The Bihar assembly elections will be keenly watched for many reasons. The outcome of the election will not just be seen as a reflection on Modi’s ability to handle the pandemic and manage the economy, also the inability of the opposition to be able to take the serious regional and national problems to the people. It could also be a factor in West Bengal, more immediately, which votes next in April -May 2021.
The elections are important in their own right for the third most populous state. According to the 2011 Census, 10.4 crore population out of which 7.29 crore, which is more than the population of countries like UK, France, or Italy, are eligible to vote. The first non-congress government was formed at the centre in 1977. Deputy Associate Editor of The Indian Express, Manoj C G wrote; “The coalition of anti-congress forces sowed the seeds of social justice politics” when Karpoori Thakur, the then Bihar chief minister implemented the Mandal Commission’s recommendations, which provided reservations in jobs and educational institutions for the backward castes. He also stated that the “churning set in motion the assertion of the backward castes in national politics has lasted more than four decades.”
Indira Gandhi’s defeat in 1977, the state is under the Janata Dal (United) by Nitish Kumar defeated the invincible Modi in 2005. But today, their relation being strained, both of them are coalition partners. Parties like LJP leaving, there is stress in the NDA Alliance.
Let’s look at a few factors by other parties:
The Nitish Kumar factor, in which he is known for his development in politics that people have appreciated. But there is also that which mounts, anti-incumbency, where his government is seen as stumbling on jobs, COVID-19, and the floods.
The Modi factor will also be under test, in 2019, the Lok Sabha polls were swept by the Modi-led BJP. The NDA Alliance had won all but one out of 40 seats including the JD-U and the Lok Janashakti Party, whereas the rest of the seats were won by the congress. Since then, the BJP has lost Jharkhand, Delhi, and Maharashtra and has been smashed in Haryana. Bihar was the state which saw a large number of migrants return back home in the lockdown period which could be a factor in the outcome of the elections.
More factors from the opposition that includes the RJD, Congress, and the Left Wing:
Lalu Yadav factor has been a potent force for three decades. Tejashwi Yadav is a young ambitious man, but his lack of administrative experience weighs against him, especially in the governance plank of Nitish Kumar.
Constituting about 16% of the state’s population is the Dalit’s. When Lalu Yadav was at his peak, the RJD enjoyed the backing of most Muslims and Dalits. Over the years, this alliance was separated, managed by Nitish Kumar, which has now resulted in a mixed caste environment.
Now, the Muslim factor: Traditionally, the Muslims have been with Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress in Bihar. Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, putting a halt on L K Advani’s ‘Rath Yatra,’ a chariot tour around the country that concluded in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in October 1990. This goodwill by Muslims will be at the test with Lalu Yadav behind bars for corruption charges. The more important factor that gets highlighted is, under the Modi Government, the Muslims have been completely side-lined. This estrangement is a threat to rub off on his ally, Nitish Kumar. With his popularity weakening in the assembly polls of 2015, Nitish Kumar managed to be able to retain the support of as much as 17% of the Muslim population, largely on the account of Mahagathbandhan partners, RJD and the Congress. A fact that he turned around and went back to BJP in 2017 is viewed as backstabbing by the community.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen or AIMIM (translated as: “All India Council for Unity of Muslims”) leader Asaduddin Owaisi is expected to pick up a fair share in the Muslim dominated areas, while RJD-Congress still remains to claim the Muslim vote in Bihar.