Today may just be the best day for the NDA in Bihar, but it may not be enough to bring them cheer on 8 November, when the results are out.
Travelling in the areas that went to polls in Bihar’s first three phases, you get a certain uniform sense of the ground--there’s praise
for Nitish Kumar’s development work, growing disenchantment with Narendra Modi, and a backward-forward caste alignment. That’s why when you are surprised when you enter the areas polling today, the 4th and second-last phase of these long-drawn assembly polls.
Voting is currently under way in 55 seats across seven districts: Muzaffarpur, East Champaran, West Champaran, Sitamarhi, Sheohar, Gopalganj and Siwan. North-west of Patna, this is the BJP’s stronghold in Bihar.
It was in Muzaffarpur that Prime Minster Modi launched his campaign for the Bihar elections on 26 July. It was recently in Raxaul in East Champaran that BJP president Amit Shah attempted a Hindu-Muslim polarization quite openly by saying that the BJP losing Bihar would have Pakistan burst crackers.
Travelling through Muzaffarpur, East and West Champaran recently, one found even the odd Yadav and Kurmi calling themselves kamal-chaap--lotus voters. In other areas of Bihar you can meet Musaharas, Jitan Ram Manjhi’s caste, saying they’d vote for Nitish Kumar. In Muzaffarpur, the NDA’s caste coalition is working well.
That is why the BJP is contesting 41 of the 55 seats polling today, giving only 14 seats to its allies in the state.
The EBCs largely seem with the BJP, for two reasons. Firstly, a populous EBC community--the Nishads who’ve traditionally lived by the river--are enamoured of Mukesh Sahni, the Nishad leader who has supported the BJP. Calling himself ‘Son of Mallah’, Sahni switched sides from the Grand Alliance to the BJP. His impact on the Nishad community across Bihar is limited, but Muzaffarpur is his home turf.
These are also areas where there seems to be a greater memory of Lalu Yadav’s infamous “Jungle Raj” era from 1990-2005. People here say they suffered lawlessness and Yadav raj more than those south of the Ganga. Lalu Yadav’s RJD is contesting 26 of the 55 seats in this area, and has given many tickets to its core Yadav supporters, thereby further alienating the EBCs.
Yet that’s not enough. What about Nitish Kumar’s development work that you hear about in other places, south of the Ganga and also in north-east Bihar which will vote on 5 November? And what about the rising prices of dal, the reduced cash flow in the Indira Awas Yojna and so on?
In other parts of Bihar, people tell you the joke about how “Har har Modi” has become “Arhar Modi”. In Muzaffarpur, if you ask people about rising prices, they show you the poor condition of the road.
Part of the reason for this aberration is that there is greater Hindu-Muslim polarisation here than in other areas, and it affects
backward castes too. These areas have a long history of organizational work by the RSS.
It might also help the BJP that the CPI(ML) also counts this area as its historical stronghold in Bihar, and will cut votes of the Grand
Alliance, especially amongst Yadavs, EBCs and Dalits.
Analysis by the Democracy Data Blog shows that if the Lok Sabha performance was converted into assembly seats, adding up the new alliances, the NDA would win 40 of the 55 seats polling today.
Phase 4 super critical for BJP in Bihar and nothing less than a clean sweep would be enough.. hers why pic.twitter.com/xEP4EfkfP9
— democracydatablog (@democracydblog) October 29, 2015
However, if Phase 4 is the bastion of the BJP, then the last and final phase 5, is equally a bastion of the Grand Alliance.
Contact HuffPost India
Also on HuffPost: