Bihar: History Suggests BJP Likely To Win Kurhani By-Poll Unless VIP Plays A Spoilsport
VIP has adopted the strategy of attracting Sahni and Bhumihar votes which might harm the BJP.
In a direct face-off between BJP and JD(U), BJP has an upper edge due to Nitish Kumar's deteriorated image.
The Kurhani assembly seat of Muzaffarpur district in Bihar makes for an interesting by-poll for multiple reasons.
First, this is the first face-off between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) after the alliance partners got separated in August this year.
In the earlier by-polls in Gopalganj and Mokama, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) contested against the BJP on behalf of the Grand Alliance (GA). Now, RJD has spared this seat for its ally JD(U).
Second, apart from the direct face-off between the BJP and the JD(U), smaller parties like Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are also in the fray.
The role of smaller parties becomes important because often this seat has witnessed small victory margins. The margin in the last assembly elections was a mere 712 votes.
Third, the primary candidates in the fray (four of them) belong to different communities but none to the Dalit community. They might attract their community votes while leaving the onus of attracting Dalit votes to parties.
Dalit votes become important in this seat because the population of Scheduled Caste (SC) people in Kurhani block is over 18 per cent of the total population of around 4.4 lakhs.
The BJP's candidate is Kedar Prasad Gupta who lost the 2020 assembly elections to RJD's Anil Kumar Sahni by a narrow margin.
As RJD MLA Sahni got disqualified from the state assembly in a fraud case, Gupta has got a chance again. Gupta hails from what is traditionally seen as a trading community and was elected as an MLA in 2015.
JD(U)'s candidate is Manoj Singh Kushwaha. He belongs to the Other Backward Class (OBC) community and has been elected as an MLA thrice- February 2005, October 2005 and 2010.
But the interesting thing to note here is that Kushwaha won the elections when JD(U) fought in alliance with the BJP, while Gupta managed to win when the BJP fought the elections without JD(U).
The AIMIM's candidate is Ghulam Murtaza Ansari. He is a member of the All India Momin Conference and former councillor from the area. AIMIM is contesting this seat for the first time.
The party is pumped up after the Gopalganj by-elections where it got more than the victory margin of the BJP candidate. However, the Muslim population in Kurhani is less than that in Gopalganj.
History suggests that when voters of the Minority community are fewer in number, they choose to stick to RJD or its allies, rather than vote for AIMIM.
Thus, the party is not expected to make much impact in Kurhani. However, even a small share of the vote can make a difference when the contest is tight.
VIP has chosen Neelabh Kumar as its candidate who is a Bhumihar by caste. VIP chief Mukesh Sahni is expecting to attract both communities (Sahni and Bhumihar) with this move.
He has even promised maachh-bhaat bhoj (fish-rice feast) while saying that the Bhumihar community will offer rice and Sahni (fisher) community will offer fish and claimed victory.
VIP's strategy may damage BJP's prospects as the two communities are seen as supporting the BJP. However, when VIP is not with NDA anymore, the Nishad (Sahni) community vote may get split.
Also, Bhumihars were believed to have gone against the BJP in the last assembly elections which caused the NDA tally to barelt cross the majority mark. If that situation persists, VIP might attract a few Bhumihar votes as well.
From the numerical point of view, Bhumihars, Kushwahas, Sahnis and Vaishyas all form around 10 per cent each of the electorate in Kurhani.
Other 'upper castes' (Brahmins, Rajputs and Kayasths), and Yadavs, Kurmis and Paswans too have a considerable population but lesser than the above mentioned communities.
With RJD supporting the JD(U)'s Kushwaha candidate, most of the minority, Yadavs, Kurmis and Kushwahas vote is expected to go to the JD(U) candidate.
With both factions of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) supporting BJP candidate, the Paswan vote may come to the BJP, along with its traditional vote bank.
The question only remains how the other OBC, Extreme Backward Class (EBC) and Dalit communities will vote. A lot of this will depend on the reach of welfare schemes.
Nitish Kumar's social engineering might fail in Kurhani because his image has been hit by frequent switching of alliances and the failure to deliver on the governance front in the last few years. Thus, BJP might benefit from this.
Also, the current situation (both the major contenders are same and BJP-JD(U) are split) is quite similar to the 2015 assembly elections. This adds to the BJP's advantage unless VIP plays a spoilsport for the party.
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