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Bihar Elections: Has Tejashwi Yadav Turned the Battle Around?

Tejashwi Yadav’s jobs pitch is helping him draw huge crowds. BJP’s Nityanand Rai has challenged him to a debate.

Updated
Politics
6 min read
Image of Tejashwi Yadav used for representational purposes.
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Two interesting developments took place in the Bihar election campaign on Monday, 19 October and both underline one thing.

  1. Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai challenged the Mahagathbandhan’s chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav to a debate.
  2. The BJP from its official twitter handle put out a video that sought to remind voters of what it calls the Jungle Raj during the rule of Tejashwi's father Lalu Prasad.

Both developments reveal that Tejashwi Yadav appears to have slightly shaken the National Democratic Alliance, which till now seemed to be heading towards a clear victory in Bihar.

Rai's challenge in particular can even be seen as an acknowledgement that in the not-so-distant future, the politics of Bihar will revolve around two poles - the BJP and the RJD.

It's clear that what was predicted to be a one-sided Bihar election, has suddenly come alive. And the credit partly goes to a sharp campaign Tejashwi Yadav in the past few weeks.

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This article will try and answer two questions:

  • What's behind Tejashwi Yadav's revival?
  • Can he turn this election around?

Let’s begin with the first. There are three aspects to Tejashwi Yadav’s sudden revival. Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Focus on Jobs

According to CVoter's survey data from October first week, close to 50 percent respondents in Bihar said that unemployment was the most important issue for them in this election. This was an increase of close to 25 percentage points from the survey two weeks ago.

This means that the proportion of people who consider jobs as the main issue doubled in two weeks. It is this sentiment that Tejashwi is trying to tap with a clear campaign focussed on this one issue.

According to CVoter’s survey, nearly 50 percent people in Bihar said that unemployment is the biggest issue for them in this election. This is the vote Tejashwi is trying to tap into.

Every speech he makes and most posters or social media creatives put up for his campaign focus on this one issue.

Tejashwi has made three major promises on this front:

  1. Creation of 10 lakh jobs. According to him, these would mean filling up of 4.5 lakh existing vacancies and 5.5 lakh additional appointments that were required in health, police, education and other departments. He says that that 1.25 lakh new doctors are also needed to fulfill Bihar's healthcare needs and 3 lakh more school teachers as well.
  2. No fees to be charged for government job applications
  3. Giving equal salary for equal work to four lakh teachers.

2. Coherence Within the Alliance

This focus on jobs also dovetails well with Tejashwi's pre-poll alliance with the Congress and the three Left parties - CPI-ML, CPI and CPI-M. The idea of the alliance is to focus on the poor, unemployed and farmers and not so much on specific caste groups.

"The alliance shouldn't be seen as a coalition of caste-groups. Obviously certain caste groups vote for certain parties more than others and that will continue to happen. But the narrative and appeal our alliance should be broader," a strategist involved with Tejashwi's campaign said.

Photo of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav used for representation. 
Photo of Congress President Rahul Gandhi and RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav used for representation. 
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ Tejashwi Yadav)

Apparently, it was this thinking that drove the RJD chief not to concede much to caste-based parties like the Vikassheel Insan Parishad or Rashtriya Lok Samata Party but make concessions to the Congress and Left Parties.

"A coalition of caste parties makes it seem that Tejashwi is just a Yadav leader or, at most, an MY (Muslim and Yadav) leader. That's not the narrative we want to push," the strategist said.

The relatively better co-ordination and ideological coherence within the RJD-led alliance is in sharp contrast to the confusion in the NDA.

Even though the BJP is contesting in alliance with the JD(U) under Nitish Kumar's leadership, it is widely believed that the party is also trying to undercut Kumar with a tacit deal with Chirag Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party.

3. Nitish Kumar’s Unpopularity

Tejashwi's strategists also hope to project another contrast - between the incumbent CM with no new ideas and the a challenger with a clear job plan. Whether they are able to pull off this narrative remains to be seen.

