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Bihar Elections: Mahagathbandhan Effects Gains By Raising Economic Issues

Tarique Anwar |
‘The BJP is trying to repeat what happened in the February 2005 elections, when the LJP had emerged a spoiler by bagging 29 seats. Because of the fractured mandate, re-elections in October 2005 diminished the overwhelming sway Lalu Prasad had over Bihar politics...’
Bihar elections 2020

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Patna: With India’s eyes glued to the political machinations at work in the Bihar elections – the first since the COVID-19 pandemic struck – the people may absorb a crucial political truth: not just social engineering, welfare work dictates prospects of political parties as well.

When the state was gearing up for the upcoming elections (to begin on October 28), pollsters and journalists reporting from ‘Ground Zero’ were predicting that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would have an edge over the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance), given Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s command over the voters belonging to the numerically significant — if put together — Extremely Backward Class (EBC) and Mahadalit communities.

First created from within the Other Backward Class(es) by socialist stalwart Karpoori Thakur, the EBC category was updated in 2007 by Kumar. He included new caste groups like the Kahars, Dhanuks, Patwas, Binds, Mallahs, Noonias, Amats, Sav, Paneris, Telis, Sonars, Lohars, Kumhars, Tantis, Dhanuk Kurmis, Koeris, Kachchi, Murao and a few Muslim sub-castes.

All OBC communities, including Muslim sub-castes, were included in the EBC list except the dominant Yadavs and Kurmis. While OBC community members together constitute around 17% of the state’s population, the EBC make up close to 26%.He also created “Mahadalits” from within communities of the Scheduled Castes, which together form 16% of the population here.

After election campaigning took off, the Grand Alliance made unemployment, systematic closure of industries in Bihar and mass exodus of migrant labourers poll issues discourse. It all began with RJD leader and the Mahagathbandhan’s CM candidate, Tejashwi Yadav, promising ten lakh government jobs if his government came to power in Bihar.

The strategy seems to have worked well against the ruling NDA coalition, which is already facing a strong anti-incumbency. It also appears to have weakened CM Nitish Kumar’s hold over the EBC-Mahadalit votes, a good chunk of which is seemingly backing the Opposition alliance.

In addition, the consolidation of the much talked-about M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) equation is said to be emerging as a crucial support base for the RJD-Congress-Left alliance. The additional support from the EBC and Dalit communities is another advantage the alliance will have.

The Lok Janshakti Party (LJP)’s decision to go solo and contest every seat where the JD-U has a candidate is certain to impact the CM’s prospects, eating into its Dalit vote base.

A Tacit Alliance

According to political analysts and on-ground assessment, the Mahagathbandhan may secure seats well above the majority mark (122 seats), with the JD-U likely to sink and the BJP strengthening its position in the NDA.

Experts believe that the BJP wants the same as its sole aim appears to be to get rid of the JD-U by increasing its presence in the state. The saffron party has successfully discredited CM Nitish Kumar among the voters for his failures.

People from every nook and cranny in the state hold Nitish Kumar – who should be credited for road construction, ensuring electricity supply and improving the law and order situation in the state in the first 10 years of his government – responsible for not meeting their expectations. No one is questioning the BJP for the same. Even when one asks why the BJP should be help responsible for the failures of the Bihar government, people — especially those from the “upper castes” — come to the rescue of the saffron party, arguing that Nitish always “downplayed” the BJP and did not implement Central schemes.

It is true that that the Mahagathbandhan has had an upper hand so far and Tejashwi Yadav successfully made unemployment, migration, mass exodus of migrant labourers and de-industrialisation election discourse, which the NDA is finding difficult to counter,” Anil Kumar Roy, a political analyst associated with the Association for Study and Action, told NewsClick. He agreed that the BJP was not fighting the election to form the government but to make itself stronger for a solo bid in the future.

