The exit polls for the Bihar Assembly elections have predicted a lead for Tejashwi Yadav's Mahagathbandhan over the Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance. While the India Today-Axis Poll and Chanakya predicted an outright victory for the Mahagathbandhan, The CVoter and Jan Ki Baat polls predicted a closer race with the Mahagathbandhan slightly ahead. Only the Dainik Bhaskar poll predicted an NDA victory.
A number of polls suggest that the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist Liberation) or CPI(ML) has emerged as a strong performer within the Mahagathbandhan.
The India Today Axis exit poll predicts that the CPI(ML) could win 12-16 seats out of the 19 it contested. This would mean a strike rate of at least 63-84 percent.
The alliance appears to have worked particularly well in the CPI(ML)'s core area of influence – Bhojpur. According to the Axis survey, the Mahagathbandhan could win 33 out of 49 seats in this region which is about two-thirds of the total number of seats.
According to the survey, this is also the region where the Mahagathbandhan's lead over the NDA is highest at 12 percentage points.
This article will try to answer the following questions.
- What does the CPI(ML) bring to the Mahagathbandhan?
- How has the alliance worked on the ground? Were there any hitches?
- Will CPI(ML) join the government if Mahagathbandhan does come to power?
To help understand the CPI(ML)'s perspective, The Quint also spoke to N Sai Balaji, national president of the party’s students' wing All India Students Association and former president of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU). He had been actively campaigning for the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar.
What Does CPI(ML) Bring to the Mahagathbandhan?
When RJD's Tejashwi Yadav gave 29 seats to the Left Parties, including 19 to the CPI(ML), many said he had conceded too much. This was especially in contrast to his refusal make any concessions to smaller parties like Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustan Awam Morcha, Mukesh Sahani's Vikassheel Insan Party and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha. While Manjhi and Sahani joined the NDA, Kushwaha formed a separate alliance with the AIMIM and BSP.
Though much smaller than parties like RJD, BJP, JD(U) or even the Congress or LJP in terms of resources, CPI(ML) has one of the strongest cadres in Bihar. Observers say that the huge crowds in Mahagathbandhan rallies weren’t just because of the RJD but also the CPI(ML).
Economic Justice Plank
The Left parties’ presence in Tejashwi's alliance comprising the RJD, Congress, CPI(ML), CPI and CPI(M) was completely in line with his message of economic justice.
"Bihar's youth have been agitating to get vacant government jobs filled, teachers have been demanding equal pay for equal work, workers have been demanding regularisation and proper remuneration, farmers have been demanding MSP at 1.5 times their input costs, the poor have been demanding free and good quality healthcare and schooling. It is these issues that have made it, at least in part, to the 25-point MGB Commitments for Change," AISA president N Sai Balaji said about the Mahagathbandhan's core agenda.
Background in Social Movements
The CPI(ML) also brought with it the support it gained through social movements that it has supported on the ground and this is reflected in some of its candidates.
"Manoj Manzil from Aigaon has been leading Sadak Par School movement in Bhojpur, against unemployment, Shashi Yadav from Digha led midday meal workers, ASHA workers and other working women movements. Sandeep Saurav has been a leader of students' and youth movements for education, employment and democracy," Balaji said.
The high proportion of young candidates in the CPI(ML) like Manoj Manzil, Sandeep Saurav or Aftab Alam also went very well with Tejashwi Yadav's focus on the youth. And this appears to have helped the Mahagathbandhan as most of the surveys give it a sizable lead among the youth as compared to other age groups.
The CPI(ML)'s social base also contributed a great deal to the Mahagathbandhan. In certain pockets, the CPI(ML) is strong among Mahadalits, Yadavs and Extremely Backward Castes.
Observers like Sajjan Kumar and Rajan Pandey point out that the political awakening among Dalits in Bihar didn't come through Amebdkarite politics but through the Left. This is particularly true of the CPI(ML) support among Mushahars and Chamars.
How Has the Alliance Worked on the Ground?
According to Sai Balaji, there has been no difficulty as far as co-ordination and vote transfer within the alliance is concerned.
"There is no issue with vote transfer, in fact the warmth and comradeship among the mass base of the alliance partners on the ground is palpable," he said.
"In the Lok Sabha polls, we all saw that the opposition crossed 4 lakh votes only in 4 Bihar constituencies - one where RJD had supported ML and three where ML had supported RJD. That gave a strong message about the need for the CPI(ML) and RJD to explore a serious alliance," he added.
On being asked about ideological differences between the Mahagathbandhan parties, he said, "The differences are well-known and acknowledged. The alliance is not seeking to deny those differences. The alliance is born from a recognition that the BJP and NDA represent forces that are dangerous for democracy. Ordinary people of Bihar sense and recognise this, and that's why the alliance was popularly demanded".
According to him, the 2020 Mahagathbandhan is more ideologically consistent than the 2015 one.
"Our cadres and voters are convinced of the need for an anti-Fascist alliance that is more ideologically and politically consistent and committed than the 2015 Mahagathbandhan of RJD and JD(U).”
Will CPI(ML) Join the Government if MGB Wins?
If the exit polls are true, the CPI(ML) could well end up with its best tally ever in Bihar. Its highest tally so far has been seven seats in the 2005 February election.
It may also give the party its first ever chance to be part of the government if the Mahagathbandhan wins a clear majority. But it remains to be seen if the CPI(ML) joins the government in such an eventuality.
On being asked if his party would join the government, Sai Balaji said, “CPI(ML) is right now committed to defeating the anti-people NDA and ensure that Mahagathbandhan wins. We'll take a call on joining government after the election. Needless to say, we will actively help and support the government and work to ensure that the MGB is able to keep its commitments to people”.