Rest of Asia

Bihar heads for coalition government whatever the poll result

Sohail Ashraf/Dubai
Filed on November 2, 2020
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in conversation during an election rally for the second phase of Bihar Assembly polls in Samastipur on Sunday.


The elections will be a test of popularity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an assessment of Nitish’s work in the state

The ongoing assembly elections in Bihar are the first major polls in India since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. With more than 70 million electorate eligible to vote, the election in the politically important north Indian state is usually dominated by caste equations.

The upper castes — Brahmins, Bhumiars, Rajputs and Kayashts — which account for 17.1 per cent of the state population, traditionally vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Its partner JD-U, led by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, could naturally receive support from these communities.

Nitish, who hails from the Kurmi caste, with 5 per cent of the population, also enjoys strong support of the Koeris, who comprise 6.4 per cent of the population.

On the other hand, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) of Lalu Prasad Yadav whose son Tejashwi is heading the election campaign and drawing massive crowds, has the strong support of Yadavs and Muslims, accounting for 14.4 per cent and 14.7 per cent of the population respectively.

The minority community has also been strong supporter of the JD-U in 2015 elections, when the JD-U, the RJD and the Congress contested together as part of the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance). However, later Nitish mostly alienated the secular forces in the state by joining hands with the BJP to retain his power after breaking ties with the RJD.

Despite the fact that Muslims could vote en bloc in favour of the grand alliance, local issues and equations could divide their vote between the ruling National Democratic Alliance and the Mahagathbandhan, comprising the RJD, the Congress and the Left parties.

Another party that could draw the minority support, though to a lesser extent, is Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM. It is part of the Grand Democratic Secular Front (GDSF) comprising the AIMIM, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) of former union minister Upendra Kushwaha, who broke with the NDA, Suhaldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, former RJD MP Devendra Yadav’s Samajwadi Janata Dal Democratic and Janatantrik Party (Socialist) of Uttar Pradesh.

There is no dispute that Nitish is a strong contender of the NDA alliance, but what has troubled the alliance’s electoral politics in Bihar is the action of late union minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s son Chirag Paswan, whose Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), made an exit from the ruling NDA in the state.

Chirag has fielded rebel candidates in majority of JD-U constituencies, threatening the poll prospects of Nitish’s party. Several candidates who failed to get JD-U tickets joined the LJP and they have been given party tickets. This could obviously benefit the Mahagathbandhan.

The Dalits, including Paswans, constitute 14.2 per cent of the population in the state.

Despite a setback to the RJD in the absence of Lalu Prasad, Tejashwi has emerged as a crowd-puller, a sign of his rising popularity among the youth, who are aggrieved over lack of employment opportunities. His promise of 1 million jobs has struck a chord among the young population, despite the BJP’s counter promise of 1.9 million jobs.

In any scenario of a multi-cornered contest, the BJP-led NDA tends to benefit. Even in the absence of Hindutva issues in the Bihar elections, rightwing forces can turn the tide at the eleventh hour by ratcheting up campaign in areas where BJP candidates are contesting. Their slogan ‘Namak, roti khaaenge, BJP ko Jeetaaenge’ (We will have salt and bread, but will bring the BJP to power) connected with the most in the majority community.

The JD-U voter base will likely to be loyal to Nitish despite the LJP fielding rebel candidates.

While the RJD may get a boost in the election, the Congress which is fighting at 70 constituencies may not draw much support because of meek and mild approach by its top leaders during the campaigning.

Undoubtedly, Bihar elections will be a test of popularity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and an assessment of Nitish’s work in the state. But it is also a make or break election for the political career of young Tejashwi as well as his party — the RJD.

Whichever front wins, it is sure that Bihar will always go for coalition government, with no party having absolute grip on power. And that is perhaps a plus for the people of the state who think that a regional mix of government can give them more say despite its fragile nature.

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