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Why Bihar has never seen an election like this

Last updated on: October 16, 2020 11:05 IST

'Chirag Paswan's game plan would be to push out Nitish Kumar from this alliance, but that is only possible if the BJP wins about 90 seats and the LJP wins between 25-30 seats.'

IMAGE: Bihar Chief Minister and Janata Dal-United President Nitish Kumar at an election rally at Amarpur, in Banka district, Bihar, October 14, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo

"There are three big players in Bihar politics -- the BJP, JD-U and RJD. The three parties command roughly about 66% of the vote. Roughly each party has 20%-23% vote. An alliance between any of these two parties puts that alliance in a commanding position."

"My own sense is that the NDA is in a very comfortable position," says Sanjay Kumar, the respected psephologist and Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. He is co-director, Lokniti, a research programme of the CSDS and has wide experience in researching Indian democracy, electoral politics and voting behaviour.

Professor Kumar tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih why and how this Bihar election is different from past.

 

What are your observations as Bihar goes to the polls?

My own sense is that the NDA is in a very comfortable position and when I say the NDA, I refer to the alliance of the JD-U and BJP.

What makes the NDA's position much better compared to just a formal alliance of the BJP and JD-U are the sub alliances -- the BJP with the Vikassheel Insan Party and the JD-U with the Hindustani Awam Morcha.

These alliances will enable the NDA to corner a section of the Dalit vote because of HAM, while the alliance with VIP is also helpful because its leader Mukesh Sahni belongs to the Mallah community which is 6% of the population. This vote would shift in favour of the alliance.

The position of the alliance, in my opinion, is very strong.

There are three big players in Bihar politics -- the BJP, JD-U and RJD. The three parties command roughly about 66% of the votes. Roughly each party has 20%-23% vote and an alliance among any of these two parties puts that alliance in a commanding position.

That has been the electoral history. In 2015, the RJD and JD-U joined hands and registered one of the biggest victories with 41.5% of the vote.

In 2010, the NDA registered a big victory with a margin of 13% vote. An alliance of the two big parties gives a clear advantage over other rival alliances.

How different is this election from elections of the past?

It is very different.

Firstly, it is the first election during a pandemic. There are lots of restrictions -- from the nominations to the campaign.

Secondly, it will witness a lot of virtual campaigning for the first time. Social media has started playing an important role in Indian elections.

Since candidates and workers are unable to reach out to voters physically, social media will play a much bigger role compared to the past.

Thirdly, this election is different if we look at the alliance pattern.

The two parties -- the BJP with 121 seats and the JD-U with 122 -- have formed sub alliances without any clear understanding of what is the relationship between these four parties.

For example, what is the relationship of the VIP with the HAM? So there is no clarity.

Fourthly, the strange arrangement of the alliance vis a vis the Lok Janshakti Party, which used to be a partner of the NDA in Bihar, but is fighting it alone this time.

The LJP supports the NDA at the Centre, but is opposing Nitish Kumar and constantly attacking him.

It is strange that the BJP which is in alliance with Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial face, has not come out in his defence or criticised Chirag Paswan for being so critical.

In the previous five, six elections, I have never come across such a strange alliance.

There are always overlaps which is referred to as 'friendly fights', but the LJP case cannot be given this terminology.

Fifthly, there are lots of young faces -- Tejashwi Yadav, Pushpam Priya Chaudhury, Chirag Paswan, Kanhaiya Kumar who is campaigning for the Left, Pappu Yadav who has been in politics since a long time.

While we have not come across the name of Prashant Kishor as yet, but maybe he will also be seen somewhere in this campaign.

A lot of young leaders are leading their campaigns against seasoned Nitish Kumar.

What do you Chirag Paswan is aiming for in this election?

He would be aiming for a post-poll alliance with BJP. His aspiration is to defeat Nitish Kumar's JD-U in a large number of constituencies.

He may be hoping to defeat or be instrumental in defeating JD-U candidates in at least 20-30 constituencies. If that happens, then there would be lots of implications on how the government would be formed.

One of these two things has to happen, either Chirag Paswan wins large number of seats or the RJD becomes a beneficiary by default.

I think neither of the two is going to happen.

Nitish Kumar's popularity has seen a dip, but he still retains a commanding position. The LJP may be able to make JD-U lose 4-5 seats, but I don't see a possibility where the JD-U will lose 16-20 seats because of Paswan cutting into the JD-U support base.

The game plan of Chirag Paswan would be to push out Nitish Kumar from this alliance, but that is only possible if BJP wins about 90 seats and LJP wins between 25-30 seats.

In this scenario, Nitish Kumar will come under tremendous pressure.

What do you think will emerge if BJP gets more seats than JD-U? What risk does it pose for Nitish Kumar's chief ministership?

If Nitish Kumar gets 25-30 seats less than the BJP, I think then BJP will mount a pressure for change of leadership. They might say this is a mandate in favour of the NDA, but not in favour of Nitish Kumar.

Who would be the BJP candidates vying for the role of CM? Sushil Kumar Modi, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Giriraj Singh?

I think the BJP also will not have an answer to this question. If there is a situation, willingly or unwillingly, where Nitish Kumar gives up his position, the BJP will find it extremely difficult to figure out who that candidate will be.

The above names are some aspirants, but there is also Nand Kishore Yadav, the OBC face of the BJP. The BJP will be very, very, careful about the OBC card in Bihar politics.

An upper caste chief minister will provide a welcome opportunity to the Opposition to immediately attack the government.

Whether this will have an impact or not, one doesn't know, but it will provide fodder to the Opposition to say that the BJP has ushered in upper caste domination in politics as soon as it got the reins of power.

Sushil Modi could be seen as an OBC because Baniyas in Bihar are categorised as OBC. In the case of Bihar, Yadavs, Kurmis, Keoris etc are seen as the original or real OBCs.

It will be a difficult choice for the BJP.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

ARCHANA MASIH