Will Bihar Polls Final Phase Be A Cakewalk For Tejashwi? Unlikely
Counter polarisation, ‘Owaisi factor’, and ‘non-minority influenced’ seats could shape the results of this phase.
The Bihar ‘cricket match’ has entered its final overs. There is now general consensus among political pundits and pollsters, that Phase 1 belonged to MGB (Mahagathbandhan) while Phase 2 was won by NDA. The contest has heated up and is currently neck-and-neck.
78 seats will be voting on 7 November and this is likely to seal the fate of both Tejashwi and Nitish. Out of 78 seats, Muslim population is high, more than the state average of 17 percent, in 46 seats. Out of these 46 seats, 24 in Kishanganj, Katihar, Araria and Purnia have an average minority population of more than 37 percent termed as ‘high influence’ minority seats
Situation In ‘Heavy Minority’ Seats
24 of these seats are in the Seemanchal region, while 38 are in Mithilanchal region. Seemanchal is considered a stronghold of the RJD.
Given the centrality of the Muslim votes in this region, it appears that the RJD-led Mahagathbandhan (MGB) is strongly placed. However, data shows otherwise.
In the 2015 elections, JDU was part of the MGB, and the alliance won 31 out of these 46 seats. JDU won 10, RJD 10, and Congress 11.
In 2010, JDU was part of the NDA, and the alliance swept these seats, bagging 38 out of 46. RJD could win only 2, and Congress got 3 seats. RJD was decimated due to the fact that it had parted ways with the Congress in those polls. Even if the RJD and the Congress had contested together, the NDA would have still won 29 out of 46 – more than 60 percent of the seats. The present NDA and MGB had shared honours in these 46 seats in the 2015 state elections.
The situation is the same in even the 24 ‘heavy minority influence’ seats.
Challenges For Both NDA & Mahagathbandhan
The JDU had won 10 seats riding on the Muslim vote bank of the RJD and the Congress in 2015. Nitish has always enjoyed decent Muslim support, even in 2005 and 2010, due to his strategy of keeping a distance from Modi. This got a fillip in 2015 after the alliance with Lalu Yadav.
However, his ghar wapsi to NDA and burning bridges with Modi has led to a loss of support among the minority community. From 28 percent minority support in 2015, it declined to just 5 percent in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Hence, it is going to be extremely difficult for the JDU to retain the 10 seats it won in 2015 in Muslim-influence seats.
On the other hand, it's not going to be a cake-walk for RJD and Congress as well. Owaisi’s AIMIM is contesting on majority seats in the Seemanchal region in an alliance with Mayawati’s BSP and Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP. It hopes to spoil the chances of MGB which is already calling it the BJP’s ‘B-Team’.
Congress’s Bihar unit chief, Madan Mohan Jha, accused AIMIM of ‘colluding’ with the BJP, but said it will not have any significant impact on the assembly polls as people will not ‘waste’ their votes.
Can AIMIM Spoil Mahagathbandhan’s Chances?
Normally the core voter of any party looks at other options when it is disillusioned with the prospects of its anchor party – when it sees no chance of them winning.
However, when the core voter sees that there is a good chance of its party winning, (like now MGB is giving a tough fight and is in contention), it normally sticks with its traditional party.
Hence, the MGB is likely to get the majority support of the Muslim community in these seats, as AIMIM suffers from the image of a ‘vote katwa’ in this election. Some of its candidates could do well depending upon their individual influence.
Having said that, whatever votes AIMIM gets, could have otherwise gone to MGB.
In close contests on seats with less than 3,000 votes margin, it could play a key role.
Polarisation Could Derail MGB's Plans
The consolidation of the Hindu votes in these 46 seats could pose problems for MGB. We have seen in the 2019 general elections and the 2010 state elections in Bihar, together with the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh, that the BJP has been able to counter polarise the Hindu voters cutting across caste and class lines, wherever minority community voters are in large numbers, and win many such seats.
Of the 24 heavy influence Musim seats, BJP won 25 percent of these as shown below in the table in 2015, despite JDU, RJD and Congress contesting together – arguably due to polarisation.
BJP has already put Yogi Adityanath to good use in this region and he has conducted many rallies raising issues like, CAA, Triple Talaq, Article 370, Ram Mandir and ‘Hindustan-Pakistan’. Fearing backlash from his minority voters, Nitish has chided such statements by Yogi, thereby revealing cracks in the alliance.
Hours after Yogi Adityanath said in a public meeting that through the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), those who ‘try to breach the security of the country would be thrown out’, Nitish Kumar asked, “Who utters all this nonsense? No one has the courage [to drive people out]”.
Other Seats In Phase 3 Also Important
Apart from the 24 heavy minority influence seats, 54 other seats go to polls in Phase 3. Of these 54, 22 have moderate minority influence, though higher than the state average. 38 of these seats are in the Mithilanchal region. BJP had just won 6 seats in this region in 2015.
PM Modi and BJP President Nadda have been focussing on this region highlighting the development work done by the NDA, including the Darbhanga airport, which goes operational before results.
Then there are 11 seats of Purabi and Paschim Champaran which go to polls in this phase; the BJP contesting without JDU had won half of these in 2015.
To sum up, this super over is important for both the NDA and MGB, as the first two phases have resulted in a tie. MGB can’t take this lightly just because it has high minority-populated seats, which is its anchor vote bank. Counter polarisation, the ‘Owaisi factor’, and ‘non-minority influenced’ seats could shape up the outcome of this phase and the Bihar elections.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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