Discrediting Nitish Kumar will help the BJP, which already enjoys support of the ‘upper castes’. Aligning with the VIP and HAM will help it find a support base in the EBC and Mahadalit communities. BJP leaders know that their party won’t be able to form the government if the JD-U gets weaker. Despite knowing the fact, it is making all effort to ensure the JD-U does not get a good share of seats. It indicates that the part is eyeing the future, not this election,” he explained.

He added that making unemployment a poll issue is visibly bearing results and that the Mahagathbandhan seems to be in a good position.

The unemployment rate in Bihar in 2018/19, according to a survey conducted by the Periodic Labour Force was reportedly recorded at 10.2%, almost double the national average of 5.8%. The same survey suggested that only 10.4% of the people in Bihar had a salaried job against the national average of 23.8%.

In 2011-12, the number of people in Bihar with a salaried job was 5.8%; the number was 13.1%. However, it declined to 10.4% in 2018-19. Bihar tops the country with the highest percentage of migrations taking place every year.

Around 31% of those in the 15-29 age group were unemployed in Bihar in 2018-19, as compared to 17% nationally, shows government data. More recent job surveys by the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), too show that while India has been in a bad shape, Bihar has been worse.

According to the 2011 census, 32.3% percent people in Bihar migrated to other parts of the country for jobs and employment, followed by Odisha at 31.5%.

Professor Mohammad Sajjad, who teaches at the Aligarh Muslim University and is a noted columnist, also shared the same analysis, predicting that the Opposition alliance is likely to get silent votes from several EBC and Mahadalit communities.

He also pointed out the other possible scenario: a hung assembly, no party with a majority. He said the LJP has a history of turning the tables on its national-level alliance partner and making it eat humble pie.

The BJP is trying to repeat what happened in the February 2005 elections, when the LJP had emerged a spoiler by bagging 29 seats. Because of the fractured mandate, re-elections in October 2005 diminished the overwhelming sway Lalu Prasad had over Bihar politics since the early ’90s,” he said.

Back then, the LJP had decided to contest against the RJD while continuing to remain part of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Congress-led ruling coalition at the Centre.

The LJP had fielded its candidates against all178 RJD candidates, but did not pit itself against the Congress. The elections ultimately threw up a fractured mandate, with the RJD becoming the single- largest party which was far from the majority.

The LJP is said to have taken the position because of the tussle for the Railway Ministry. Both Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad wanted the portfolio during the UPA, which had come to power in 2004 after toppling the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA. Then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose Yadav for the post. Ram Vilas Paswan was given the Chemicals and Fertilisers portfolio. He waited for an opportunity to strike back and got it in the 2005 elections.

However, at the same time, Sajjad said that the pro-poor consolidation may benefit the Mahagathbandhan. “Only time will tell if this consolidation translates into votes for the Grand Alliance. If it happens, the RJD-Congress-Left alliance will surely be able to form the new government. Despite ruling for the past 15 years, the JD-U is trying to seek votes on the misses of the Lalu-Rabri, era. It is certainly not wooing people, especially the youth for whom the ruling dispensation failed to create job opportunities,” he added.

The youth need jobs and the Mahagathbandhan successfully led with saying that the Bihar government has around 4.5 lakh vacancies which have not been filled. He also pointed out that Mahagathbandhan might get a chunk of Bhumihar votes because of the Congress, since the community thinks that the BJP won’t give them a fair share if the JD-U sinks.

At the same, both analysts equivocally said that the Opposition is not raising other concerns, which it should have done. “The larger issues about the survival of democracy, such as independence of judiciary and government institutions, are not being raised by the Opposition,” said Roy. Sajjad said issues such as land, liquor, stone and sand mafia taking over the government is not being projected by the Opposition.

The three-phase elections in Bihar begin on October 28, when 71 constituencies will go to polls. In the second phase, polling will be held in 94 assembly seats while the third and final phase has 78 seats. Counting of votes will take place on November 10.

The term of the Bihar Assembly comes to an end on November 29.

According to the poll panel, there are 7.29 crore voters in the state, including 3.85 crore male and 3.4 crore female voters and 1.6 lakh service voters.

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