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10 major factors that will impact Bihar elections

Amitabh Tiwari
·Columnist
·9-min read

The poll bugle for Bihar has been blown. The electoral process will be completed in two weeks starting October 28 (Phase 1) and culminating on November 10 (Counting Day).

Detailed guidelines have been issued by the Election Commission keeping in mind the coronavirus pandemic. The number of booths will be increased by a third, and restrictions have been placed on rallies and door-to-door campaigning.

While poll alliances are yet to shape up, early opinion polls suggest that the National Democratic Alliance will sweep the elections, with close to two-thirds majority. The Opposition is sorely missing the charismatic RJD supremo Lalu Pradad Yadav, who is languishing in jail. Smaller players like Ram Vilas Paswan and Upendra Kushwaha are proving to be toughs nut to crack, bargaining hard for seats.

Here we explore what are the factors which will impact the outcome of Bihar elections.

1. Leadership Ratings

Leadership ratings is one of the key considerations of many voters. This trend of Presidential style elections has come to the forefront after Modi’s grand victory in 2014 general elections. In Lok Sabha elections 2019, three-fourth of the difference between NDA and UPA votes can be attributed to the Modi factor.

In the state elections, since 2014, we have seen the party whose candidate is the most preferred Chief Ministerial candidate, normally goes on to win the elections. A leadership rating of 40% is usually safe for an incumbent according to my research.

In Bihar, Nitish is the preferred CM candidate of only 30% voters as per C-Voter survey. This is in a dangerous zone, in 2015 it was 40%-45% across polls.

However, if one combines the ratings of other BJP leaders who people want to see as CM like Sushil Modi and Giriraj Singh, then 46% of voters prefer a CM from NDA. On the other hand, MGB leaders Tejashwi along with father Lalu and Tariq Anwar combined are the preferred choice of only 26% voters.

2. Caste Arithmetic

Nitish uprooted Lalu-raj from Bihar through social re-engineering. He created an overarching social coalition of upper caste, non Yadav OBCs and dalits reducing Lalu’s party to MY (Muslim-Yadav) vote bank. The outcome will depend on the ability of Lalu’s son to rebrand Rashtriya Janata Dal and shed its MY tag.

How can it be done? By giving more representation to other caste and community groups. MY doesn’t have much choice but to vote for RJD anyways.

NDA enjoys the support of caste groups which account for 60% of the state population and MGB balance 40%. 75% of support from these vote blocks translates into a vote share of 45% for NDA and 30% for MGB.

RJD needs to make inroads into Dalit and non Yadav OBC votes. As per opinion polls data compiled by Crowdwisdom360, MGB is witnessing gains from these vote blocks.

3. Equation between Nitish and Modi

Nitish and Modi have been political rivals. Nitish nurtured ambition of becoming PM. They were friends turned foe turned friends again. Nitish left NDA when Modi was made campaign committee chief. Modi humbled Nitish in 2014 general elections, with JDU reduced to 2 seats.

Nitish levelled the score in 2015 state elections when he joined hands with bete noir Lalu to defeat Modi at the peak of his popularity. He joined NDA again when plans of grand opposition alliance against Modi for 2019 failed. He took this step to seal his CM seat for 2020.

Now most pundits agree that Nitish popularity is on the wane. Even polls which show NDA sweeping the elections, show his popularity has reduced. While the popularity of the PM remains high post Ram Mandir shilanyas, handling of COVID and the China border row. Nitish now needs the support of the same Modi to bail him out in these elections.

4. COVID and its impact on turnout

The Election Commission has issued guidelines, for Bihar elections, as a precautionary measure, to ensure a safe and secure voting environment during the pandemic. The number of voters per booth will be restricted to 1,000, postal ballots will be provided for senior citizens and COVID-19 patients, separate voting hours will be kept for people with fever symptoms.

Bihar has currently 1.78 lakh covid cases, out of which 13.5 thousand are active. It has a fairly high recovery rate of 92%. Daily around 1.5 thousand cases are getting added, and a similar number are getting recovered. It tests around 1.5 lakh people daily. However, questions are being raised about the nature of tests - antigen or RT-PCR.

Despite measures announced, there is a high probability of low voting or turnout, due to fear of COVID. A low voting is not good news for the opposition. Changes of governments are usually associated with high turnout. A classic example of Gujarat election of 2017 where BJP managed to scrape through helped by lower turnout.

5. Vote ‘katwas’

Independents and smaller parties occupy an important place in Bihar’s political landscape. Many bahubalis have won in the past contesting as independent candidates. Smaller parties like VIP (Mukesh Sahani), HAM (Jiten Ram Manjhi), BSP, SP et cetera cater to only a specific caste group or segment.

