What to look for in the Bihar poll results today
Anecdotal accounts and exit polls point towards a massive anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar, who, except for a nine-month gap when he voluntarily stepped down from the chief minister’s post, has been in office for 15 years now.
The results for 243 assembly constituencies (ACs) in Bihar will be announced today. The main contest in the state is between the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Tejashwi Yadav-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB). The NDA comprises the Janata Dal (United), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and two smaller parties,the Hindustan Awami Morcha (HAM) and the Vikassheel Insan Party (VIP). The MGB comprises the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress, and the three Left parties, Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist (Liberation). The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which is a part of the NDA at the Centre, is fighting these elections outside the NDA fold, primarily on an anti-Nitish plank. Here are a few points which should be kept in mind while looking at the results today.
Who got the alliances right?
The NDA and the MGB have declared Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav as their chief ministerial faces in these elections. These two were appointed the chief minister and deputy CM respectively after the 2015 elections, when the RJD, JD(U) and the Congress fought the elections together. The NDA camp had the BJP, LJP, HAM and the Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) in 2015. The JD(U) snapped its ties with the RJD and the Congress in 2017 and rejoined the NDA. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA had the BJP, JD(U) and the LJP, while the RJD fought with the Congress, HAM, VIP and the RLSP.
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The RJD did not have any alliance with the Left parties in either 2015 or 2019. To be sure, it did have an informal understanding with the CPI(ML) Liberation in the 2019 elections on Pataliputra and Arrah Lok Sabha constituencies. The 2020 elections have once again seen a large realignment of alliances. Performance of alliance partners will play a big role in who gets to form the government in Bihar. In 2015, it was the RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance which achieved a huge victory over the NDA. Things changed drastically in 2019, when the NDA led in 223 out of 243 ACs in the state.
Will the JD(U) pay a bigger price for anti-incumbency than the BJP?
Anecdotal accounts and exit polls point towards a massive anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar, who, except for a nine-month gap when he voluntarily stepped down from the chief minister’s post, has been in office for 15 years now. If these predictions turn out to be true, the question is whether the headwinds for anti-incumbency will affect just the JD(U) or everyone who is a part of the NDA, especially the BJP. The relative performance of the JD(U) and the BJP will be an interesting metric to track in these elections. The JD(U) and the BJP are contesting in 122 and 121 ACs respectively, out of which they have allocated seven and 11 ACs to the HAM and the VIP respectively. While strike rates are the most useful measure to compare relative performance, it will be useful to look at the BJP’s 2020 seat-share performance with its 2015 numbers as well, when it contested without an alliance with the JD(U).
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How will the LJP factor play out?
The LJP has fielded its candidates in 135 ACs in the state. This is the second-highest number of ACs the party has contested in the state in an assembly election since 2005 November. As HT pointed out in an earlier piece in these pages, despite performing exceedingly well in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the LJP has been facing a growing marginalisation in the state politics in Bihar (scan QR code below). While most projections do not see the LJP performing well in these elections, it remains to be seen whether it ends up damaging the JD(U) disproportionately. Eighty-four per cent of the LJP’s candidates are contesting against the JD(U). One way to track this could be to check the share of JD(U) losses due to spoilers – a spoiler-led loss is defined as one where the candidate finishing third gets more votes than the victory margin – in these elections compared to this number in previous elections. If the former increases sharply and the spoilers are LJP candidates, then this will have long-term ramifications for the coherence of the NDA in Bihar.