Bihar Election Phase 1: Main Question Is, Will NDA Voters Turn Up?

JD(U)‘s 2 main problems: most of its contests are against RJD and it has to face several upper-caste LJP candidates.

Updated
Politics
4 min read
In the world’s first biggest electoral exercise amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Bihar is all set to go to polls in three phases in October and November.
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The first phase of polling for the Bihar Assembly elections begins on 28 October, with votes being cast in 71 out of the state's 243 constituencies.

This article will examine three things:

  • The latest developments that have taken place on the eve of polling
  • The area that goes to vote in phase one and its distinct political realities
  • The main question in this phase and the election as a whole – can JD(U) buck anti-incumbency?

Even though campaigning ended on 26 October, the political tussle only intensified mainly due to three events.

Three Latest Developments

Police Target Durga Puja Procession in Munger

The Janata Dal (United) faced flak for the death of a man in police firing at a Durga idol immersion procession in Munger.

The embarrassment was all the more because the Superintendent of Police in the district - Lipi Singh - happened to be the daughter of senior JD(U) MP RCP Singh.

The JD(U) faced flak not just from the Opposition but also from Hindutva outfits.

Nitish’s Below-the-Belt Attack on Rabri Devi

CM Nitish Kumar faced a great deal of flak after a video of him mocking former CM Rabri Devi for having children surfaced. He made these comments at a rally.

RJD's Tejashwi Yadav, however, desisted from replying to Nitish Kumar in the same coin. Instead he said, "He is our elder, even his criticism is like a blessing for us. His comments only show that he is tired," Tejashwi said, reiterating the "Nitish Kumar thak chuke hain" line that he has been using throughout the campaign.

NDA Slams Tejashwi’s Babusaheb Remark

However, the NDA criticised Tejashwi for a comment he made at a rally: "Remember Lalu ji's time when poor people could stand confidently in from of Babusaheb". Now, Babusaheb is a term used for the Rajput community in Bihar.

The NDA accused Tejashwi of targeting one caste. The NDA hopes that this would push Upper Caste voters to turn up in large numbers and also prevent leakage to to LJP.

It remains to be seen whether these three incidents have any impact on the elections.

Which Areas Vote in Phase 1?

The first phase of polling will cover the southern part Bihar, with a slightly heavier concentration in the south west. Region wise this would be the Magadh and Bhojpur regions.

The southwestern districts also have a history of atrocities against Dalits by privileged castes. This region also witnessed violence between the Ranvir Sena and ultraleft outfits.

The areas voting in phase one have a history of privilege caste atrocities against Dalits.

The concentration of Dalits is comparatively high in this region compared to other parts of the state and the proportion of Muslims is comparatively lower.

The NDA's aim would be to concentrate privileged caste votes and hope that CM Nitish Kumar and Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha would ensure some Mahadalit support for it.

The Mahagathbandhan this time includes the Left Parties, of which the CPI-ML is the strongest. It is particularly influential in this region and has some support among Mahadalits.

So, while the NDA may use Tejashwi's "Babusaheb" remark to consolidate Upper Castes, the Mahagathbandhan's calculations here are largely based on the support of Yadavs, Muslims and Dalits.

This is also the most important phase for the Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party as many of its main areas of influence, including the Assembly segments falling under Chirag's Lok Sabha seat Jamui, will be voting in this phase.

Can NDA Retain Its Votes?

LJP's presence in particular poses a threat to the JD(U). In this phase, over 40 percent of LJP's candidates are from privileged castes, most of them against the JD(U).

JD(U), on the other hand, has only fielded Upper Castes in a fourth of its seats in this phase.

So, the transfer of BJP's Upper Caste votes to the JD(U) could be hampered in seats where the LJP has put up Upper Caste candidates while JD(U) hasn't.

JD(U) faces two problems in this phase: most of its contests are against the RJD and it also has to face a high number of Upper Caste LJP candidates.

There's another problem for the JD(U). In 24 out of 35 seats it is contesting in this phase, it will be up against the RJD, which is the strongest of the Mahagathbandhan parties.

With Tejashwi making an impact during the campaign, core RJD voters sniff a chance of him becoming the CM and therefore they would be working extra hard to ensure that their voters turn up.

The JD(U), in comparison, is facing anti-incumbency. As a result, the enthusiasm of its supporters and more so of BJP supporters in JD(U) seats might be lower.

The turnout in the JD(U) seats needs to be closely watched and could give an indication of which way the election is swaying. COVID-19 fears could also have an impact on the turnout, especially in urban areas.

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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