Phase 1 of Bihar elections is due on October 28, in just a week from now. Election mahaul has been created. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath has hit the campaign trail. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is joining the mela on October 23.
The two Chief Ministerial faces Nitish and Tejashwi are sweating it out on the ground holding rallies and wooing voters. The election scene is also getting ugly with JD(U) calling Tejashwi ‘9th fail’ and RJD calling Nitish ‘palturam’.
Tejashwi has dared Nitish to join him for a chief ministerial debate stating that the tradition should start from Bihar.
Although Tejashwi is drawing good crowds and closing the gap, all polls predict an NDA victory with seats ranging from 133 to 161 in its favour.
In this article we will analyse what’s working and what’s not for Nitish and Tejashwi.
What’s working for Nitish
Despite huge anti-incumbency, Nitish (31%) still leads the race for best suited to be Chief Minister ahead of Tejashwi (27%). Research shows that the party whose candidate leads the popularity ratings normally goes on to win the elections.
The double engine growth story is working on the ground. 27% of NDA voters are giving more importance in their voting decision.to the work done by the Modi government, only 16% to the work of the Nitish government as per Lokniti-CSDS survey.
Kumar’s fortunes are getting a leg up from Modi’s popularity. 61% respondents are satisfied with Modi’s performance versus 52% for Nitish.
The traditional vote blocks of JD(U) which is upper caste, non yadav OBC. Most backward castes and mahadalits are more or less still intact for Nitish.
Nitish Kumar’s prohibition policy is still a hit with women voters. 41% of the women voters suggested that they would vote for the NDA, while 36% of the men.
What’s not working for Nitish
The LJP episode has left a bad taste in the mouth of the NDA partners. There is a growing trust deficit between JDU and BJP. Now the focus of both the parties is to get more seats than each other to keep the Chief Ministerial chair which could impact NDA prospects.
JDU and BJP have complementary vote blocks and there has been seamless transfer of vote shares between the two. The rumours of BJP backing Chirag to weaken Nitish has confused the anchor voting segments of both parties. This could lead to some leakages.
LJP’s decision to put up candidates against Nitish has disturbed the calculations of JDU. Paswan has given tickets to not only JDU but BJP rebels as well. 46% of its candidates in Phase 1 are from upper caste thus damaging JDU’s prospects.
Kumar’s popularity is on the wane. Only 38% of the respondents want another term for him, while 43% do not want him to return as CM as per the same poll.
The smaller allies HAM and VIP who are contesting on 7 and 11 seats respectively are struggling in some seats.12 of these 18 contests are against RJD which is the player in form in the MGB team.
Kumar’s over-dependence on Modi to sail him through is not good news for his continuity. His bargaining power would weaken in such a scenario and he may not get the free hand to run the government as he has been doing for the past 15 years. Of course, assuming NDA wins.
What’s working for Tejashwi
Tejashwi has taken up the unemployment issue in a big way promising 10 lakh jobs which is resonating well with the youth and migrants. Bihar has an unemployment rate of 12% almost double the national average as per CMIE. Unemployment is among the top 2 issues in both C-Voter as well as Lokniti poll.
Kumar’s reaction shows his nervousness, moving from Lalu family will make money in this jobs scam, to how Bihar is a landlocked state and not first choice of industry to how will Tejashwi pay salaries of these new appointments.
He is also cleverly not targeting Modi, training his guns on Nitish. Perhaps learning a trick from Kejriwal’s book. The fact that Chirag is also lambasting Kumar day in and day out, the attack has amplified.
He is raising local issues of development, unemployment, corruption, inflation, poverty which all touch common man’s hearts. These issues have been aggravated in the post pandemic era and are being lapped up by migrants. He is not falling into the trap of getting into a debate on national issues, which BJP and Yogi have started to raise in rallies.
The Left parties especially CPIML is doing good as per ground reports. It has been able to galvanize the poor, lower class and marginalised sections of society.
What’s not working for Tejashwi
The ‘Tejashwi tai hai’ slogan risks making the election Presidential style whereas MGB can win only if it makes it localized, seat by seat contest. In a leadership contest he has to fight against two, not one, both Nitish and Modi.
This slogan has somewhat turned the attention away from issues to Lalu family. NDA is using this to remind people of the jungle raj during the 1990s thus risking turning away neutral / swing voters.
Easing out RLSP is also proving to be costly as the alliance led by Upendra Kushwaha is bagging 7% votes as per the poll. He is dividing the opposition vote. NDA is enjoying 6% lead over MGB and in this scenario 7% is too high.
Congress is struggling based on ground feedback especially against BJP candidates. The party has given 60% tickets to upper caste candidates in Phase 1. BJP enjoys massive support among upper caste and this strategy could prove costly in a close contest.
Lalu still enjoys good support among his core base of Yadavs and Muslims, he is the CM choice of 8% voters (V-Voter) despite being in jail. Lalu’s image is missing from many posters, ostensibly, to prevent from evoking jungle raj sentiment. This seems to have irked some supporters, especially the old / traditional voters of RJD.
As per crowd prediction platform, Crowdwisdom360, in October 2020, NDA is at 46%, a fall of 15% points and RJD alliance is at 45% almost at par. Google trends have emerged as an important indicator to see which way the wind is blowing. This shows the election might be too close to call.