Bihar Polls!

With campaign heating up for assembly elections in Bihar, speculations are being raised on the possible results of the 243 constituencies. Local observers expect this to be a tight contest between the Grand Alliance led by Nitish Kumar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). If the BJP succeeds in Bihar, the results are expected to lay ground for its subsequent victory in Uttar Pradesh assembly polls.

Though BJP is going overboard regarding its campaign in Bihar, till the time of writing this piece, it had not announced its chief ministerial candidate. There is a view that BJP is deliberately refraining from taking this step, as a similar one proved to be damaging for it in Delhi assembly elections. It may be recalled that BJP had contested the Delhi polls by projecting Kiran Bedi as its chief ministerial candidate and lost heavily. Regarding Bedi’s candidature, she had suddenly been selected as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, a move that apparently was not welcomed by the party leaders sidelined in Delhi.

At time of assembly elections, BJP was not short of key local leaders willing to be projected as Delhi’s chief minister. Naturally, they did not welcome their being overshadowed by the importance given to Bedi during the campaign for Delhi assembly.

The situation in Bihar is not exactly the same for BJP as it was in Delhi. Against there being several strong local BJP leaders for Delhi, the same cannot be said for Bihar. This partly explains BJP’s political decision to refrain from naming anyone for the chief minister’s position if it won elections.

Also, Bihar’s political history, presently linked with the Grand Alliance, is marked by secularism displayed by its local leaders.  Muslim voters are said to count for  about 17 percent of the total voters in Bihar and have an influence on 60-70 seats out of 243 assembly constituencies in the state. Though BJP has claimed of winning over the Muslim vote in Bihar assembly elections, it is as yet too early to assume this. The Muslim vote in Bihar, apparently, prefers going for the anti-BJP parties than for the BJP itself. In addition, irrespective of BJP gaining strength, the Grand Alliance is likely to retain the gain of Yadavs.

There is a view that the Grand Alliance’s prospects may be damaged in Bihar by the decision of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) of Asaduddin Owaisi to contest 24 seats in the Seemanchal region of Kishanganj, Purnia, Katihar and Araria. Besides, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has left the Grand Alliance on account of being given only three seats and not 12 as demanded by it. It may be recalled that AIMIM won two of 25 seats it contested in Maharashtra assembly polls held in 2014. Even if AIMIM and NCP win a few seats out of the ones they choose to contest, the prospects of both aligning with BJP, after the results are out, are practically non-existent. It is to be watched as to what impact their contesting the elections has on Bihar’s Muslim and secular vote-banks.

The key constituent of the Grand Alliance, the Muslim-Yadav vote base, forms around 31 percent of the population of Bihar. Several BJP members have accepted that in areas where Muslims constitute around 30 percent of the population, Muslims have in the past assembly elections voted for parties other than BJP. During the coming polls, nevertheless, the BJP is hopeful of attracting Muslim votes by promising to work for the state’s development. At the same time, it cannot be ignored that during the last assembly polls in 2010, the Janata Dal (U), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress had contested as rivals. Their total vote share, 22.50, 18.85 and 8.9 percent respectively, was more than 50 percent, even though they had contested as rivals. During these polls, they are contesting in alliance, a key political strategy that may help them against BJP and its allies in coming polls. In 2010, against their securing more than 50 percent polls, BJP and its allies had secured around 40 percent votes.

In addition to the support of Yadavs and Muslims, the Grand Alliance is hopeful of electorally cashing on Mahadalit votes. Besides, with Congress in this alliance, it is also optimistic of gaining high caste votes. This also implies that this Grand Alliance may suffer, if high caste Hindus, Mahadalits and a significant percentage of Yadavs choose to give BJP a political chance. This suggests that the caste-factor is likely to play a key role in deciding the fate of the Grand Alliance versus BJP in Bihar assembly elections.

Where the Muslim vote is concerned, the prospects of BJP cashing on it are dim at present.

Though the entry of AIMIM on Bihar political turf is expected to be damaging for the Grand Alliance, it may be noted that the prospects of this party aligning with BJP are negligible.

It would be interesting to speculate on and subsequently analyse the final results on whether they have been decided by anti-BJP slant, pro-BJP vote or simply by the pro-Grand Alliance wave.     

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 september 2015 on page no. 11

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