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Will Bihar be a cakewalk for Nitish-NDA?

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
September 10, 2020 17:25 IST
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The Opposition grand alliance is proving to be a non-starter, with senior RJD leaders reluctant to be ordered about by an immature and entitled Tejashswi, observes Virendra Kapoor.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
 

What do you think should be the voter mood given the huge problems the country is currently beset with?

From the continuing mass disruption and mortal fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a sputtering economy which in the latest quarter has tanked by a record 24%, loss of jobs by tens of millions in the formal and informal sectors, and the few with jobs suffering sharp pay-cuts, to closure of educational institutions, and, above all, a complete uncertainty when we will be rid of the virus to be able to regain normalcy, there are crises galore.

Besides, China is sitting on the border, flexing its military muscle.

Yet, all this seems to have little impact on the fortunes of the ruling NDA.

Modi's popularity remains undiminished.

The first test of popular mood will come in November when Bihar elects a new assembly.

Unless there is a black swan event, rearranging the political firmament, the ruling JD-U-BJP combine seems to be sitting pretty, set to romp home comfortably for yet another term in power.

It is not as if Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has further burnished his image as Bihar's Vikas Purush.

In fact, he has lost some of the sheen since his first stint as CM.

A general laxity in administration coupled with serious missteps, such as when he remained unmoved by the plight of migrants, even threatening to bar entry into the state, when millions began the tortuous trek back to the villages at the beginning of the stringent and sudden lockdown in March-April, had evoked much anger.

Since then, things have cooled down, with a high number of registrations in the NEGRA and a liberal distribution of aid in cash and kind to the weaker sections by the Centre and the State.

Besides, the migrants are now going back to cities and towns following the gradual reopening of the economy. Nitish seems to have weathered the migrant backlash.

However, two other factors seem to strengthen the belief about the return of the NDA.

Generally, political traffic on the eve of an election is indicates which way the electoral wind might be blowing.

On that count, the JD-U-BJP is a runaway winner.

Jitin Ram Manjhi, the former chief minister and leader of the most backward castes, is the most prominent to return to the JD-U after dumping the Opposition grand alliance led by Tejashwi Yadav, but there are several others who have come back to what appears to be the winning side.

A dozen sitting legislators have joined the JD-U in recent weeks. More are said to be in the queue.

On the other hand, only a lone JD-U leader has joined the RJD following differences with Nitish.

Incidentally, neither the BJP nor the JD-U attaches much significance to the discordant noises being made by Chirag Paswan, the leader of the LJP.

It is seen as a ploy to bargain for a couple of more seats than the JD-U-BJP might be willing to grant at the time of ticket-distribution.

The Opposition grand alliance is proving to be a non-starter, with senior RJD leaders reluctant to be ordered about by an immature and entitled Tejashswi while his father and RJD boss, Laloo Yadav, cools his heels in jail following conviction in one of the several ongoing cases of the fodder scam.

The Congress, a key constituent of the RJD-led Opposition alliance, is faction-ridden and has no leader with influence on an important caste, always a key factor in Bihar polls.

A measure of the unpreparedness of the Bihar Opposition is its plea to the Election Commission to delay the poll in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Normally, the outgoing ruling party seeks to put off a fresh poll, thus prolonging its stint in power in the hope of a propitious time to go to the people.

But in Bihar, Laloo Yadav's RJD and its alliance partners have shown the big chinks in their armour protesting the decision to hold the election on schedule.

Meanwhile, since this will be the first poll to be held under the looming shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, the EC has had to devise a whole gamut of safeguards against the spread of the virus.

It is a challenging task.

Hopefully, a slew of measures to safeguard against the spread of the virus will prove effective.

To begin with, electioneering in the conventional sense will be kept to the minimal for the first time since the first general election in 1952-1953.

Physical contact with voters is to be discouraged, nay, more or less ruled out.

Campaign rallies with tens of thousands attending are out.

Even the number of people accompanying a candidate when he files his nomination papers, normally a show of strength to build 'hawa', will be restricted to a handful.

Polling booths will have hand sanitisers, election officials will wear gloves, voters will maintain social distance, ectc.

Instead, digital media tools will come into full play.

Though the penetration of smartphones in the state is not as deep as, say, in UP or Maharashtra, but a good percentage of voters, especially belonging to the young demographic, more politically aware and articulate, have smartphones.

Virtual meetings will be streamed by party leaders from the digital propaganda control rooms to be set up in Patna.

Here again, the ruling NDA is miles ahead, pressing into service all available social media tools to its advantage.

Undeniably, the NDA has no shortage of funds while the grand alliance will have to spread out thinly whatever resources it is able to attract for electioneering.

Meanwhile, a thought comes to mind apropos the recent storm in the Congress teacup after 23 of its leaders wrote to interim President Sonia Gandhi lamenting the drift and decline of the party.

Rahul Gandhi can try and prove his detractors wrong, throwing himself full-time into the campaign without any further loss of time.

At least, this will counter the charge that he is erratic and his politics is limited to his posting ill-considered tweets on social media against Modi.

He should shift base to Patna and undertake not to leave the state until after the completion of the polling in November.

Maybe his presence in Patna will help lift the morale of the dispirited grand alliance.

The failure of the Opposition to wrest power from the NDA will prove to be a shot in the arm of Modi.

The national Opposition will be demoralised, unleashing fresh dissidence in the Congress.

And the government will become more arbitrary, more authoritarian, spurred by a bellwether victory in the Hindi heartland.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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