NAGPUR, Maharashtra — As Bihar is set to become the first Indian state to go for polls during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the political future of many prominent politicians also hangs in balance.
The Election Commission of India on Thursday announced that the Bihar assembly elections will be held in three phases on October 28, November 3 and November 7, with counting on November 11.
Here’s what this crucial election means for some top contenders and parties in Bihar.
Chief of Janata Dal (United) Nitish Kumar is going into this election following a 15-year long rule and five stints as the Bihar chief minister. After an internal BJP survey indicated he faced massive anti-incumbency, some BJP leaders began saying that this assembly election should be contested with prime minister Narendra Modi as the face of the NDA alliance.
However, BJP president JP Nadda and union home minister Amit Shah have, on more than one occasion in the last one year, reiterated that this election will be contested under Nitish Kumar’s leadership.
To battle anti-incumbency, Nitish Kumar has come up with a unique ploy, asking the people of Bihar to compare his 15-year long rule with the Lalu Prasad Yadav led Rashtriya Janata Dal’s 15-year rule before him.
“Pandrah Saal Banam Pandrah Saal” and “Bihar Me Vikas Ho, Nitish Kumar Ho” are some of the slogans coined by the JDU for this election.
Nitish Kumar has an edge over his rivals and alliance partners when it comes to image.
The politician has carefully and successfully coined and maintained his image as a “development man” in the last 15 years. The absence of his archrival Lalu Prasad Yadav and squabbling among Lalu’s sons and RJD leaders is also likely to work in his favour.
A year ago, Nitish looked weak in alliance with the BJP. His party refused to become a part of the Modi cabinet when it was offered only one berth. For almost six months after the Lok Sabha election, Nitish Kumar was silent.
But after BJP lost back-to-back assembly elections in different states following its massive win Lok Sabha election in 2019, Nitish was back in action once again.
He even sided with the opposition RJD while passing an unanimous resolution against NRC in the Bihar assembly earlier this year which had left many in the BJP embarrassed and angry.
When ally LJP’s chief and Ram Vilas Paswan’s son, Chirag Paswan began criticising his government, Nitish Kumar had former Bihar CM Jitan Ram Manjhi defect to NDA from the grand alliance.
Now, every criticism of Nitish Kumar by LJP leaders is being countered by Manjhi and his partymen.
According to some JDU sources, Nitish is also thinking of giving BJP more seats than the JDU on the condition that it accommodates LJP in its quota which will ultimately mean JDU contests more seats than the BJP.
Lalu Prasad Yadav and Tejaswi Yadav
The Rashtriya Janata Dal is again faced with the prospect of contesting an election with its chief Lalu Prasad Yadav in jail. In Lalu’s absence, his youngest son Tejaswi will lead RJD and its grand alliance with Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Vikassheel Insan Party Read in this election.
But internal squabbles inside Lalu’s family and the party have already begun. Despite being in jail, Lalu Prasad is clearly not out of the game as seen from the hoards of vehicles outside the hospital he is staying at in Ranchi.
During the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Lalu’s elder son Tej Pratap had rebelled against his own party after some of his loyalists were denied tickets. For now, Tej Pratap appears to be standing strong in support of Tejaswi but it will be interesting to see if this bonhomie remains once the tickets are distributed.
The posters that the RJD put up near its party office in Patna clearly show the party’s intention keeping Tejashwi Yadav as the face of the party and the grand alliance. Some of these posters did not even have Lalu Yadav’s photo on it.
But things are far from calm in the grand alliance with many senior leaders including those in the RJD not completely comfortable with the way Tejashwi Yadav runs things.
RJD’s founder member Raghuvansh Prasad Singh’s resignation letter to Lalu three days before his death indicated that the old generation leaders of the RJD were being sidelined in the party. In his letter, whose veracity was contested by RJD leaders, Singh had said he was leaving the party due to its feudalism, nepotism, casteism, and improper distribution of party positions.
After Jitan Ram Manjhi’s exit, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP had also been dropping hints that it might consider leaving the grand alliance. The final decision will be taken at the party’s national executive meeting on Friday.
The Congress, however, is likely to stick to the RJD in the absence of any feasible options.
Bharatiya Janata Party
BJP was the first party to begin its campaign for this assembly election with the union home minister Amit Shah holding virtual rallies from June.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already announced a slew of projects and schemes for the state in the last one week and some BJP leaders have gone to the extent of saying that the election will be contested under his leadership of the PM, clearly making its ally JDU anxious.
The party has also sent former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis to manage this election in Bihar.
With backward class welfare still the main theme of Bihar politics, BJP is again likely to play a second fiddle to Nitish Kumar but secretly many BJP leaders concede that the post-election scenario might change depending on the seats won by both the parties.
For the saffron party, it may be a game of wait and watch. BJP had not reacted when the Bihar assembly had earlier this year unanimously passed a resolution against the National Register of Citizens and National Population Register, the first NDA state to do so.
Ram Vilas Paswan
The seasoned Dalit politician has now handed over the baton to his son and Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan. Chirag has not been letting go of any opportunity to criticise the Nitish Kumar government, be it the collapse of a bridge or deteriorating law and order in the state.
The Bihar unit of the LJP has been urging Chirag to put up candidates in 143 of the total 243 seats in the state assembly.
But many believe that Chirag Paswan’s outbursts are just to corner more assembly seats in the seat sharing arrangement within the NDA. The Paswans are also sulking over the LJP getting no no representation in the Nitish Kumar cabinet for over a year now.
Nitish Kumar’s outreach to Dalits in the run-up to the election and the induction of a combative Manjhi in NDA suggests the Bihar CM is in no mood to entertain the Paswans.
It would be interesting to see if Chirag decides to accept the seats allotted to LJP by Nitish Kumar and BJP. For now Chirag has said that he is firmly with the BJP.
The grand old party must once again be content with playing second fiddle to the RJD in Bihar. It won 27 out of 41 seats it contested in 2015 elections but then tied up with a formidable combine of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar. This time, the party has no other choice but to go into the election with the RJD and expect a respectable number of seats to contest.