Now that the celebrations of Prime Minister Modi&’s first year in office are almost over, all eyes are on the Bihar Assembly elections which are likely to be held in October. The preparations have already begun with stakeholders getting ready to face the challenge.
The polls will be an acid test for the leadership of several persons. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is a test to see if the Modi magic is waning or continuing. For Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav it is a fight for survival. The Bihar result will have repercussions on neighbouring U.P and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Even Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi&’s prospects will be tested.
Secondly, the Bihar results are likely to cast a shadow on the ensuing assembly elections to Punjab, West Bengal and more importantly Uttar Pradesh . As for Bihar, there are several factors that will come into play. These include the Modi factor, the Nitish factor, the Jiten Ram Manjhi factor and above all the Janata Parivar factor. The earlier break up between BJP and the JD (U), the new found bonhomie between Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish, the fall out of Manjhi ( a Mahadalit ) with Nitish and the new emergence of the Janata Parivar combine makes it quite a complex poll to predict.
For the BJP, Bihar elections are crucial because the party won a good number of seats from Bihar and U.P. in the recent Lok Sabha polls. It may be recalled that in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, though BJP won 22 of 40 seats its vote share was just 30 per cent . In contrast though JD-U, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress won only eight seats, the combined votes secured by them were around 45 per cent. This implies that had these parties contested together, the results would have been different.
Secondly, the BJP&’s winning spree under Modi has already been halted by the Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal. Having been trounced in the Delhi elections, the BJP is keen to regain its momentum by winning in Bihar. The prospect has become more difficult as a coalition of OBCs and Muslims under the united Janata banner would be a formidable electoral combination, be it a merger or an alliance.
Thirdly, while there was the big bang announcement of the Janata Parivar merger consisting of six parties under the leadership of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the actual merger is taking time. It all depends on how the two Bihar strongmen Lalu and Nitish negotiate seat sharing.
This will determine whether the merger would be now or after the Bihar assembly polls. The BJP is banking on the inner contradictions of the Janata parivar and their ego clashes.
On the ground, what is the poll arithmetic? A Janata parivar combine along with the Congress, CPI and CPI-M is expecting to garner votes from Yadavs, Kurmis, Muslims and the Most Backward Classes. The problem will be Kurmis do not vote where the Yadavs vote; MBCs and Yadavs do not vote for the same party. Mahadalits would not share the same political space with Yadavs and Kurmis. The BJP&’s game plan is to emerge victorious by splitting their votes. So it all depends on whether Lalu can keep his Yadav-Muslim vote bank intact in the face of an unnatural tie-up with Nitish Kumar and his Mahadalit vote bank.
The BJP also has the difficult task of retaining eight per cent youth voters attracted by Modi’s development plank plus the upper caste votes and building on it with Dalit votes from Ram Vilas Paswan, Kushwaha and Manjhi. It plans to woo Dalits, Mahadalits and the most backward castes, which worked during the 2014 general elections besides playing up the backward card of Modi simultaneously holding on to the upper caste votes.
Moreover, while the Janata Parivar has leaders like Nitish Kumar, the BJP may not announce a chief ministerial candidate because the projection of any one from between Sushil Modi, Nand Kishore Yadav, Mangal Pandey or even CP Thakur will further deepen the factional fight. Alos the BJP has no leader to match the stature of Nitish Kumar.
The BJP hopes that the Parivar might split even before it could unite properly. The BJP is again seeing a possibility of the opposition weakening in the state. It also means that Bihar may see a three-way fight and BJP is most likely to benefit from it.
All one can say is that Bihar is where most action will be later this year. Nitish has won the first round amongst his partners and now needs to win the war against Amit Shah. With PM Modi changing the grammar of elections with “development” as the prime agenda, is the Janata parivar ready to counter him on this turf?