Understanding Bihar elections, phase-wise
An HT analysis shows that each of these phases will comprise ACs that are different from others in multiple ways. This, in a way, is symptomatic of the state’s sociocultural and political diversity, as well as different historical fault lines.Updated: Oct 24, 2020, 10:06 IST
Bihar’s 243 assembly constituencies (ACs) will head to the polls in three phases – 71 on October 28; 94 on November 3 and 78 on November 7. An HT analysis shows that each of these phases will comprise ACs that are different from each other in multiple ways. This, in a way, is symptomatic of the state’s socio-cultural and political diversity, as well as different historical fault lines.
The ‘language’ of campaigning will change from Phase 1 to 3
Biharis speak at least three important languages, which are often subsumed within Hindi. According to the 2011 census, only 26% of Biharis reported their mother tongue to be Hindi. A quarter reported their mother tongue to be Bhojpuri, 11% Magadhi or Magahi and 13% Maithili. Another 8% reported their mother tongue to be Urdu. Different languages are dominant in ACs going to the polls in each of the three phases. The first phase is dominated by Magahi speakers, the second by Bhojpuri speakers and the third phase by Maithili speakers. The share of Urdu speakers also increases from the first to the third phase.
Dalits will matter the most in first phase, Muslims in the third phase
According to the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS), Other Backward Classes (OBCs) are the biggest social group in Bihar. The OBC share in Bihar’s population is higher than the all-India average. Bihar also has a lower share of Hindus who do not belong to the Scheduled Caste (SC), OBC or Scheduled Tribe (ST) category than Uttar Pradesh, the only Hindi-speaking state bigger than Bihar. This is why OBC politics is central to Bihar.
Because the NFHS data is based on sampling, and not representative below the state level, it cannot be used to estimate social group-wise population shares at the district level. The only representative source of social group-wise share of population is the 2011 census, which only gives population shares for SCs, STs and different religious groups. An HT analysis using Census 2011 data mapped at the AC-level by How India Lives shows that SCs have the highest share of population in the ACs that go to the polls in the first phase; this goes down in the second and third phases. This is borne out by the share of SC reserved seats in each of these phases. Phase one has the highest share of SC reserved seats, 18%, compared to 14% in phase two and 15% in phase three. Another analysis of Census 2011 district-level data shows that the share of Muslims follows the opposite direction. It is the lowest in the first phase and the highest in the third phase. Given the centrality of the Muslim vote in the final phase, it is to be expected that communal rhetoric would become louder up as the election progresses.
Ghosts of caste violence will matter the most in the first phase
Bihar has a history of violent conflict over land, which was fought on caste lines, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Data available with the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) shows that Bihar witnessed 90 caste massacres between 1976 and 2001; 856 people, both from the socially oppressed and dominant caste groups; landowners as well as agricultural workers and landless poor, lost their lives in these incidents. Memories of this violence still play a role in driving political choices in the state. With the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD)-led alliance including all three left parties, including the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation, a party which has a past of underground and armed struggle in the state, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been trying to consolidate the upper caste groups by evoking the history of violent land conflicts. This will have the maximum impact in the first phase of the elections. An HT analysis using SATP data shows that almost all the regions where these caste massacres took place will go to polls in the first phase. Geographically speaking, this is also the region which is south of the Ganga river in the state.
Political fortunes have varied drastically in the last three elections
Political fortunes have varied drastically in the ACs going to polls in each of the phases in Bihar. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA; which had the BJP, Janata Dal (United) and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), won an overwhelming majority of ACs in each of the regions. The grand alliance of the RJD, JD(U) and Congress did the same in the 2015 assembly elections. In 2014, it was the NDA comprising BJP, LJP and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) which dominated ACs going to polls in each of the phases. The forthcoming elections are being fought with different alignments. The NDA comprises the BJP and JD(U) along with two smaller parties, namely the Hindustan Awami Morcha (HAM) and the Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP). The RJD has tied up with the Congress and the three left parties. The LJP is contesting 136 ACs on its own, while the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) has tied up with the Bahujan Samaj Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and a few other smaller parties. A look at Bihar’s history shows that the winning alliance generally performs well across the state.