After the May Lok Sabha polls churn, the political waters in Bihar have settled once again. How rests the popular mood three months on, is what next month’s by-elections for 18 Assembly seats will tells us.
The May election saw erstwhile Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s electoral stock plummet from 22 seats in 2004 to four this time. The Congress has since rubbed salt to his wounds by keeping him at an arm’s length.
Is the charismatic, if Machiavellian, erstwhile satrap from Bihar done with the sharp downturn in his political fortunes? Or, does he still have some further way down to go? The by-elections will surely provide an indication.
Lalu’s ally, LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan, starts with his slate wiped clean in the Lok Sabha elections. Here on, it can hardly get much worse for one who lost in May his Hajipur Lok Sabha seat for the first time in 25 years.
Having hit the dirt roads of Bihar in the aftermath of his electoral mauling, Paswan looks set for a bounce back. His party gave a fair account of itself in the recent Legislative Council polls for urban local bodies constituencies.
The LJP leader looks good for more in the coming by-elections. But the outcome will depend on whether or not the liability that was the Lalu-Paswan alliance in May can be turned into an asset come September. For the ruling JD-U, the by-elections are in the nature of a ‘follow-up public offer’ in which it would hope to capitalise on its Lok Sabha poll success. The party won 20 Lok Sabha seats but lost half as many MLAs.
As such, the challenge facing the JD-U is not just to retain the large number of seats its MLAs vacated after being elected to the Lok Sabha. It is also to wrest a few from the RJD-LJP combine.
As such, the by-poll will test the electoral efficacy of the sops announced by the Nitish regime for the newly-created SC category of ‘Mahadalits’ and promotion of several OBC castes to the more privileged EBC group.
The BJP had won 12 of the 15 Lok Sabha seats it had contested in alliance with the JD-U. But post-poll infighting has left the party in tatters. It will have to rely on the goodwill of the Nitish regime for its six by-poll seats.
The Congress remains, as in the May poll, the unpredictable ‘gadfly’. It won just two out of 37 seats it contested on its own. But its independent presence cost the Lalu-Paswan combine by way of the shifting Muslim vote.
The by-elections will confirm the extent to which its pre-1990 vote—the religious minorities and upper castes—are veering back to the Congress. By doing so, they will set the course for future electoral alliances in Bihar.
“There is palpable frustration among the people about corruption, non-development and the poor law and order. This will be reflected in the by-polls,” said RJD state president Abdul Bari Siddiqui.