All eyes are riveted on Thursday for what it will bring Bihar.
At stake are the chief minister’s chair and a choice between the Nitish Nitish-led NDA government and one under Lalu Prasad.
The slogan is just one: 15 years of Lalu Prasad vs five of Nitish Kumar.
At stake is whether Nitish, riding on slogans of inclusive growth, development, better law and order and empowering women, has been able to put such issues centre stage vis-a-vis the politics of caste, community and religion.
The results will also determine whether Lalu and his Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) ally Ram Vilas Paswan remain relevant to state and national politics from now on or whether their theme of ‘corruption’ in Nitish’s governance model and 'complete disregard for the poor' will hold water.
To the above two contexts, the allies to either models are irrelevant — whether it is the BJP or the LJP — as the fight has boiled down to a straight one between ‘badey bhai (Lalu) and chottey bhai (Nitish).
THE ISSUES AFFECT ALL
The exit polls may have fired up the NDA’s expectations of a huge win, but later the initial buoyancy in both the BJP and the JD-U has been replaced with a degree of 'caution'. All three results are possible — a massive victory for the NDA, more or less the status quo as in October 2005, or even a hung assembly. Within the BJP, some even say the party’s tally may go below the 55 of last time.
As the election campaigns rolled, many issues that were initially 'irrelevant' to the main campaign progressively became relevant. The more than 10,800 km of roads built by the Nitish regime, including around 3,500 km of national highways, has enthused a huge section. The state is ‘very appreciative’ of the control exercised over the law and order situation, which had been sullied by kidnappings, murders and loot in the preceding years. But the issues of corruption too were as overriding.
The NDA government had some answers to the needs of education and employment. The appointment of more than 200,000 teachers too went down well. However, their quality came into question during the campaigns, as did the induction of criminals as candidates of the JD-U and other parties.
Interestingly, the better law and order situation fuelled outward migration from a state hit hard by floods and drought. The migrants’ perception of a ‘safer environment for women’ made them leave for jobs since unemployment is rampant, and the corruption in job security and housing schemes hardly helped. A provoked Nitish promised to seize all the property of the corrupt and turn them into schools if he gets back to power.
These were the themes Lalu and Congress campaigners such as Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh hit again and again, putting the NDA on the defensive.
HT's most comprehensive election essays into the interiors pointed to an overwhelming farm crisis because of the Kosi floods of 2008 and also in the Bhojpur, Kaimur-Rohtas, and Magadh belts.
Said Lalu, “The results will surprise and shut up the media too” — a sentiment Bihar Congress president Mehboob Ali Kaiser ‘wholeheartedly’ endorses.
The NDA counts on the massive turnout of women (54%) and extremely backward castes. Nitish’s social sector initiatives have largely benefited them. His Balika Cycle Yojana, under which 900,000 bicycles were given to schoolgirls, is a strong point.
The JD-U also believes despite the alliance with the BJP, the Muslims have a party they can associate with. Lalu, however, claims when the Ayodhya verdict was given, Muslims had shifted to the Yadav-Paswan fold. His point is not dissimilar to the one raised by Rahul Gandhi, who iterated, “If Bihar is shining, why is there just outward migration and no one coming to Bihar?”
Lalu’s decision to put up a candidate against Putul Singh, the late Digvijay Singh’s widow and an independent candidate for Parliament from Banka, did not go down well with the Rajputs.
But he has one thing going in his favour — the bitter Yadavs are itching for power again and the Paswans, kept out of the Mahadalit formations by Nitish, closed ranks with the Yadavs.
CORRUPTION A FACTOR
Industry overwhelmingly prefers Nitish: “It gave us freedom from fear, abductions and forced migration. We want it to continue,” said former Bihar Chambers of Commerce treasurer Govind Kanodia.
If the NDA wins, it will represent several paradigm shifts. It would mean that the BJP in alliance with the JD-U is acceptable to the Muslims, that women themselves are a new political force because of certain measures of Nitish. Failure to get a comfortable majority would reinforce the fact that the caste-class model Bihar has struggled with all these years still survives.
The overall feeling is that Nitish is the right man with a wrong model of bureaucracy, which has taken him for a ride and injected a variety of corruption that added to the poor’s helplessness and.
Though to most it seems his return is guaranteed, the higher performance yardstick that it will imply is enough for any administration to foresee a nightmare.