With Elections Just A Month Away, It’s Advantage NDA In Bihar
While the only thing that may go against Nitish Kumar is a lacklustre past five years as CM — migrant dissatisfaction post lockdown notwithstanding — the people’s deepest fears of an RJD ‘jungle raj’ redux may be enough to reject the ‘Mahagathbandhan’ and catapult the NDA back to power.
The announcement of the three-phase polls in Bihar by the Election Commission late last week set off frenetic preparations in the NDA as well as the Mahagathbandhan (or Grand Alliance).
But it is advantage NDA right now, with the Grand Alliance (GA) lacking a credible agenda and suffering from the baggage of the past.
Though the NDA is yet to overcome some hiccups, especially over the crucial seat-sharing negotiations, the GA suffers from many inherent weaknesses that are likely to hobble its poll preparedness and performance.
A SWOT analysis of both the formations would be in order here.
BJP, Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), Hindustan Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) + some minor parties*
[*Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) likely to join NDA]
- Nitish Kumar (the CM candidate) is a tried and tested person with proven governance skills, a clean record and seen as one who delivers over the last 15 years.
- Popularity of Prime Minister Modi, who will be campaigning for the alliance in Bihar.
- Has stitched together a powerful alliance of upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs, MOBCs and large sections of SCs.
- NDA has a strong development agenda.
- Nitish in Bihar and Modi at the Centre is seen as a winning combination for Bihar.
- A fair bit of anti-incumbency.
- Nitish Kumar’s third term (2015 to 2020) has been lacklustre compared to his first two terms.
- Underlying tensions between the BJP and JD(U) that have persisted since the latter broke away from the NDA in 2015.
- Debilitating weaknesses in the Mahagathbandhan which has suffered loss of constituents like Jitan Ram Majhi’s HAM-S.
- Poor image of the RJD that persists in the minds of voters.
- Mahagathbandhan’s CM candidate Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is seen as a novice and no match for Nitish Kumar.
- Tensions over seat-sharing between RJD and Congress.
- Bad blood between JD(U) and LJP driven by chief ministerial ambitions of Chirag Paswan, the LJP chief and Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan’s son.
- Seat sharing could be tricky with JD(U) insisting that BJP accommodates LJP and HAM-S from its share of seats.
- Resentment towards the NDA government at the Centre among migrants who had to return to Bihar due to the countrywide lockdown; if Mahagathbandhan makes this a major campaign issue, it may strike a chord among the migrants and their families.
The Mahagathbandhan or Grand Alliance
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation, Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPIM), Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (JAP).
- Mahagathbandhan’s Muslim-Yadav vote bank bank (over 30 per cent of the electorate) gives it a head-start.
- Communists enjoy the undying support of a section of the electorate in many rural pockets and among ‘intellectuals’ in urban areas.
- Congress, despite being weak, has its residual support base.
- Lalu Prasad Yadav, who could have been the GA’s largest vote-catcher, is jailed and cannot campaign.
- Lalu’s son Tejashwi is seen as a green horn who lacks the requisite experience and skills.
- The baggage of the past: ‘jungle raj’ characterised by kidnappings, murders, rapes, endemic corruption and more during RJD’s rule.
- Congress does not add much to the alliance and lacks credible leaders in Bihar.
- Muslim-Yadav vote bank makes many other OBCs and SCs wary of supporting the Mahagathbandhan.
- Former allies like the HAM-S and RLSP leaving the Mahagathbandhan has robbed the alliance of a lot of its sheen.
- Absence of a strong development agenda.
- Possible fatigue among the electorate with 15-year-rule of Nitish Kumar.
- Recurring floods in Bihar that have caused a lot of misery and Mahagathbandhan can tap into this underlying resentment.
- Reverse migration of lakhs triggered by the lockdown and the resultant unemployment crisis can be a hot-button issue that works in favour of the Mahagathbandhan.
- The Mahagathbandhan can exploit tensions between the LJP and JD(U)
- AIMIM throwing its hat into the electoral ring could lead to division of Muslim votes and harm the Mahagathbandhan.
- Non-Yadav OBCs have been completely alienated from the RJD.
- Powerful RJD satraps unhappy over Lalu Yadav foisting his son Tejashwi over them can cause upsets.
- Congress, likely to be fully satisfied with the final seat distribution, can sabotage prospects of RJD candidates.
- Left votes may not get transferred to RJD-Congress.
While the NDA will play the development card, the GA will try to tap into anti-incumbency and highlight Nitish Kumar’s comparatively lacklustre performance over the last five years to seek a change.
However, the GA’s alternative to Nitish Kumar — Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi — is hardly a match for the former.
Tejashwi is widely perceived to be a novice who could not even keep allies like the HAM-S and RLSP by his side.
The RJD, which is the dominant partner of the GA, suffers from a very poor image.
Under Nitish Kumar, Bihar has made a clean break from the nightmarish days of ‘jungle raj’ that people still shudder when they remember it.
Despite reassurances from the RJD-Congress about the Yadavs turning a 'new leaf', people of Bihar will be unwilling to allow a return to those dark days.
And the RJD’s conduct, even while in Opposition — its propensity to show off its muscle power — does not inspire confidence among the masses.
Also, Bihar has witnessed tremendous development under Nitish Kumar over the past 15 years.
Yes, his performance over the last five years may have been tepid compared to the strides made in his first two terms, but that does not take away from the fact that he is still Bihar’s best bet.
The GA’s failure to offer a credible alternative — in terms of a chief ministerial candidate and a development agenda — is a serious deficiency the RJD-led alliance suffers from.
In terms of star campaigners also, the GA is placed at a tremendous disadvantage.
The galaxy of senior BJP leaders, led by Prime Minister Modi, that the NDA is fielding, is no match for any GA campaigner, including Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Vadra.
The GA will tap into the resentment of the lakhs of migrants who had to return to Bihar following the nationwide lockdown, but the NDA’s strategy of placating that anger with a high dose of development is likely to succeed.
In the ultimate analysis, what is expected to play on the minds of Bihar’s electorate is the basic issue of roti, kapda and makan (food, clothes and shelter).
Caste and other related identity issues are factors in Bihar, but the NDA, through its development card, has made them peripheral ones.
And that stands not only the NDA, but also Bihar, in very good stead.
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