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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 46, New Delhi, October 31, 2020

Fault Lines and Contours of Alliance in Bihar assembly elections 2020 | Nisha Mishra

Saturday 31 October 2020

Free and fair elections are considered to be an essential component of healthy democracy. It is through this process the interests of the common are served by the government. The Bihar assembly election of 2020 is the recent buzz around every corner of India. Taking place in the backdrop of the pandemic, the tussle between the contesting parties is growing with massive processions and rallies and hoodwinking the public.

Issues such as unemployment, poverty, inadequate health infrastructure are the catchwords of the Bihar assembly elections. Moreover, social cleavages, caste lines, identity and charisma of the leader are also presented as determining the electoral outcomes as they influence the governance agenda at local and regional level. Since the election is conducted amidst the pandemic, it will largely be influenced by the performance of the government in the handling of the crisis and issues arising out of it thereof. The Bihar assembly elections will be more or less structured around the above contexts and parameters.

Caste-card strategy

Caste is not merely an institution that characterizes the structure of social stratification; it represented the core of Indian politics. It is both an institution and an ideology. The politics of development is identified with the politics of caste. Every political party plays caste-card to secure the votes. The BJP using its Hindutva ideology and applauding the Ajodhya victory to secure the votes of higher and middle-upper caste votes. The JDU’s main source of political strength on the ground level constitutes the support of EBC’S, mahadalits, mallahs, kurmis and a section of women, whereas, coalition of RJD, Congress and left-wing attempts to keep intact the support of OBC’s, SC’s, Muslims with the addition of vote base of youths of Bihar.

Economic challenges

With 9% of India’s population, Bihar has just 3% share in India’s economic output. Notwithstanding the fact, Bihar’s three-fourths population is engaged in agriculture sector and lack of industrial base has resulted in the majority of the people migrating to cities in search of employment and livelihood. Ever since the pandemic broke out, large numbers of worker migrated from cities to their home states. The opposition has kept alleging the incumbent government of not providing adequate quarantine supports to the migrant workers and dismal performance of health infrastructure in controlling the rising rates of covid 19 cases. Moreover, the failure on the part of the government to provide means of livelihood to the migrants has further aggravated the electoral outcomes. On the other side, the opposition party is using this failure as an opportunity to gain political power. Recently, Tejaswi Yadav promised to provide ten lakh jobs to youths in Bihar if he comes to power with first stroke of a pen in the first cabinet meeting. Hearing this NDA announced 19 lakh jobs. Both the competing claims seem to be quite unrealistic. Criticisms such as “a double engine government of Delhi and Patna” are levelled against NDA.

The Congress alliance has promised to review the “The Bihar prohibition and excise Act 2016”, under which sale and consumption of alcohol is considered to be a crime and a punishable offence. The opposition is using this as a playcard to woo the poor Dalits and Mahadalits. In addition to this, another argument put forth by the opposition is that this move of the incumbent government has added to loss of state revenue, which could otherwise have been used for development programmes. They have also promised to nullify the New Farm Bill 2020 which was recently passed by the central government, which is considered to be anti-farmer and accentuated to destroy agriculture. However, this manifesto of congress alliance can attribute to the loyal vote bank of women for NDA, who were victims of alcoholic abuse.

The Lok Janshakti Party president Chirag Paswan calls Nitish Kumar’s “Saat Nischay” programme a total failure with unchecked corruption. The bipolar attitude of Paswan wherein on one side he is seen supporting the BJP government and asking the voters to vote for BJP candidate in case there is no LJP candidate and on the other side sharpening his attack on JDU leader Nitish Kumar, who is in alliance with the BJP has created chaos and confusion among the masses.

Internal conflicts and divides

Ever since the campaign for elections has started, the alliance of NDA is seen as a divided house. JDU leader Nitish Kumar, who by the aura of his personality and the work done by him in the last 15 years is seen holding rallies on an independent basis, thus facing the humility of the friendly alliance, which provided ample opportunity to the opposition party to take a jibe. Moreover, the lack of trust and confidence among the BJP supporters with regard to CM Nitish Kumar’s performance in the last 5 years. On the other side, LJP’s Chirag Paswan has hinted to lend his support BJP in case JDU lacks to secure the required seats. The opinion is divided as to whether Paswan is acting on the behest of BJP - a secret plan to sideline the JDU.

On the sidelines, several candidates on the basis of non-partisan have chosen to fight elections for a change in Bihar. The emergence of new political party “Plurals” have also pledged for the rapid development of Bihar in the socio-economic sectors, though they lack a cadre-based structure on the ground.

Concluding remarks:

However, this election is like never seen before. Some people are cynical, while others are hopeful as this election would dawn in an era of major change and development of Bihar. BJP is trying to win exclusively with majority of the seats in its own pocket, but the lack of mass-based leader in the state has acted as a disadvantage to the party to have a stronghold over the region. The Bihar assembly elections of 2020 are characterized by the charisma of leader in a skilful and dramatic presentation of issues combined with political oratory and mastery over political psychology in embodying the aspirations of citizens.

References:

1. Piyush Tripathi. ’LJP believes in PM Modi’s development model’, The Times of India, Oct 22, 2020 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/elections/assembly-elections/bihar/ljp-believes-in-modis-developmen t model/articleshow/78797134.cms
2. Vandita Mishra. ’Nitish diminished, Tejashwi banks on Caste-plus refresh’, The Indian Express, Oct 28, 2020 https://indianexpress.com/elections/nitish-diminished-tejashwi-banks-on-caste-plus-refresh-6906193/
3. Aditya Menon. ’Bihar Elections: LJP Story Isn’t Just About BJP, It’s About RSS’, The Quint, Oct 23, 2020 https://www.thequint.com/news/politics/lok-janshakti-party-rss-cadres-chirag-paswan-bihar-assembly-elections-2020
4. Kohli, Atul (Ed).2001. The success of India’s democracy, Cambridge: Cambridge university press.

(Author:

Nisha Mishra, is a post-graduate student in Banaras Hindu University, UGC-NET in Political Science and Public Administration)

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