By Sagarneel Sinha
Before the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown, it was widely expected that Chief Minister Nitish Kumar led NDA government would have an easy sail later this year when Bihar will go for assembly polls. Although the Election Commission has said that Bihar will be seeing elections in time, there are still some doubts. After all, much will depend on how Bihar bends the novel Coronavirus curve till then.
Nevertheless, the political discussions in Bihar have started gaining momentum. Amid all this, it seems that Nitish Kumar’s well crafted brand image has suffered some losses. And, for that, he has to only blame himself — not the state’s bureaucracy.
His initial refusal to bring back the state’s migrants hasn’t gone well with the localites. Leave the opposition, even this decision invited criticisms from allies — both BJP & LJP. Although, later Nitish realised his mistake and corrected it. His government facing backlash from both opposition and allies was forced to request the Centre to run Shramik trains to bring back the migrants. But, it was too late as the damage was already done.
Despite all of this, it seems that Nitish Kumar is hopeful that he will be able to win the elections. Obviously, there is one strong reason for this hope and the JDU supremo isn’t exactly daydreaming. The reason is — the state has no credible and strong opposition. Nitish’s arch rival former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, who once yielded huge influence in the state, is locked inside the jail for corruption charges. His political charisma has waned — he is no longer the Lalu Prasad Yadav he used to be.
However, had he been outside the jail, the political scenario would have been different. His son Tejasvi Yadav, who now leads his party RJD, has not been able to taste success as of now. For the first time, RJD failed to win a Lok Sabha seat last year — that was the biggest setback for the party. Not only this, since then, there have been reports of Tejasvi being inactive — adding to growth of dissent in the party against his leadership. Even, he was absent from the state during the initial days of the lockdown — damaging his already damaged image.
No doubt, lack of a strong and credible opposition is giving Nitish Kumar and NDA hope ahead of the elections. However, the alliance, particularly Nitish, shouldn’t be complacent — as there are reasons to worry. One of the main reasons is the high figures of unemployment in the state. CMIE’s latest unemployment figures of May places the state in third rank. The report puts the figure at 46.2 per cent — double than the national figure. These figures should definitely worry the current dispensation. In case if the anti-incumbency becomes very strong, the voters generally tend to vote against the ruling party. In such scenarios, even the weak opposition tends to benefit.
A recent survey of IANS-CVoter says that Nitish Kumar has net approval of only 30 per cent. This figure should be a wake up call for JDU & the NDA — as it clearly points to the declining popularity of Nitish Kumar.
However, another reason that gives NDA the hope is Nitish ally BJP’s popular image. The same survey says that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approval ratings of 58 per cent in the state. Although, this figure is quite less than the national average of 65 per cent. But, it speaks the truth that presently Modi is more popular than Nitish — setting alarm bells for JDU as it will give its ally BJP more leverage while deciding the number of seats.
Not to forget the religion plus caste dynamics that play a crucial role in deciding the throne of Patna. RJD still has been able to maintain its core vote bank of Yadav plus Muslims — which together account for 31 per cent of the state population. But, the opposition camp is lost in the wilderness since the debacle in last year’s Lok Sabha election. Ally Congress, known for demanding more seats than it deserves, doesn’t have a strong vote bank presently. It’s only capable of pulling some Brahmin votes plus the Muslim votes. It’s not sure whether RJD will ally with the Left parties but the truth is that the Left is nowhere left in the state — except in a few pockets where it still yields some influence among the peasant class.
On the other hand, in the ruling NDA camp, Nitish Kumar’s JDU has the Kurmis, who account for 4 per cent, while also loosely yielding influence on the EBCs (Extreme Backward Castes) — who account for around 26 per cent of the population. JDU’s major ally BJP has a strong support among the forward castes — who represent 17 per cent population of the state. That’s also the reason why BJP is popularly called a party of forward castes. However, caste dynamics of the state have witnessed a huge change. The saffron party has now emerged as the most popular party among the Dalit and Mahadalit community — accounting 10 per cent and 6 per cent of the population respectively. Not to forget, Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP, another partner of the NDA camp, still commands influence, particularly among Paswan Dalits.
Nevertheless, the picture is quite complicated as both NDA and UPA have their own plus minus points. The picture will be more clearer when the election season starts with both the camps declaring their own candidates and defining their electoral strategy. As of now, NDA seems to be ahead of the weak UPA in Bihar. (IPA Service)