In leader-centric Bihar assembly polls, stakes high for top guns
As the curtains came down on the Bihar assembly election- first state election in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was clear that the campaigning mostly revolved around the key players of the two major alliances as well as some top leaders of other parties.
From the outset, it was apparent with the delay in ticket distribution that the candidates will matter less and the main drivers will be the big guns of parties as HT had reported the day the election was announced. That puts a lot at stake for them.
“This election has been a leader-centric election. Everything revolved around top leadership of their parties and so it will certainly be a test of their approval in the eyes of the people,” said Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI).
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Political analyst Prof NK Choudhary said that the top-heavy democratic structure was on display in Bihar election. “A lot is at stake for the top leaderships. Democracy grows from the grassroots to determine the top of the pyramid. Power should ascend, not descend. It is now left to the voters to decide how they take the new trend,” he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi did what was expected of him. In the face of fatigue factor setting in against chief minister Nitish Kumar, who faced attacks from all sides, Modi stood for him at all the 12 rallies he addressed in Bihar. Paying scant regard to the attacks, including from the NDA ally at the Centre, the LJP, he was effusive in his praise for Kumar – be it for Covid-19 management, tackling migrants’ crisis, restoring law and order or ushering in development. He even referred to Kumar as ‘Bhaavi Mukhyamantri’ to counter the anti-incumbency jingle of the Opposition, while reminding people of RJD’s ‘jungle raj’ all through. Being the first election in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic and post Ram Temple and Article 370, it was a test for him in a state where the BJP suffered in 2015 despite his popularity. Ahead of the West Bengal elections, stakes are really high for him in Bihar.
Seeking his seventh term as Bihar chief minister since 2005, he faced the biggest challenge due to relentless attack on him from all sides. He dismissed an anti-incumbency factor and addressed over 60 rallies defying. However, his statement at the last rally in Purnea that it would be his last election, seemed to be an acknowledgement of the pressure on him. After an uninterrupted 15-year-stint, he gave the assembly election his best shot leading the JD-U campaign from the front. His hope clings on his development work, enthusiastic voting by women all through, nearly 78-lakh first-time voters and the ghost of ‘jungle raaj’ that the NDA worked hard to revive.
Tejaswhi Prasad Yadav
Coming out of the shadow of a mass leader like Lalu Prasad is not easy for any son. But Tejashwi showed that he has evolved and is ready to take the party’s mantle by making a contest out of what was perceived as ‘non-contest’ after NDA’s commanding show in the 2019 general election. He not only won the perception battle with his promise for 10-lakh jobs, but also stuck to it despite attempts to revive the ‘jungle raj’ legacy of 15 years ago to put him on the defensive. His rally blitzkrieg – up to 15-19 rallies a day – showed that he had arrived on Bihar’s big stage to take his father’s legacy forward and not let it become a disadvantage. He led from the front to mobilise youth and did not pull back in the face of counter attacks from the JD-U and the BJP.
He drew the first blood and despite his limitations and death of his father Ram Vilas Paswan, he kept pulling his punches, mainly on Nitish Kumar. What role he chose for himself remained a conundrum till the very end, with he himself branding himself as the B-team of the BJP, while the JD-U accused him of dancing to Tejashwi’s tune. By fielding candidates against all the JD-U candidates, he positioned himself as a double-edged sword, with the possibility of erosion in JD-U votes benefitting the RJD at many places. He promises a BJP-LJP government, but whether he emerges as the kingmaker will be known only after the results. How many seats the LJP wins and at whose will determine his future.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, (AIMIM) led by Asaduddin Owaisi drew a blank in 2015, but winning a seat in the 2019 bypolls in Kishanganj prompted him to field 19 candidates in minority-dominated Seemanchal. His fiery speeches drew a lot of crowd, as he tried to prove that he was not a vote-splitter. His performance will also impact the outcome and prove that his party’s bypoll victory in Bihar was not a flash in the pan. AIMIM’s performance will also determine Muslims’ voting behaviour in their strongholds.
He started off from the Grand Alliance and there was a time when there were talks that he could switch over to the NDA again, but ended up nowhere. He spearheaded the third alliance, which also included AIMIM, BSP and Pappu Yadav’s JAP, to make an impact. In a keenly fought election between the GA and the NDA, he will like to emerge a kingmaker should there be a hung House. After drawing a blank in the 2019 Lok Sabha election and his inability to make a permanent place in any alliance, his political fortune is at stake this time.
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- Out of the 57 seats, one seat, Bagmundi in Purulia district, was left for the All Jharkhand Students Union, a BJP ally.
- TMC leaders including party chief Mamata Banerjee had been desperately trying to brand the BJP as an outsider. Banerjee had said on several occasions, including yesterday when she was announcing the candidates’ names, that Bengal would be ruled only by someone from the state.
- The Kanyakumari Lok Sabha seat fell vacant after the death of Congress MP H Vasanthakumar who passed away due to Covid-19 last year.
- Candidates contesting from heavyweight constituencies Kakdwip, Purulia and Bankura among others have been announced.
- The party, which has a pre-poll tie-up with the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP), another new party, announced its first list of 18 candidates for the first two phases of polling, on Saturday.
- The party’s general secretary also announced the names of 56 candidates for the assembly elections out of which 6 candidates were given to women.