Elections in India are among the biggest democratic festivals all around the world. Within India, elections in Bihar stand apart from elections elsewhere in the country. The very flavour of Bihar elections is in a class of its own.
When we closely observe the nitty-gritty of coming Bihar polls, many interesting facts surface. The Congress is on the rise as it is in Uttar Pradesh, but would it perform as spectacularly as it did in UP in 2009? We have to wait till November 24 for the answer to this question. Actually, the basic difference between Congress in Bihar and in UP is that UP has Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Gandhi family strongholds.
Coming to vote banks, there has been a significant improvement for NDA, as a section of Pasmanda Muslims and Most Backwards are now showing their inclination for JD(U).
However, the BJP is at the receiving end as its upper caste vote bank is annoyed with Nitish’s pro-backward classes programmes and policies and that has certainly hurt the lotus brigade. On the other hand, although Lalu has got a jolt from MBC and a section of Muslims, his OBC vote bank is still intact with him. As stated earlier, the Congress is on the rise, but it would hurt NDA more than the Lalu-Paswan alliance this time.
Middle class all over
In my analysis I have kept Patna as a separate region, as this region is reflective of urban, middle class and pro-Nitish sentiment. But, here I would rather suggest a word of caution. In 2004, NDA was a winner in all pre-election opinion polls, but it failed to register a win. The main reason was that the middle class that was largely happy with the performance of Atal Behari Vajpayee, did not come out to vote and the urban middle class voter turnout dropped by 18% from 1999. If this time too the middle class of Bihar stays indoors, the Bihar Shining could happen to Nitish. But, if the turnout increases, it would certainly help NDA. Actually the middle class in India today is not limited to urban areas; it has spread to small towns and villages too.
Largely the media, as well as surveys, show that Nitish Kumar's popularity is at an all-time high. He is among the top three best performing chief ministers of India. But, we have observed in modern electoral history that a party does not win on the performance and ratings of its leader.
So, what is it hurting the NDA this time? It is worth noting that in 2005 Assembly polls, Lalu and Paswan contested separately and the difference between the vote share of NDA and RJD was 5%. Adding to this Paswan secured 10% votes last time. This time Lalu and Paswan have joined hands and their alliance has actually strengthened their vote banks.
When we talk about the Muslim voters, electoral history clearly reflects that they vote very tactically. For instance, if they observe that the Congress candidate would not be able to register a win against BJP candidate, they vote the BJP. But the fight would be interesting in those seats where JD(U) candidates are in the fray.
Delimitation will also play a big role this time as it has changed the face of more than 70 Assembly segments across Bihar. Actually it would work as it did in 1952, when first polls took place. In fact delimitation is a blind man’s elephant in Bihar, where who holds the trunk it is trunk for him and who gets hold of tail, it’s tail. It is affecting the Bihar electoral battle ground more as Bihar has a most conscious, politically aware caste system. Here the parties and leaders keep a count of each vote on caste basis. But, delimitation has disturbed the very caste equation in the Assembly segments. Above all, the entire anti-incumbency sentiment of people towards their representatives is also affected, as the people who are angry, are no more part of that constituency.
Overall, a few things are very clear. Nitish’s popularity is on an all-time high. When it comes to the performance of his government, it has secured very good marks on some counts, average on some and very poor on a few. But no government can secure hundred percent marks.
When we compare Nitish’s five-year development chart with Lalu’s 15 years, certainly the former’s five years are superior. But in Bihar, elections are never fought only on development and leadership ratings. It is a mega war of 243 different republics, where each segment flaunts separate issues and trends to political parties.
Although today the NDA appears to have an upper hand, trends show that it would be a hung Assembly. It is heartening for the Congress as it is on the revival in Bihar. One other thing that is favourable for the Congress is that its vote bank is not limited to one particular caste as with other political parties in Bihar.
(The writer is founder director of CVoter, a media and research agency.)