Bihar Polls 2015: 9 X-factors that may script the fate of the elections

Patna,Arghya Roy Chowdhury: Elections in Bihar are slated to begin today, and most pollsters believe that it will be an extremely close battle between the BJP-led NDA (including Hindustani Awam Morcha, Lok Janshakti Party and Rashtriya Lok Samta Party) and the Mahagatbandhan of Janata Dal (United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress. Opinion polls have failed to give any conclusive answer regarding who will have the last laugh on November 8, but it’s definitely worth looking at the factors that can tilt the balance one way or the other.

Modi Nitish Lalu

  1. Is the JD(U) – RJD alliance working in the grassroot level?
    After a bitter drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, arch-rivals Nitish and Lalu decided to join hands, with Congress as the junior partner, to stop the Modi juggernaut in the land of the Buddha. If one purely goes by the vote share of the Lok Sabha elections, the so-called secular alliance has a near 7% advantage over NDA. Also, in the last few state elections post 16 May 2014, BJP’s vote-share has not increased compared to that during the Lok Sabha polls, anywhere. In fact it has dipped considerably. This should have ideally kept the Mahagatbandhan relaxed. But there are lingering doubts about whether Nitish can transfer his quota of votes to RJD’s kitty in the constituencies where Lalu’s party is contesting. Modi too has effectively played on that weak point, repeatedly alerting people about the return of ‘Jungle Raj Part 2’ if Lalu’s party come to power alongside Nitish. How effectively the Mahagatbandhan can manage to neutralise rebels in various seats, may also become a crucial factor in the final analysis.
  2. Nitish, the only CM candidate
    This is a problem that the BJP faced acutely in Delhi. All surveys show Nitish’s popularity being more than double than that of the nearest NDA candidate Sushil Modi. Nitish is trying to use it to the hilt by repeatedly saying that a Bihari will run the state and it will not be ruled from Delhi. His latching onto the Bihari DNA comment was also to play on the Bihari asmita issue, a cue he may have picked up from his arch-rival Narendra Modi. Will the lack of any CM candidate or a credible state level face to compete against Nitish hurt the NDA?

Also Read – Bihar elections 2015: A look at CM Nitish Kumar’s political journey

  1. Are the voters okay with a mixed leadership?
    To continue the Delhi parallel, there was a huge amount of intersection between those who voted for Modi in the Centre before reposing faith on Arvind Kejriwal for the state election. The number of BJP voters who appreciate Nitish’s contribution and the number of JD(U) supporters who believe BJP deserves a chance is way too high to be ignored. Which way these floating undecided votes go, may decide the final outcome.
  2. Is there any anti-incumbency?
    Modi has tried his best to instil fear by repeatedly talking about ‘Jungle Raj Part 2’ in all his speeches. He has also pointed out how Biharis still have to migrate for work and highlighted the lack of 24-hours electricity, among other unfinished promises by Nitish Kumar. But almost every opinion poll has shown high approval ratings for Nitish Kumar. For many Biharis, he is the main person responsible for the turnaround of Bihar. Hence, the assertion by the likes of Prakash Javadekar that a diamond has suddenly turned into coal after leaving BJP’s fold is unpalatable. This is again where the Bihar elections may turn out to be eerily similar to the Delhi elections. In Delhi, despite BJP’s publicity blitz, people were tolerant enough to give Kejriwal another chance. A similar occurrence here can’t be ruled out.
    The only difference is that Nitish has undoubtedly compromised by aligning with Lalu. Will it finally put him down or prop him up to power again, will be the thing to watch out for.

Also Read – Bihar Elections 2015: A look at BJP’s most reliable face in the state, Sushil Kumar Modi

  1. Performance of the junior partners
    In the Mahagatbandhan, the Congress has been given 40 seats, which is far greater than they deserved. Similarly, BJP is contesting in 160 odd seats and the rest 80 seats are contested by its junior partners. Surveys predict that the NDA’s strike rate of winning seats will be considerably less for the non-BJP seats. But if the likes of Upendra Kushwaha and Jitan Ram Manjhi fail to at least get their core vote-bank in NDA’s kitty, as certain surveys have indicated, it may spell doom for the Modi-led alliance. The Mahagatbandhan on the other hand, will hope that it doesn’t suffer a complete washout in the seats that Congress is contesting, since the grand old party is a spent force in Bihar.
  2. The rural-urban divide
    The Narendra Modi wave which swept large parts of India is still present to a certain extent in the urban places. Thanks to the media’s ad nauseam coverage of Modi’s activities, there is a perception of the PM being ‘active’ and determined to make some meaningful changes. In urban places, the BJP is considerably ahead of the Mahagatbandhan among most voter demographics apart from Muslims and Yadavs, but the margin become considerably tighter in the rural areas. Bihar being a predominantly rural state, keeps the Mahagatbandhan in the hunt. Can Narendra Modi’s charisma transcend the divide of cities and villages as it did in the summer of 2014? We will soon find out.

Also Read – Decoded: Narendra Modi’s Bihar strategy

  1. Will development triumph over caste politics?
    It’s not like the BJP hasn’t played caste politics. Taking support of the likes of Ram Vilas Pawan, Jitan Ram​ Majhi and Upendra Kuswaha is to essentially build a rainbow coalition of the upper castes like Rajputs etc with the MBC (Most Backward Class), Dalits and other OBCs. But overall, Lalu-Nitish have the larger pie of the caste calculus on their side. So if the vote purely happens on the basis of caste considerations, Nitish is likely to be again the CM of the state. But as the Lokniti-CSDS survey has shown, there is considerable churn in the Yadav and Kurmi votebank of Lalu-Nitish. If people forget their caste considerations to vote for change, like they did in Uttar Pradesh last year, Modi may well be able to pull off what started as an extremely tough assignment for the NDA in the beginning.
  2. Winner takes all?
    In the first past the post system of democracy, often a 2-3% lead translates to a disproportionate difference in the final tally of the victor and the vanquished. Often, the floating voters side with the ‘winning side’, increasing the final tally dramatically. In Delhi, all polls predicted a slow AAP resurgence after initially showing BJP having a comfortable lead. A similar trend is been seen here, where the NDA has slowly recovered lost ground and gradually surged ahead / stayed competitive with the Mahagatbandhan, based on most polls. This momentum shift may well get it ahead of the ‘secular alliance’ in the actual polls.
  3. How the Others fair
    It is likely that this election will largely be a bi-polar one. Yet the presence of the third front (SP and NCP), AIMIM, Left parties are crucial, because they may decide the fate of the elections in some marginal seats. NDA will hope that these parties do well as it is likely to hurt the Mahagatbandhan more.

The elections will be a touch and go and it may well boil down to any one of the factors going in favour of either of the parties, which may make the final difference.