Many of the assumptions made about the electoral landscape today appear less well grounded than before
No Assembly election in Bihar can be said to be imbued with deeper political meaning, especially considering the sharp political cleavage which is on view in our national politics, than the three-stage poll for which the first votes are to be cast today. Also, in no other election in recent memory in the state are the challengers being billed to be in with a chance.
This was considered quite inconceivable only a few weeks ago. It was widely believed that opponents of the NDA government of JD(U)-BJP helmed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, try as hard as they might, had no one to project who could even remotely match the CM in leadership qualities.
Governance failures — even on matters as grave as the ruling coalition’s abject failure in dealing with the corona crisis, the return home of lakhs of migrant workers from cities, and the grim economic reality that was self-evident — would be quite simply be forgotten and washed away, it was thought. This derived from the faith showed in analysis that assumed that caste equations were rigid and immutable in Bihar and would favour the incumbents. An important readily accepted factor was that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had the capacity to weave magic at election time, surmounting regional aspects.
It was widely assumed that the people had no agency and would be putty in the hands of the incumbents, succumbing with ease to the grand scheme of the electoral battle laid down by the ruling alliance. This was the fundamental consideration that appeared to lead to the decision that the Assembly election will be held when it became due.
The existence of the pandemic and the floods that hit many parts of Bihar were assigned no weight by decision-makers in fixing the election calendar, sweeping aside the objections advanced by the entire opposition. The Opposition camp seemed weak in every way. It appeared to lack cohesion, leadership and financial resources. This was the reason, it is widely believed, that pleas to defer the polls by a few months were dismissed out of hand.
Many of the assumptions made about the electoral landscape today appear less well grounded than before. The surging crowds that greet the campaign of the Mahagathbandhan — the platform of the RJD-Congress-Left parties, the ruling alliance’s challengers — and in contrast the disarray in the ruling NDA’s electoral effort is now presenting an altogether new aspect of the line-up Bihar that few had thought possible.
The split in the NDA is out in the open. Chirag Paswan’s LJP attacking JD(U) is widely thought to be a game plan in which BJP’s decision-makers were complicit, loud denials notwithstanding. In the last stage of the campaign, BJP posters carry only the PM’s image, not the CM’s.
The message is going out that BJP may aim to have its own CM in Bihar for the first time, dumping Mr Kumar. Mahagathbandhan CM candidate Tejashwi Yadav’s focus on the promise of mass employment, and making no references to identity politics whatsoever, is enjoying a growing reception at the mass level.