Dance Of Democracy – Bihar, The Battle, The Calculations, The Aspirations, And ‘Caste’

Just before the first phase of the Bihar Assembly Elections, an opinion poll conducted by Times Now-CVoter gave 147 seats out of the 243-member assembly to the BHP-JD(U) alliance. It seemed as if the opposition, despite trying to hone in on the anti-incumbency, was merely limping along.

However, there has been a gradual, but quite a pertinent change in the mood of the elections. If reports from the ground are to be believed, the Mahagatbandhan (an alliance of the Congress and RJD) have gained considerable ground and this coupled with the lethargy the voters have felt with the leadership of Nitish Kumar as the CM face, has made this a rather interesting fight.

When Narendra Modi absolutely trounced the opposition in the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, people said that while it may be good for the BJP, the situation is far from ideal for any democracy. And this is why the scenario in Bihar is so intriguing – Tejashwi Yadav has brought a lot of energy, Chirag Paswan has been extremely critical of the incumbent government and the ‘sushashan babu’ tag of Nitish Kumar have frittered away. All this make it one of the most closely fought elections in recent times, and amid the Corona pandemic, Bihar once again makes for compelling viewing.

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“We have seen a considerable shift in the way the NDA is now tackling the election. On the face of it, they are fighting it under Nitish Kumar’s leadership, but there are massive advertisements and posters and placards with PM Modi’s face on it. It seems as if, the alliance is trying to pit Modi against Tejashwi and they have asked the voters to choose. If the opposition keeps up the attack on the chief minister and does not try to take on Modi personally, we might be in for a result which might well be a surprise,” a reporter, who is Bhagalpur, said.

“Look, it also showcases the growing aspirations of citizens, the perennial economic distress Bihar is always under and for people who were middle and upper-middle class, they want a better standard of living. And while Nitish has something to show on a range of public goods — particularly infrastructure and law and order, he has failed to drill home the fact that he will be able to give Biharis a solid job, good income and reforms that will alleviate them. Perhaps, this is why we see Modi’s face all across the state, as the prime minister is widely considered to be a reformist,” he went on to add.

The caste dynamics

We are in Bihar and for all the talk of jobs, social security, caste still is an overpowering factor. But, there has been a change this season. The NDA has given tickets to Yadavs (they have been loyalists of RJD and the Laloo Prasad Yadav camp), the RJD which is in alliance with the Congress has given tickets to upper castes, who have always been seen as BJP voters.

In elections, there will always be room for social engineering, but what is happening in Bihar is very encouraging. Political parties are willing to go over and beyond their ‘trusted voters’ and voters want more options and do not want to be pigeonholed to only party or ideology. Previous governance, previous arithmetic do not matter, all they want is what the future holds and how they can shape this future.