Before Phase 2 Polling in Bihar Ends, Who’s Ahead – RJD+ or NDA?
With a week to go for the Bihar poll results, here are 6 things that we know for sure and 6 things that we don’t.
The Bihar Assembly elections have been nothing less than a roller-coaster and the verdict from pundits has shifted from "one-sided NDA win" to "Tejashwi Yadav surge" to now some saying "don't underestimate Nitish Kumar."
As Bihar votes for the second phase of polling on Tuesday, 3 November, this article will try and look at where the battle currently stands. There are three questions about the Bihar elections that we will try to answer:
- What assumptions can we be sure about?
- What are the variables we need to watch out for?
- What are the battle lines in the second phase of polling?
Six Things We Can Be Sure About
- There is a deep anti-incumbency sentiment against Nitish Kumar.
- This sentiment is strongest among the youth, especially with jobs being the biggest issue in the elections.
- Tejashwi Yadav's popularity has increased in the past six weeks, as the campaign has progressed.
- The BJP and RJD remain the strongest parties on the ground – this is both in terms of the vote base as well as their organisational strength.
- The LJP is harming the NDA much more than the Mahagathbandhan, especially in seats where it is putting up Upper Caste candidates against the JD(U).
- Other smaller parties are harming both NDA and Mahagathbandhan in varying degrees across different seats.
Six Variables We Need to Watch Out For
1. How solid is the BJP's base?
There is an entire range of possibilities here:
- BJP is not only holding on to its own base, it is also transferring it effectively to the JD(U) and other allies.
- BJP is doing well in its own seats, but isn't effectively transferring it to allies, especially with the LJP pulling away a major chunk of these votes.
- BJP is suffering due to Nitish's anti-incumbency in its own seats as well but is still doing better than JD(U).
- The anger on unemployment and migrant crisis hits both BJP and JD(U) equally badly and both are suffering an erosion of votes.
2. Is Tejashwi moving beyond the core RJD base of Yadavs and Muslims?
There are two possibilities here:
- The enthusiasm for Tejashwi is nothing but the core RJD vote of Muslims and Yadavs consolidating behind him. There's little or no shift from NDA to Mahagathbandhan.
- Tejashwi's jobs pitch and the larger anti-incumbency has enabled the Mahagathbandhan to win anti-Nitish votes across caste lines.
3. Is there a silent JD(U) vote?
Two possibilities here:
- The people vocally speaking against Nitish are mainly RJD's Yadav voters and BJP's Upper Caste voters, Nitish has retained support among Extremely Backward Castes, Mahadalits and women. Being non-dominant sections, this vote is relatively silent.
- Nitish has lost support across caste and gender lines.
4. How is the transfer of votes within the respective alliances?
The question of BJP’s transfer of votes to its allies has already been discussed. The RJD is likely to transfer its votes effectively. Questions have been raised over the Congress’ capacity to transfer its votes, especially with the CSDS survey claiming that only 47 percent “traditional Congress voters” saying that they plan to vote for the Mahagathbandhan.
5. Who are smaller parties harming more?
This could differ on a seat by seat basis. While Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samata Party is said to be harming the Janata Dal (United) more by eating into its Koeri/Kushwaha base, its alliance partner the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen may harm the Mahagathbandhan more while also harming the JD(U).
The LJP's Upper Caste candidates are mostly harming the JD(U) but its Dalit and Muslim candidates could harm the Mahagathbandhan as well.
6. How Seat-Wise Contests Play Out
This is a multi-polar election and the margin of victory is likely to be small in many seats. The most straightforward contests may in fact be ones in which the BJP and RJD are facing each other, as both are organisationally strong parties with a well defined core base.
But it is the other contests which may play a more important role. Particularly interesting would be seats in which the JD(U) is up against Upper Caste candidates of both LJP and Congress.
Who Upper Caste voters choose in such seats could well determine the election.
The Battle Lines in Phase Two
Now, with these questions in mind, let's look at the second phase.
- As many as 94 seats spread across 17 districts will be voting on 3 November.
- The districts going for polls in the second phase are Gopalganj, East Champaran, Siwan, Saran, Muzaffarpur, Sheohar, Vaishali, Patna, Nalanda, Samastipur, Begusarai, Khagaria and Bhagalpur, West Champaran, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Darbhanga and Nalanda.
- Except Patna, Nalanda and Bhagalpur, all the districts are north of the river Ganga.
- Compared to the first phase, the NDA is said to be more confident about the second phase mainly because the concentration of Upper Caste voters is higher in some of the areas going to vote.
- The BJP is contesting three more seats than the JD(U) in this phase. The JD(U) had contested more in the previous phase.
- Unlike the last phase in which the biggest chunk of seats saw a contest between JD(U) and RJD – 24 in all – this phase will see a higher number of 'RJD vs BJP' contests. In 27 out 94 seats, the BJP and RJD – the two strongest parties in these elections – will be squaring off against each other.
- In many of the seats the main tussle would between an Upper Caste BJP candidate and a Yadav RJD candidate.
- The NDA may be hoping to make up for some of the losses it may have incurred in the first phase and also gain a lead ahead of the third phase in which a higher concentration of Muslim voters may prove to be a challenge for it.
- Several high-profile candidates are in the fray in this phase, including Mahagathbandhan CM face Tejashwi Yadav will be fighting from Raghopur seat and his brother Tej Pratap Yadav from Hassanpur, RJD leaders Alok Kumar Mehta from Ujiarpur and Shailesh Kumar from Bihpur, former MP Anand Mohan's son Chetan Anand is from Sheohar.
- Among state ministers Nandkishore Yadav is contesting from Patna Sahib, Randhir Singh from Madhuban and Shravan Kumar from Nalanda.
- Bankipur in Patna is witnessing a tough contest between three young leaders: Shatrughan Sinha's son Luv Sinha, Nitin Naveen of BJP and Pushpam Priya Choudhary of Plurals Party.
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