They have garnered an average 25% vote share in the 5 decades. They can make or break the chances of any alliance. The Third Front is shaping up in Bihar and if LJP and RLSP join it, then they could become a potent force.

6. Economy (Unemployment & Migrant Crisis)

The pandemic has rendered many people jobless. Around 30-40 lakh migrant workers have returned from other states to Bihar. Small businesses have witnessed an impact on their continuity with many closed permanently.

Of the 53 districts which registered the highest number of migrant labourers returning home, 15 recorded more than one lakh returnees. Of these districts, eight are in Bihar. Unemployment in Bihar was greater (double) than the national rate of 23.5% in April 2020 at 46.6%.

The rollout of NREGS in all districts and Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana have provided some succour. The distribution of free ration is likely to have helped the poor tide over the crisis. However, we all know about our administrative machinery loopholes and leakages.

Claims and counterclaims are galore on this topic. It all boils down to specific individuals / households (HH). Has the HH received the benefit of government schemes?

a) If yes, is it happy with Nitish Kumar’s efforts? If no, is the household angry? Is the anger strong enough to drive household members to vote out Nitish?

b) If no, will the HH vote out Nitish in anger? Or does it consider Nitish / Modi as still the best bet to survive this crisis?

7. Women Turnout

Bihar is the only state where turnout for female voters is higher than that of male voters. Female turnout stood at 59.92 per cent as against 55.26 per cent for men in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This is primarily due to the popular schemes of cycle distribution and the prohibition decision of Nitish.

Modi’s Ujjwala Yojana is also quite popular among women of the state. This has resulted in higher female participation. Even in terms of total votes polled, women are almost equal men.

A high turnout among females is good news for NDA. One of the reasons why female turnout is higher is the fact that many migrant workers have their families in Bihar while they work outside their state. And, from these households women vote. Now, many migrants have come back. So it may not be that easy for female turnout to have a higher differential of 5% (60%-55%) versus men.

“Given the BJP's poor performance in constituencies with high Muslim proportions, an increased Hindu women voting turnout in constituencies with higher Muslim proportions may have a significant impact on the election in Bihar,” says Subhash Chandra, CEO of Crowdwisdom360.

8. Decision of LJP to be part of NDA

As per news reports, Paswan’s LJPis unhappy with the number of seats being offered to it. It is planning to contest all seats on which JDU will put up its candidates. Chirag and Nitish have been involved in a verbal duel for quite some time now with Nitish saying JDU doesn’t have an alliance with LJP, but only with BJP. BJP should give it seats from its quota.

LJP has good support among Dalits which are 5% of the state's population. LJP contesting separately could damage NDA prospects as it takes a straight 5%-6% from its vote share. JDU could face the heat in seats where dalits have a sizable presence. This could weaken JDU’s strike rate. If it gets far less seats than BJP, then the party may rethink its decision of backing Nitish as CM for the 4th time.

9. People voting to elect CM or MLA

When people go out to vote, are more people going out to vote to elect a CM or are more people going out to vote to elect a MLA? This is one of the key questions which would determine the outcome of elections. NDA has been in power for the last 15 years, and many of its MLAs are in their 2nd or 3rd term. It is very natural to develop some sort of anti-incumbency against them.

People might like Modi or even Nitish, but they may be unhappy with MLA. Some voters may feel NDA is winning anyways, but the local MLA needs to be taught a lesson. So they vote out the NDA nominee but want and are confident that Nitish will come back.

If this tendency spreads to many constituencies it could spell danger for NDA. Something of a similar nature happened with Shivraj in Madhya Pradesh in 2018. Voters will keep a close eye on the number of MLAs denied tickets by both NDA as well as MGB.

MGB has the highest number of MLAs (80) in the assembly. Since JDU parted ways with RJD in 2017. It fell out of power and its MLAs may not have been able to get their work done, citing non-cooperation from NDA ministers. This could turn out to be problematic for MGB as well.

10. Role of national factors

These two tables from the C-Voter survey would have sent shivers down the BJP think tank. Almost half of respondents rate his performance as poor, while more than half want him to go.

This could force the BJP to contest the elections on national issues. Propagate issues like taking credit for construction of Ram Mandir, abrogation of Article 370, making Triple Talaq illegal, giving a befitting reply to China on the Ladakh standoff, try to play the Hindutva issue with a tadka of nationalism.

However, the Maharashtra and Delhi elections show that less than 10% voters voted on national issues in these state polls. So how does BJP overcome this?

To sum up, a potboiler of an election is on the cards in Bihar. Will Nitish win and join the exclusive club of Modi, Jyoti Babu and Naveen Babu winning a 4th term, or will the young Lalu scion Tejaswi spring a surprise?