Election season in Bihar is round the corner. Bihar is going to polls for its 243 seats and voting will be held in three phases. The first phase will be held on 28th of October for 71 seats while on 3rd and 7th of November, the 2nd and 3rd phases will be held for 94 and 78 seats respectively. Finally, on 10th of November, Biharis will get to know their Chief Minister for the next five years unless the results show a fractured verdict.
The primary contest in the election is between two alliances. The ruling alliance, NDA (National Democratic Alliance) has Janata Dal (United), Bharatiya Janata Party, Vikashsheel Insaan Party (led by Vikash Sahani) and Hindustani Awam Morcha (led by Jitan Ram Manjhi) as its constituents. Although Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) is also a part of NDA, its position in the elections is somewhat ambiguous as it is fielding candidates against the JD (U) but not BJP. The current leader of LJP, Chirag Paswan, has announced that his goal is to ensure the current Chief Minister Nitish Kumar doesn’t retain power while he is still willing to be part of NDA. Since LJP’s founder and Chirag Paswan’s father, Ram Vilas Paswan, had passed away recently, some pollsters are forecasting sympathy votes in favor of the party, which might affect the electoral outcome.
On the other side, opposition parties have come together under a grand alliance known as Mahagatbandhan comprising of Rashtiya Janta Dal led by Tejashwi Yadav, Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist). The Chief Ministerial face for NDA is Nitish Kumar of JD(U) again, while the face for Mahagatbandhan is Tejashwi Yadav of RJD.
In this election, Bihar is witnessing an anti-incumbency wave against Nitish Kumar as he has ruled Bihar for fifteen years. The issues being raised in the election campaigns are diverse. Reverse migration of labourers from most states of India, especially Maharasthtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Haryana and Panjab during the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown has become the main issue. Critics say the lackadaisical attitude of the government and its callousness cost many lives. The reverse migration is also connected to another perennial problem in Bihar, unemployment. Bihar’s unemployment rate increased 31.2 percentage points, rising to 46.6% in Apr 2020, according to a survey conducted by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE). Unemployment in Bihar was greater than the national rate of 23.5%. Nationwide, unemployment was highest in Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, and Bihar at 49.8%, 47.1%, and 46.6% respectively. Lack of quality jobs in the state has forced Bihari workers to out-migrate for employment. According to data from the 2011 census, Bihar had the highest share of migrants who moved out for work, employment or business reasons. A 2018 World Bank paper by Gaurav Nayyar and Kyoung Yang Kim found that migrant remittances had a share of 35% in Bihar’s gross state domestic product (GSDP) and positively affected consumption at the household level. A disproportionate dependence on remittance incomes must have hurt Bihar more than other states after the nationwide lockdown imposed in March this year, in the aftermath of the coronavirus disease outbreak. It is natural that discontent with a poor job scenario in the state has become a big issue in the polls, which are scheduled just a few months after the lockdown. As per the recent news reports, around 25 to 30 lakh migrant workers have returned to Bihar and they will be looking for employment very soon. Handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Bihar government is also another issue for which the opposition is pouncing upon the ruling NDA. Till date Bihar saw a total of 209,000 cases of which 197,000 people recovered and 1016 had died. Though it’s a relatively lower number as compared to other states, the opposition is still baying for the blood of Nitish Kumar, raising questions about his intent of fighting the disease. Bihar has also felt the tremors of the three controversial agricultural farm bills recently passed by the Indian Parliament. Though Bihar doesn’t have Minimum Support Price like Punjab does, the opposition is still stirring up controversies and protests regarding the intention of the government regarding their empathy towards the farmers. Tejashwi Yadav led protests against the government opposing the passing of the bills, alleging that it would loot the farmers and suit the corporates.
The death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput has become an electoral issue in Bihar with NDA in Bihar seeking justice for Sushant’s family. Readers might recall that Nitish Kumar had requested the CBI to take over th case after Sushant’s family had filed an FIR. As a result, both the states, Maharashtra and Bihar, have become battleground states for those supporting Sushant versus the ones showing sympathy for the accused, Rhea Chakraborty. While the case is currently with CBI now, there were posters and demonstrations (primarily by BJP) in support of Sushant immediately following his death. It remains to be seen whether that would bring additional votes for the BJP.
No election can be organized without manifestos and huge promises, and this election is no different. BJP went a bit too far in promising that they would be providing free COVID-19 vaccines to each and every resident of Bihar as soon as it receives the green signal from the Indian Council of Medical Research. This promise by BJP was tore apart at the first opportunity by the opposition. Many raised questions about the audacity of this announcement, while some have questioned the legality of this announcement. BJP in its Sankalp Patra or manifesto also promised 1.9 million government jobs, if voted to power. In the 12-page document, the party outlined a breakup of the sectors where these jobs would be created. Three lakh new teachers would be recruited and Bihar will be developed as the next generation IT hub, which would create five lakh jobs. One lakh new jobs would be given in the health sector. Around 1,000 new farmer producer organisations (FPOs) would be added to develop a supply chain for farm produce which will create 10 lakh new jobs. Among the other promises, the party said technical and medical education in the state would be offered in Hindi. The party has promised to offer MSP for lentils, after paddy and wheat.
In this game of promises, the opposition is also not far behind. Tejashwi Yadav released the RJD manifesto, which had promised one million new jobs in the government sector if voted to power. He also laughed at BJP’s promise of 1.9 million jobs, since the ruling CM surrendered sometimes back saying that he won’t be able to create any more jobs in Bihar. Mahagatbandhan is also promising better law and order situation in the state and asked about the efficacy of the Nitish Kumar government, which saw rising numbers of crime rates especially attempt to murder. The RJD’s manifesto stressed on increasing income of farmers and waiving KCC (Kisan Credit Card) loan taken by the cultivators till 2020. It also vowed to purchase grains from the farmers at an enhanced MSP that would include bonus. In the field of education, it promised to provide vaccines in schools on a war-footing. It further declared that the party headed future government would increase budget on education to 22 per cent of the total budget. Tejashwi Yadav also said, if voted to power, they would promote investment into the state for setting up industries so that citizens of the State are not forced to migrate outside. The RJD also promised computer training to the citizens in every panchayat free of cost. International level sports university would also be established in the state, the RJD manifesto said.
The fight is out in the open, the battle lines are drawn, and all players are chalking out their last-minute strategies for their quest to rule Bihar for the next five years. Many opinion polls have been conducted by leading media companies recently. According to Times Now-C Voter Bihar Poll Survey, NDA would win again with 160 seats and UPA would get around 76 seats. Other poll surveys done by companies like ABP-Cvoter and India Today-Lokniti CDS predict a similar result. But as Abraham Lincoln had once said, it’s “government of the people, for the people and by the people”, only the people of Bihar will have the final say on the outcome.
-Aishik Bhattacharya (Opinion Writer at IndianFolk.com, Senior Research Fellow at IACS Kolkata)
Picture Credits: indiatvnews.com