EC announces poll dates: Understanding the Bihar elections
Voting for Bihar assembly elections will be held in three phases on October 28, November 3 and November 7 in one of the biggest elections globally during the Covid-19 pandemic, followed by counting of votes on November 10.Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 22:01 IST
Bihar will elect its 17th assembly in a three-phase election between October 28 and November 7 — the first mass poll to be held in the middle of a pandemic. Nitish Kumar, this time leading the National Democratic Alliance’s fight in the state, will be eyeing a fourth term as the state’s chief minister. Here are two things which can help understand the forthcoming contest in Bihar:
Caste equations will continue to matter, but they could also be changing
According to the 2015-16 National Family and Health Survey, almost half of the state’s population belongs to Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. Scheduled Castes and Muslims are the other major social groups in the state. To be sure, there are layers of stratification, as far as political preferences are concerned, within these broad social groups. In fact, this has been a conscious strategy of Nitish Kumar, who has created and cultivated categories such as Extremely Backward Classes and Mahadalits. It is this vote bank, rather than support from his own sub-caste (Kurmi), which makes Nitish Kumar a valuable ally in Bihar. While this section voted for the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal (United) and Congress alliance in 2015, it supported the NDA in a big way in the 2019 elections. Even the traditional Yadav support base of the RJD might be becoming weaker. Only 55% of Yadavs, once considered staunch loyalists of Lalu Prasad, voted for the RJD-led alliance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The grand alliance was able to make the 2015 elections into an upper caste versus lower caste issue by using RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s statement asking for review of reservations. No such polarisation seems to be happening as of now.
Seat shares as well as strike rates are important
This is the first assembly election in Bihar when the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will also be a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). This has already led to a lot of friction over seat sharing, with the LJP demanding a higher number. The RJD-led opposition is facing a similar crisis, as it has been unable to sort out its alliance with the Congress, Left parties and other smaller players. Both the RJD and Janata Dal (United) have always been senior partners in their alliances in Bihar. But this time, the RJD is having to negotiate the alliance from a position of weakness; it failed to win even one Lok Sabha seat in 2019. The Nitish Kumar-led government, on the other hand, has been facing criticism from its own alliance partner, LJP, giving an impression that it is the JD(U) which shall bear the burden of anti-incumbency.
Contesting the most number of seats, however, is no guarantee of getting a larger number of MLAs in Bihar. The RJD and the JD(U) contested equal seats in the 2015 assembly, but the RJD had a better strike rate. Similarly, the BJP ended up with a bigger seat tally in the 2010 elections, despite contesting fewer seats than the JD(U). Both the seat-distribution and strike rates will matter for the individual fortunes of parties this time as well. The strength of major parties in the new assembly will also decide their bargaining power in future political negotiations, not just government formation.