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Bihar Elections: Interesting Battle Ahead

September 14, 2015

Tall election promises, strong caste affiliations, strong Muslim vote-bank that “deserves” appeasement, and opportunistic politicians. These all give the impending Bihar elections a distinct colour. Add to them the perennial backwardness of the region, ever-deteriorating law and order situation – even politicians don’t hesitate to call it the law of the jungle or “Jungle raj”, and cow-belt politics where only the fittest can survive (read the Bahubalis)!

Bihar Upcoming Elections

It may sound apocryphal but Bihar elections have always remained a classic study in contrasts. For once, the state is amongst the most politically vibrant states of the country. Consider, it has 40 Lok Sabha members – the fourth highest after Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal. Consider, it is one of the seven states among India’s 29 states, which has bicameral legislatures or a legislative council, too. Consider that the state assembly has 243 members – which is the fifth largest in the country after Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh.

It is from Bihar that revolutions were started that changed the political destiny of the entire country. Gandhi started his movement from Champaran in North Bihar that launched the final assault on the British Empire through a peaceful agitation. Jaya Prakash Narayan, popularly known as Lok Nayak (leader of the masses), launched his agitation from Patna that for the first time ever in the history of Independent India, unseated the Congress government at the Centre.

Yet ironically while Bihar remained a catalyst of political change, its own political destiny remained unchanged. Decadent politics ensured that while politicians filled up their own personal coffers with people’s hard earned money, the state remained relegated to the bottom rung of development. This naked run of money combined with muscle power has been visible during every election in the state. One remembers that none other than Narendra Modi, then the prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, had complained of rigging in Bihar in the last general elections. This time in the run-up to the state assembly elections, when the model code of conduct is in place, the son of a BJP-led National Democratic Alliance himself was held along with seven others for carrying a total of Rs. 53.30 lakh cash in the poll bound state on September 13!

The hypocrisy of political parties coupled with high stakes of their respective leaders too, has given an interesting twist to the sordid saga of Bihar elections this time. Stakes are very high for the chief minister Nitish Kumar and so they are for Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Bihar. The row over seat sharing within the ruling Janata Dal (United)-led Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan, has already seen the Mahagathbandhan President and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh quitting the arrangement at the nth hour. The situation in the BJP-led NDA is not much better either as smaller partners such as former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha armtwisted the BJP to get more than what the BJP is prepared to yield. The tussle within the NDAgenerated much interest because not only the delay in seat sharing presenteda negative impression, also also reflects on how the fringe players with strong, though limited community support calledthe shots within the NDA. Obviously, Manjhi realises that the BJP can ill afford to lose him as it would mean considerably losing the Mahadalits who constitute about 15 per cent votes and of whom Manjhi is a self-styled leader. Similarly, even other constituents of the NDA are bargaining hard for larger seat share in the state.

The Bihar polls will have many interesting political ramifications this time. This is the first time in the last ten years that the BJP is not part of the ruling alliance in the state. This is also the first time that chief minister Nitish is contesting the assembly elections after parting ways with the NDA. His decision though has spelled disaster for him in the last general elections in 2014 when his party, the JD (U) faced a loss of 18 seats as it could win only two seats. The BJP had then won 22 seats – an impressive gain of 10 seats. This downfall had continued even during the subsequent state legislative council elections last year – the big first test after his JD (U) allied with his former friend turned foe, Lalu Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.

It would be interesting whether the Nitish-Lalu and the Congress combination – termed as the return of the Jungle Raj by the BJP – revive their sagging fortunes this election though. As it is, Lalu, who is convicted in the multi-crore fodder scam, cannot contest elections and is desperately trying to keep his RJD afloat by projecting his sons – Tej Pratap and Tejaswi – as his successors. But will the people vote for his dynasty is to be seen particularly in the backdrop of the fact that they had rejected this by defeating his wife and former CM Rabri Devi and his daughter Misa Bharti in the last general elections just a little over a year ago.

The Congress is largely written off and has been allocated just 40 seats to contest by the Mahagathbandhan this elections. Yet, it may revive its image if the party wins these seats.

 As far as the BJP is concerned, there is much in stake for the Prime Minister since he is the lone mascot of the party in Bihar. It may sound far-fetched (as Modi remains firmly in saddle as the Prime Minister) but analysts do suggest that a setback to the party in Bihar could well threaten Modi’s dominance over national politics and also within the BJP. Yet for sure, the election results would be an acid test for the BJP President Amit Shah. His reputation as a master strategist was much dented following the party’s disastrous performance in the Delhi state elections in February this year. Bihar is the first major test of his political acumen after the Delhi fiasco, where all that the BJP had mustered was just 3 of the 70 assembly seats.

Yet, the most interesting aspect of the Bihar elections this time is that the very political career of Nitish and Lalu is at stake. Will Nitish, after parting ways with the BJP, still remain relevant in state politics, is already a talking point. Not long ago, his development agenda had seen paeans of praise heaped on him. He was the person who was credited with Bihar’s transformation during his first term as the CM. Things have changed drastically during his second term. Hence, whether he makes it to the CM’s chair for the third time in a row is what would be watched with interest, across the country. As of now, he is making tall promises and so are others! But will they fulfill their promises? The question does merit an answer.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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