Bihar votes today: What is at stake in Phase One?
71/243 assembly constituencies (ACs) in Bihar are going to the polls on Wednesday in the first of the three-phase assembly election. Here are a few things that underline the importance of this phase.
1) Strong holds and the swing seats
A look at the last two assembly elections in regions voting in the first phaseshows that there were only 15 constituencies in which the winning alliance was the same in 2010 and 2015. To be sure, there was a significant change in alliance composition between these two elections – the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), was part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2010 and out of it in 2015, while the Congress was a part of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led alliance in 2015 and not in it in 2010. The JD(U) won in 17 constituencies in both 2010 and 2015 while the Bharatiya Janata Party won in five. The RJD won both elections in just three seats, and the Congress, in one. This year’s election will test whether these parties are able to hold on to their strongholds while making the most of the swing seats.
2) Impact of Covid-19 on voter turnout
This is the first state assembly election in India in the Covid-19 era, coming almost immediately after most restrictions on assembly and movement of people have been lifted across the country. But because the country continues to report fresh infections – about 46,000 new cases were reported on Sunday, 749 of them in Bihar – social distancing norms continue to be in place. Large crowds were seen in many of the recent election rallies in Bihar, but it is to be seen if the pandemic will have an impact on voter participation. Voter turnout figure in Bihar has been increasing for at least four consecutive elections – there was a 4.4 percentage point increase between the 2010 assembly and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections (through the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2015 assembly elections). But ACs going to polls in the first phase always had the lowest turnout in these four elections compared to the constituencies going to polls in the other two phases. For this reason, Wednesday’s turnout figures and projections for the statewide turnout need to be seen in the context of historical trends.
3) The unique historical, demographic characteristics
Bihar is a socioculturally diverse state and the ACs going to polls in the first phase, as reported by HT on October 24, have the highest share of Scheduled Caste and the lowest share of Muslim population compared to constituencies in the second and the third phases. About 88% population in the constituencies in the first phase lives in rural areas, nearly representative of the state’s overall share of rural population . This is the lowest in the second and the highest in the third phase. The first phase is also dominated by Magadhi-speaking people, who comprise about 27% of the population of the constituencies that vote Wednesday. Interestingly, the first phase includes areas which have seen violent land conflicts on caste lines in the past, memories of which still play a role in driving political choices in the state. Data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal shows that almost all the regions where these caste massacres took place will go to polls in the first phase.
4) How will alliance politics work?
While the results of the elections are only out on November 10, parties conduct their own assessments of how they have performed in each phase, and refine their strategies accordingly. This is significant this time for the reason that Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) has exited the NDA, but fielded most of its candidates against the JD(U) and other parties of the alliance, and not the BJP. This phase will be the first to test if the LJP is able to spoil the fortunes of the JD(U) by cutting into a share of its votes . The LJP is contesting in 42 seats in the first phase; the BJP is not contesting in any of these.