After coming to power with a thumping majority in 2014, Bihar turned out to be the first major loss for BJP president Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the BJP was routed by Lalu Prasad Yadav-Nitish Kumar combine in the 2015 assembly elections.
However, situation has changed in the last three years—Kumar is back in an alliance with BJP whereas Prasad is lodged in a jail outside his state.
In 2014, BJP had won 22 of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar while its ally Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party and RLSP had won 6 and 3 seats respectively. The JD(U) was reduced to 2 seats and Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) to 4 seats.
The exit polls for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have predicted a somewhat similar outcome in Bihar again.
Bihar is set to go for assembly elections in November next year and this Lok Sabha election is likely to decide if the generational shift ushered in by Lalu Prasad Yadav by promoting his son Tejashwi Yadav was a right move.
Kumar, who now rules the state with BJP, was unusually silent throughout this election whereas his trusted aide Prashant Kishor focused his energies on Andhra Pradesh rather than on Bihar.
Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family saw an open rebellion during the 2019 polls. His elder son Tej Pratap had expressed displeasure over the selection of candidates by his younger brother Tejashwi.
BJP wasn’t untouched by controversies either. Senior leader and union minister Giriraj Singh was also upset over the change of his Lok Sabha seat. He was denied a ticket from Nawada, the seat he won in 2014, and was instead fielded from Begusarai.
The saffron party displayed a great level of pragmatism in Bihar when it ceded 17 seats to the JD(U) and six seats to LJP despite winning 22 seats in the previous election. BJP is contesting only on 17 seats this election, an indication that it was open to accommodate its allies.
Kanhaiya Kumar: The former JNU student’s union leader, who most eloquently articulated the rising societal disaffection with Modi and the BJP’s authoritarianism in his rousing 2016 speech about Azaadi, is the CPI candidate from Begusarai Lok Sabha seat in Bihar.
He is pitted against Giriraj Singh. With around two lakh base votes for the CPI, his local credentials and Dalit-Muslim votes, Kanhaiya is hoping to win from this upper caste Bhumihar-dominated seat. However, both Kanhaiya and Singh hail from Bhumihar community whose vote is likely to get split between them. It was Kanhaiya’s candidature which made Begusarai one of the most keenly watched seat in this election from Bihar.
Jitan Ram Manjhi: The Dalit leader, who became the chief minister of Bihar for a short term between 2014 to 2015, is contesting from Gaya Lok Sabha seat on a Hindustan Awami Morcha ticket. HAM is a part of the RJD-led grand alliance in the state. He is pitted against JD(U)’s Vijay Kumar Manjhi. Jitan Ram Manjhi’s candidature is tactically important as it challenges the Mahadalit vote base of Nitish Kumar.
Chirag Paswan: The son and heir apparent of LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan is contesting from reserved Jamui Lok Sabha seat in the state this election. Chirag Paswan is seeking his re-election from Jamui, a seat he won by 86,000 votes in 2014. Chirag Paswan is now a de facto leader of the LJP and was instrumental in forcing the BJP to cede a considerable number of seats to his party during seat-sharing negotiations last year.
Pataliputra: This constituency is witnessing a keen contest between Lalu Prasad Yadav’s eldest daughter Misa Bharati and his once-trusted aide and now a BJP leader Ram Kripal Yadav. Ram Kripal shifted loyalties on the eve of the election in 2014 and contested from this seat on a BJP ticket. He ended up defeating Misa Bharati, the RJD candidate, effectively ending the possibilities of her becoming the successor of Lalu Prasad Yadav. The win margin in 2014 on this seat was only around 40,000 and the Pataliputra is likely to witness a similar close contest again this time.
Sasaram: This Lok Sabha seat from Bihar is well known as it was represented by senior Congress leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjeevan Ram for eight terms. His daughter and first woman speaker of Lok Sabha, Meira Kumar, represented it for two terms before being defeated in 2014 by 63,000 votes by BJP’s Chhedi Paswan. Kumar is again locked in a battle with Chhedi Paswan in Sasaram this year.
Saran: This Lok Sabha seat has attracted everyone’s attention as Tejashwi Yadav fielded his elder brother Tej Pratap’s father-in-law Chandrika Rai. Tej Pratap has filed for divorce from Rai’s daughter Aishwarya, a decision still to be approved by Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family. Tej Pratap openly campaigned against his own party and Rai when Tejashwi refused to budge. BJP has fielded former minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy from this seat. Rudy had defeated Lalu Prasad Yadav’s wife and former Bihar Chief Minister Rabri Devi from this seat by over 40,000 votes in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Shatrughan Sinha: The former BJP leader joined the Congress this year and the party fielded him from Patna Sahib Lok Sabha seat against his old friend and senior BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad. Sinha had won from this seat in 2014 by a margin of over 2,65,000 votes and by over 1,65,000 votes in 2009.
He has emerged as one of the biggest critics of Modi in the last four years but the party chose not to act against this popular Bollywood star. Sinha might have been the best choice again this election but a lack of Congress machinery and organisation on the ground means it’s no match for the well-oiled election machinery of the BJP.
Sharad Yadav: The former national president of Janata Dal (United) is now contesting from Madhepura Lok Sabha seat on an RJD ticket. Sharad Yadav drifted away from Nitish Kumar after he dumped RJD and formed the government with BJP in 2017. Sharad Yadav then formed his Rashtriya Janata Dal (Lok Tantrik) and became a part of a larger opposition alliance against BJP. However, he is contesting this election on the RJD’s symbol which has fuelled speculation that he might merge his party with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s party. Yadav is contesting against JDU’s Dinesh Chandra Yadav but the bigger headache for him this election has been the candidature of RJD rebel and former MP Rajesh Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav who has made this fight a triangular contest.