An unusual election

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An unusual election

Wednesday, 09 September 2020 | Kalyani Shankar

The Bihar poll will be the first digital one held amid the pandemic and will be fought through virtual rallies and on social media

The forthcoming Bihar elections are unique in many ways. This will be the first digital poll held amid the pandemic and this time, the elections will be fought through virtual rallies and door-to-door campaigns as well as on social media. The BJP is far ahead of the others because of its experience in the virtual mode. It will indeed be a big achievement if the digital experiment succeeds in a backward State like Bihar. There are many other firsts in the November polls. The absence of former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad is a big loss for the Opposition alliance, as they lack a charismatic leader. His rustic charm and jokes that kept the crowds at his rallies in splits will be missed. He made the poor and oppressed believe that they were the real rulers with him at the helm. It was he who created the Muslim-Yadav (MY) vote bank. Unfortunately for his allies, Lalu is in jail serving his sentence in the fodder scam. In  2015, Lalu played a big role by stitching up the grand alliance, which won big. Though his son and political heir, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav is quite mobile and articulate but he is yet to establish himself as a leader.

In the absence of any tall leaders in the alliance, he is the chief ministerial face. The RJD’s social media accounts are now full of images of Tejashwi meeting people in flood-hit areas. The RJD has its own problems, as the ongoing sibling rivalry is a hindrance to unity in the party. Moreover, senior leaders like Raghuvansh Pratap Singh are unhappy and thinking of moving to other parties. 

Another first is the migrant labour issue. They have become the new vote bank. The Opposition believes that the Nitish Kumar Government has not done enough for them. The whole country saw the plight of millions of migrant labourers walking back to their villages because of the mishandling of the lockdown and the issues associated with it by both the Central and State Governments. It is estimated that at least two million migrant labourers have returned to their homes in Bihar. The unemployment rate in Bihar is 46.6 per cent, the highest in the country.

The third is the impact of Covid. This will be the first Assembly poll in the midst of the pandemic. Bihar has recorded over 1.2 lakh Coronavirus cases so far. The Government claims that around one-lakh tests are being done daily after a slow start, and the number of positive cases has declined. The Opposition parties dispute this and have alleged that the State Government is tampering with data.

Fourth, it will be the first time that the CPI(ML) has made an  electoral pact with the RJD. Both the CPI and CPI(M) have in the past contested elections either with the RJD or the Janata Dal and this time they will be part of the Opposition alliance. Given the demography of Bihar, backward caste voters hold the key to power. Other Backward Classes (OBC) constitute 45 per cent to 50 per cent of the population in Bihar, whereas the upper castes, Muslim and Scheduled Castes account for around 15 per cent each. Bihar votes on caste lines.

Fifth, the recent death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) has become a poll issue. Politicians will not even hesitate to use  the untimely death of a young actor for their benefit and the SSR case is a shining example.

Meanwhile, the election fervour is at a fever pitch with major parties beginning their virtual campaigns since Monday. The NDA and the Grand Alliance are the two major groupings. The BJP, JD(U)  and the RJD are the major triangular forces of Bihar politics today but no political party is in a situation to form a Government on its own.

The Congress has decided to hold 100 virtual rallies. However, it has not developed a strong State-level leadership. Party workers and leaders in Bihar squarely blame the State leadership for the Congress’ poor prospects.

The JD(U) is strengthening itself by inducting several party hoppers and so is the other camp. Jitan Ram Manjhi, former Bihar Chief Minister and the chief of Hindustani Awam Morcha Secular (HAM-S) had recently joined the NDA. Sharad Yadav, who was expelled by the party for anti-party activities, is likely to return to the JD(U). Even though, the BJP president JP Nadda had recently asserted that the NDA would contest the forthcoming poll in Bihar unitedly, the LJP president Chirag Paswan, the son of Ram Vilas Paswan has been attacking Nitish. 

The voters, too, are going to follow new the guidelines of the Government. These include the use of masks, gloves, sanitisers, thermal scanners and adhering to social distancing norms. The Election Commission proposes to implement strictly all these regulations. Bihar is important for political parties as it has 40 Lok Sabha seats. It is too early to predict poll results, as there could always be election upsets but for now it is advantage BJP-JD(U) alliance because of a weak and splintered Opposition and lack of charismatic leaders.           

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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