Local factors in Bihar polls

Kashmir Times. Dated: 10/28/2020 12:10:02 PM

Local issues have dominated the assembly elections in Bihar but its results will have a bearing in other parts of India

As the campaign ends for the first phase of Bihar assembly elections on Wednesday, it is clear that local issues like employment opportunities and distress among migrant workers are most likely to influence voting pattern in a big way. In fact, the question of miseries inflicted on the migrant workers mostly from Bihar has been dominating the election rallies of all the political parties. This is not surprising for the reason that the assembly elections have become a referendum on the state governments and the leaders. It is important to note that the election results in Bihar are likely to have an impact beyond the state and have an effect the course of national politics, especially the future political coalitions for various reasons. In fact, history is witness to the fact that Bihar elections particularly at such critical junctures have influenced the politics at the national level in the past over half a century. This is the main reason why calculations on Bihar poll results have kept political pundits guessing every time. Firstly, Bihar is the first state to go to polls since Coronavirus struck earlier this year. The lockdown imposed on a four-notice by the NDA-government was a witness to waves of migrant workers from Bihar trekking back to their hometowns and villages from other parts of the country. Secondly, Bihar also marks the beginning of an election season that will see four big states of Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal elect new government in the coming six months. Despite the fact that political realties are very different, the outcome of Bihar polls will impact the way political parties chalk out their strategies and alliances. Thirdly, the ruling alliance in Bihar is under immense strain with all the major groups, the JD-U, BJP and LJP working at cross-purposes. The poll results will also have a bearing on the NDA, which has been dependent on BJP and charisma of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The agriculture reform laws has forced the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the oldest allies of BJP to withdraw its nominee from the cabinet before coming out of the alliance at the Centre.
Now at the Centre, JD-U is the last big regional parties left in NDA, despite the fact that its relationship with BJP has been unsteady throughout the last five years. For instance, the JD(U), which won 16 seats as part of the NDA in the 2019 general elections, declined the offer to join the Modi-government after the party was refused the ministerial berths it demanded as alliance partner. The LJP’s decision to quit the NDA in Bihar over Nitish Kumar’s leadership and seek votes in the name of Modi has injected a dose of distrust into the alliance. The BJP will need to repair relations with the JD-U to dispel the notion that it doesn’t value its allies, a charge that the Shiv Sena and SAD hurled at it while parting ways with the NDA. Fourthly, the BJP, while endorsing Nitish Kumar as the coalition’s chief ministerial candidate, is seeking votes in the name of Modi. Inadvertently, the party may be putting to test the prime minister’s ability to mobilise votes in a state election, where no other senior BJP leader is campaigning in the elections. A victory in Bihar would be seen as evidence of Modi’s enduring popularity and the BJP party machinery’s ability to defeat incumbency. At some point during the campaign, the BJP leaders and Nitish Kumar appear to have conceded that the anti-incumbency wave might impact their fortunes. A favourable outcome would be a big boost for the Opposition as it struggles to be heard in Parliament and outside. The Bihar polls outcome will have a bearing on battles elsewhere in the coming months.

 

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