Bihar Assembly Election 2020: High stakes for Grand Alliance, win could have national implications

A win could help up the Opposition’s ante on against the ruling alliance on issues such as farmers’ protests, Covid-19-induced economic slump and the India-China border standoff
Ticket-seekers wait outside Janta Dal-United office to meet Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar ahead of the Bihar assembly election, in Patna, on September 24.(PTI)
Ticket-seekers wait outside Janta Dal-United office to meet Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar ahead of the Bihar assembly election, in Patna, on September 24.(PTI)
Published on Sep 25, 2020 05:13 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Patna | ByAnirban Guha Roy

The upcoming Bihar assembly elections, which will be held in three phases on October 28, November 3 and 7 and the results will be declared on November 10, is a litmus test for the opposition bloc of the Grand Alliance (GA), comprising the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and smaller allies, including the Left parties, following its humiliating defeat in last year’s parliamentary polls.

The GA is facing an insurmountable challenge to position itself as a formidable secular front in the poll-bound state and as a viable alternative to the ruling Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar.

For the GA, the Bihar polls, which will be held amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, are politically significant on several counts.

Also Read: Bihar Assembly election 2020: 3 phases, 72 million voters, 243 constituencies

First, the people’s mandate is crucial for deciding the future fate of the RJD, which has 80 lawmakers in the 243-member state legislative assembly.

Second, RJD’s Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, who is the leader of the opposition in the assembly, is still not accepted as the GA’s CM face. There is still no consensus about Yadav’s name among most of the allies.

Upendra Kushwaha, who heads the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), is smarting under an inordinate delay over the seat-sharing arrangement.

On Thursday, he called the Yadav scion a “poor opponent of CM Nitish Kumar”.

Kushwaha appears all set to jettison the GA on the lines of Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S), led by former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manhji.

However, Yadav and RJD leaders are unfazed by Kushwaha’s tantrums.

Also Read: Bihar assembly election 2020: The 10 key issues likely to impact polls

“We have always respected our allies. But if somebody questions the leadership of other parties, it is not right. Our alliance is with the Congress, the Left parties and more importantly, the people of Bihar,” Yadav told media persons on the sidelines of an agitation against the passage of farm bills in Parliament earlier this week. The agitation is part of the nationwide protests by opposition parties and farmers’ organisations.

“Yadav is declared as the RJD’s CM face. He is the primary face of the GA. There is no leadership issue in the GA,” said Jagdanand Singh, state president, RJD.

Third, the stakes are high for the Congress in the assembly polls, as the verdict will decide whether the grand old party, a senior partner in the GA, can improve its tally of 27 legislators in the outgoing assembly polls or will face further electoral reverses on the lines of its fortunes in other parts of the country.

Experts believe a favourable verdict for the GA in Bihar will have its reverberations felt in national politics, as it can give ammunition to the Congress, the Left parties and other opposition forces to strengthen secular unity against the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre.

A win will also help up its ante on against the ruling alliance on issues such as farmers’ protests, Covid-19-induced economic slump and the India-China border standoff in the run up to two big-ticket assembly polls slated for next year in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

“Bihar assembly polls are of national importance. The verdict will have a bearing on national politics. If the GA manages to win, it will help the Congress and other like-minded parties to intensify its opposition against the farm bills and decline in economic growth. It will have an impact on the assembly polls slated to be held next year in other states. However, if the NDA wins in Bihar, the BJP will get to portray the verdict as validation of the farm bills and other initiatives taken by it in recent months,” said DM Diwakar, former director, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna.

Diwakar feels the growing unrest among farmers, teachers and youth in Bihar against the state government is a fertile ground for the GA to tap. However, it will depend on how the GA plans to cash in on the anti-incumbency mood against the Kumar-led dispensation.

Some poll observers feel unlike 2015, the upcoming Bihar elections this time around will not be a cakewalk.

The RJD, which had tied up with the JD (U) and the Congress in the last assembly polls, had got its caste calculus --- the mother of all electoral strategies in the poll-bound state – right.

Five years ago, the winning coalition had enjoyed an overwhelming support from other backward classes (OBCs), economically backward classes (EBCs), Dalits and Muslims to trounce the BJP-led NDA by winning 178 out of 243 seats.

The GA’s bid to cobble unity with Left parties, mainly the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, by not giving much importance to smaller entities such as the RLSP and the HAM (S) is a lesson that it had learnt the hard way from the drubbing in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.

In the upcoming assembly polls, a wider consolidation of secular votes will be put to test since 1995 when the RJD had an alliance with the Left parties.

Also Read: Bihar Assembly Election 2020: ‘New normal for world’s biggest election amid Covid-19’, says CEC Sunil Arora

“It’s a do or die battle for the GA, particularly the RJD. The opposition force will be wiped out from Bihar in the next five years, if it fails to make a visible presence in the upcoming assembly polls,” said Shaibal Gupta, a social scientist and the founder member secretary of Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) in Patna.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s absence from the electoral arena following his incarceration in a raft of fodder scam cases is a void that Bihar’s main opposition party has still not managed to fill.

Prasad, who is undergoing treatment at Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Ranchi, is still the most charismatic face of social justice in Bihar.

Prasad was instrumental in mobilising voters under an invincible grouping – a heady mix of caste and religion of Yadavs, Dalits and Muslims – that ensured the RJD’s winning streak through the 1990s and until 2005 when Kumar stopped his electoral juggernaut on its tracks.

In the 2015 assembly polls, Prasad had played the social justice card to the hilt by portraying the BJP-led NDA against reservation for backward classes. He had torn into a statement made by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, who had called for a review of the reservation policy in the run up to the last assembly polls.

“It is true that Laluji is not physically present in the electoral battleground. But he is present psychologically. He is in the hearts and minds of the people, especially among the poor and oppressed sections of the society. There is tremendous resentment against the JD (U) and the BJP-run coalition government. People have made up their minds for a change of guard at 1 Anne Marg (the CM’s official bungalow in Patna),” said Manoj Jha, national spokesperson, RJD.

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