However, it true that there’s a great deal of anti-incumbency against Nitish Kumar. CVoter’s latest survey revealed that 52.5 percent voters are angry with Kumar and want to vote him out. Another 28 percent said that they are angry but don’t want to vote him out. All Tejashwi needs is to get as much of the first category’s votes as possible.

Having said that, Tejashwi is still behind Nitish in the CVoter survey by over 10 percentage points as of now. He appears to be picking up to some extent. Political analyst Amitabh Tiwari pointed out that at least on Google trends, Tejashwi Yadav has caught up with Nitish Kumar.

There’s another aspect to this and that’s a party reflecting what its supporters want.

CVoter's last survey is interesting as they asked people their choice of party irrespective of alliances. 34 percent chose BJP, 26 percent chose RJD and only 14 percent chose the JD(U). The RJD is the second most popular party in the state and has chosen its most popular leader as the CM face, which is what a party should do.

However, no leader from the most popular party - the BJP - is even in the CM race. In fact, the party has conceded half the seats to the JD(U), despite the dissatisfaction against its leader Nitish Kumar, and this has created confusion among its voters in those seats, especially with the LJP trying to tap that vote as well.

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Can Tejashwi Turn the Election Around?

Now, the surveys so far predicted a clear majority for the NDA with 140-160 seats and a 10-15 percent vote share lead over the Mahagathbandhan.

This is a huge gap to overcome, even if one factors in LJP spoiling JD(U)'s chances in a number of seats.

Here are some of the challenges that he would still need to overcome.

  • The BJP's tweet on Lalu Prasad's tenure may seem desperate. But truth is that for many Upper Caste voters, Lalu Prasad remains an anathema. Whether it was due to alleged misgovernance or loss of privilege is besides the point. There is a possibility that if RJD appears to be ahead, a section of Upper Caste voters could vote tactically to defeat it. This would mean a last minute consolidation behind the BJP-JD(U) alliance. So far this consolidation isn't quite happening in the JD(U) seats at least.
  • While Tejashwi may have recovered a great deal in the last couple of weeks, for much of the last three years, his performance as an Opposition leader hasn’t been all that impressive. This is particularly if one compares him to leaders like YS Jaganmohan Reddy or MK Stalin who were extremely active as Opposition leaders in their respective states. Jagan won a huge majority in 2019 and Stalin is tipped to do the same next year.
Surveys indicate that Tejashwi Yadav hasn’t quite succeeded in consolidating the entire anti-Nitish vote, despite the discontent against the latter. 
  • The massive anti-incumbency against Nitish, as reflected in the survey data mentioned earlier, should have led to a landslide against him. But the fact that that doesn’t seem to be the case so far means that Tejashwi hasn’t quite succeeded in consolidating the anti-Nitish vote as much as he should have.
  • The CVoter survey said that 17 percent respondents prefer Tejashwi as the next CM while 8 percent prefer his father Lalu Prasad. Now, this eight percent seems to be committed RJD supporters. Perhaps given Lalu Prasad's conviction, Tejashwi should ideally have been the first choice of even this eight percent.
  • Muslim voters in particular don't have the same kind of affinity for Tejashwi as they did for his father. RJD has never taken a stand that goes against Muslims, but there is a sense among many Muslims that Tejashwi hasn't been as proactive as he should have been, given the kind of threat they face nationally. As a result, a section of Muslims in Bihar may be actively considering voting for the AIMIM.
  • Then there's the candidate selection issue. There are allegations that in some places the candidate selection by RJD and more so the Congress hasn't been up to the mark and this could harm the alliance's prospects. Of course, the same is also being said about the NDA as well but the NDA probably had a slight vote share buffer in which they could afford to make mistakes in a few seats.
  • However, what is clear is that Tejashwi Yadav has definitely brought the Mahagathbandhan back in the game. The NDA, especially the BJP, has itself to blame for this. It was probably too busy trying to outwit Nitish Kumar that it forgot that the main threat in Bihar is not JD(U) but RJD.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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