Winds of change

When the campaign for the first phase of Bihar’s assembly elections has ended in 47 constituencies in the state’s north-east which will go to the polls on Thursday, what is most striking is the shift in the electoral issues from the past. The polling process will stretch for a month through six phases till November 20 and the campaign now under way in the rest of the state also follows the themes set in the first phase. Whatever be the people’s verdict in the elections, chief minister Nitish Kumar, who heads the JD(U)-BJP alliance in the state, has succeeded in setting the agenda for the campaign. The issues now dominating the campaign are development of the state and good governance as against considerations based on caste and religion which have been the bane of Bihar’s politics and elections for decades.

Bihar has made remarkable economic progress in the last five years and is in the forefront of states which have recorded over 10 per cent growth. There is good infrastructure development with improved roads and other communication facilities. The law and order situation is much better with crime rates falling all over the state. Nitish has rightly claimed credit for these achievements, especially presenting a contrast with the performance of the state during the rule of his arch rival and RJD leader Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi. Nitish has also been careful to distance himself from the politics of his alliance partner in a state where the Muslims  account for 15 per cent of the electorate. He objected to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi campaigning in the state. Even the BJP has stuck to the development theme, as the campaign speeches of senior leader L K Advani show. Last month’s Ayodhya case verdict has also not become an electoral issue.

The alliance between the RJD and Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok  Janshakti Party (LJP) has a substantial social base and Lalu Prasad would well take the credit for the empowerment of backward castes in the state. The election is politically crucial for Lalu who wants to make a comeback after years in the wilderness. The Congress,  which is no major player, has only the limited aim of improving its performance which will help it in the next Lok Sabha elections. The elections therefore are a test of the changing mood, and the question is whether the people would endorse Nitish’s claim of credit.

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