As 1.38 crore voters exercise their franchise in the sixth and penultimate phase of
Lok Sabha elections in Bihar on Sunday, the writing on the wall is clear – it is advantage NDA but not a cakewalk either.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the dominating factor so much so that ally chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had even severed a long-standing partnership with the BJP ahead of 2014 polls, protesting the former’s nomination as the prime ministerial candidate, has now started invoking his name and achievements in all the rallies. Clearly, Kumar has realised that the state government’s performance alone will not yield the desired results. He has also addressed several rallies jointly with the PM across the state.
Riding on the Modi wave, the BJP-led alliance had won 31 out of the state’s 40 seats in the 2014 general elections. But much water has flowed down the Ganges since then.
Nitish Kumar, who had deserted the NDA and joined ranks with arch-rival Lalu Prasad, wary of losing Muslim support, has since returned to the fold. RLSP leader Upendra Kushwaha and former chief minister Jitan Ram Majhi, who had joined the BJP-led alliance, have now jumped on to the RJD-led Gathbandhan.
The Modi Factor
If Modi continues to be the main draw for votes for the NDA, Lalu Prasad’s absence and his son and successor Tejashwi Yadav’s inability to keep together not only his allies but also his own family members are making the situation worse for the Opposition alliance.
In fact, at many places, officially or unofficially, Mahagathbandhan leaders are contesting against the official alliance candidate. Of course, Tejashwi has been over accommodative towards allies by liberally offering them seats with a view to consolidate the anti-NDA votes. But it remains to be seen whether parties such as RLSP which won seats riding on a Modi wave in the last polls and lost badly in the subsequent Assembly elections swept by the Lalu-Nitish combine, would be able to make a difference this time as part of the Mahagathbandhan.
NDA apparently has an edge as many schemes launched by the Modi government such as rural electrification, toilets, rural housing scheme and roads, have benefited the people, particularly in the state’s backward rural areas. In fact, people say power supply is better in rural areas compared to the urban. But will this development discourse be able to bridge the deep-rooted caste divide in Bihar is the moot question. The Savarnas, Paswans and even Kurmis are certainly with the NDA but will the larger issues of national security and Hindutva rally the other castes around the ruling coalition remains to be seen.
There is also a perceptible anti-incumbency in so far as Nitish Kumar’s much-touted prohibition is concerned. While certainly the open sale of liquor has become a thing of the past and there is a reduction in complaints of domestic violence, booze is a call away thanks to the availability of what has popularly come to be known as ‘home delivery’. For a couple of hundred rupees extra, the liquor of one’s choice is made available in the secure comfort of one’s home.
People allege this is not possible without a criminal-authority nexus. The Opposition has made this an important issue in their campaign and there are takers – an irony given that the issue had given Nitish the headway in the Assembly polls.
Crime Rate Has Reduced, But …
Similarly, law and order have undoubtedly improved under the Nitish Kumar government but murders including those of some local politicians in broad daylight and in full public view, have dented its image. Yes, abductions and ransom calls are no more the norm but the crime rate remains a concern.
It is also not clear whether the substantive Muslim voters in the state, for whose sake apparently Nitish Kumar abandoned BJP in the first place ahead of the 2014 elections, would forgive and forget and back him around this time. He certainly hopes to gain from the vote banks he had nurtured and cultivated such as the Pasmanda Muslims, the Extremely Backward Castes and the Maha Dalits who had supported him in the past.
Moreover, unlike the 2014 elections, which witnessed a three-cornered contest, which always has benefited the BJP, the 2019 polls would be a bipolar contest with Congress joining hands with RJD. There are also new caste players like Mukesh Sahni (who set up the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP)) who too have joined the Mahagathbandhan.
People would also be keenly watching how former JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar for whom the entire Left-liberal fraternity swamped Begusarai is going to perform with a strong Mahagathbandhan candidate pitted against him and Union Minister Giriraj Singh set to cash in on the same. Equally interesting would be the contest involving actor Shatrughan Sinha who left the saffron party to join Congress party and is pitted against BJP heavyweight and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Patna Sahib. There may be no Modi wave as such this time around in Bihar but the undercurrents in his favour are certainly there which gives NDA an upper hand.
KG Suresh is a senior journalist and former Director General, Indian Institute of Mass Communication