All eyes on Bihar

Bihar Assembly elections are due in a few months from now so its raining Bihari jokes, and many of them are being cracked by Bihar bhaiyas themselves! There is a lot of curiosity on which way the 13th largest state in the Indian union is going to vote.


Bihar CM Nitish Kumar welcomes PM Narendra Modi on his arrival at Patna airport on Saturday. Nitish Kumar is well aware that while he promises development and good governance, he is doing so with the alliance of Laloo Yadav’s RJD and not the BJP which was his natural ally. Pic/PTI 

Will the approximately 6 crore voters give Nitish Kumar another chance despite the fact that he is teaming with Laloo Yadav, a convict out on bail, a disqualified MP not allowed to participate in an election for six years? Laloo is a crowd puller and has a loyal voter base that has not shifted from him despite his conviction on corruption charges and the fact that there was utter lawlessness during his tenure as Chief Minister.
BJP’s hoardings take pot shots at the alliance with the line: “Apraadh, brashtachaar aur ahankar: Kya is gatbandhan se badheinga Bihar?”

Nitish Kumar is well aware that while he promises development and good governance, he is doing so with the alliance of Laloo Yadav’s RJD and not the BJP which was his natural ally. Added to that, he has alienated Jitanram Majhi and that might cost him one block of backward caste votes. Breaking away from the BJP has meant that Ramvilas Paswan’s block of votes goes to the rival camp. The Ati-Dalit votes, a sub-caste classification he had created to break up the Dalit votes will not come in the JDU’s way in the Assembly elections, just as they didn’t in 2014.

The upper caste votes that have traditionally gone to the BJP will probably still flow towards it, though the party does not have a CM candidate. Sushil Modi the ultimate ‘organiser’ in Bihar got massive crowds for the PM’s visit over the weekend. He knows which buttons to push. There isn’t another face for the BJP even though Sushil Modi does not have a huge support base. There are several other Bihari BJP leaders but they have all moved to Delhi. Then there is that other Bihari Babu, Bollywood star Shatrughan Sinha, all miffed because he has been ignored by the BJP. Nobody quite knows if he matters anymore anywhere.

Bihar votes caste. At least for Vidhan Sabha elections. Weak governance for decades has given people little hope. They don’t anymore expect political parties to change their lot or to provide bijli, sadak, pani but campaigns are built around promises. The JDU poster promises: “Aagey badhta rahey Bihar, phir ek baar Nitish Kumar.”

Various terms have been used for Bihar...the worst being ‘The Darkness’ as depicted in Arvind Adiga’s The White Tiger. A caste-ridden social order, effects of mafiadom, poverty and under-development hit you in the face when you travel in Bihar. It is utterly depressing. And yet the fact that Nitish Kumar’s administration was able to make a dent is an undisputable fact. Without the BJP, Nitish lacks the confidence to sail through this election despite the bravado he exhibits.

The poster wars make it evident that the Prime Minister continues to be the poster boy for the BJP. PM Modi in his Saturday speech went further than the usual promises. He talked of technical education, piped gas and the likes. He warned people of the return of Jungle Raj if they voted for the RJD-JDU combine...reminding people of the 15 years of Laloo Yadav rule. Second-time voters of Bihar dread the possibility of a slide, which could occur if Nitish is compromised by Laloo Yadav’s way of politics. Modi also played the caste card....something that clicked with the audience. It is not socially unacceptable to crack caste jokes in Bihar. It is, in fact, a way of life.

Many first-time voters did not vote on the basis of caste during the general elections last year, going instead with the Modi wave. But surprisingly when it comes of assembly elections, caste affiliations become important. They say the issues are closer home and not esoteric. When it comes to assembly elections the candidate’s caste matters because the legislations he helps pass, the work he does will all be focused on the people of his caste.

The BJP is a little worried whether the media will portray the Bihar elections as a referendum of sorts on the first year of the Modi government. It certainly would not want the Bihar results to be like the Delhi results. That would be too much to bear and signal a complete ending of the honeymoon period.

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