Chief minister Kumar has given enough indication of being in alliance with BJP. In response, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, who organised the Garib Adhikaar Diwas by beating empty utensils to demonstrate lack of food on the plates of the poor, termed the BJP’s virtual rally as “political vulturism”.
The chief election commissioner, Sunil Arora, stated, “We would step up the use of digital technologies in voter’s awareness, outreach and training. We will make greater use of digital and media platform, including bulk SMS, social media, television advertising, FM and community radio, National Voters Service portal and the ECI app.” Clearly, all stake-holders are showing preparedness.
True, rallies, meetings and speeches have their own roles but the nature of the contest would depend upon how alliances shape up before elections. The existing alliance makes the situation favourable for NDA, the Opposition seems fragmented and recent defections have added to its problem.
The UPA contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections without any hiccups as there was no issue of leadership. But the question of who should lead the UPA is not going to be easy to handle this time.
The smaller parties within the UPA, Hindustan Awam Morcha (Jitan Ram Manjhi), Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (Upendra Kushwaha) and Vikassheel Insaf Party (Mukesh Sahani), have already raised the issue of leadership of this alliance.
Even if the UPA partners are able to handle the issue of leadership, the road ahead for them of putting up a challenge for a popular leader and sitting chief minister Nitish Kumar is going to be difficult.
Though the electoral arithmetic seems favourable for the NDA, the UPA is hoping for a turnaround, looking at the performance of the BJP in Assembly elections held after 2019 Lok Sabha elections. After the thumping victory in the general elections of 2019, the BJP has failed to register a single-majority victory in all four Assembly elections held since.
Although it was successful in forming the government in Haryana, it failed to gather a majority of its own, thus seeking the help of Dushyant Chautala’s Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) to cross the halfway mark. Even an aggressive campaign in Delhi could not save the BJP from a humiliating defeat.
Besides this poor performance of the BJP, the UPA is hoping to gain from anti-incumbency against four-time chief minister Nitish Kumar. The alliance is also hoping to mobilise guest workers who have recently retuned to Bihar as they seemed visibly unhappy with the BJP and JD(U) government.
But what Tejashwi Yadav does not realise is that RJD needs to instil confidence amongst voters of Bihar by promising some policies and schemes; organising the Garib Adhikaar Diwas may not be enough.
There is a possibility of shift amongst workers who have returned back to their villages, and if RJD and its alliance partners are able to capitalise on that, they could put up a contest.
The UPA also needs to guard against possible division of the Muslim votes in case AIMIM, which has some support base amongst Muslim voters in Seemanchal region, decides to contest elections alone.
Most importantly, the RJD and other UPA partners need to guard against possible defection and break-up of the alliance.
Sanjay Kumar is a professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He is also a political commentator. Views are personal...