Bihar Assembly Polls - Real test for Amit Shah

Bihar goes to polls by the end of this year. The State is ruled by Janata Dal United (110 seats),  after it parted ways with BJP (88 seats) just before the Lok Sabha elections. The real reason was Nitish Kumar didn't want a peer Chief Minister to be declared the Prime Ministerial candidate of National Democratic Alliance. The Government survived a scare in the House with support from smaller parties and Independents. Total strength of the House is 243.

In the Lok Sabha polls, BJP swept the State winning 31 of the 40 seats along with allies Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party. JDU was reduced to merely two seats. Meanwhile, United Progressive Alliance(UPA) bagged 7 seats (Lalu's Rashtriya Janata Dal 4, Congress 2 and Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party 1). Nitish took moral responsibility and resigned. Actually Sharad Yadav (President of JDU) forced Nitish to resign in a tug of war in the party. Jiten Manjhi became the Chief Minister.

During the Vote of Confidence in the Assembly to prove Manjhi enjoyed majority in the House, Sharad Yadav convinced his bête noire Lalu Yadav to support JDU. The Government survived and a grand alliance was formed along with Congress and NCP for the State by polls. This alliance won 6 out of 10 seats. In the Lok Sabha polls, BJP was leading in 9 of these 10 seats. This was a setback for BJP. NDA's vote share in these seats went down from 45.3 per cent in Lok Sabha to 37.3 per cent, while, UPA (including JDU) vote share went up from 40.3 per cent in Lok Sabha to 44.9 per cent. The coming together of Lalu and Nitish seemed to work in their favour.

NDA's vote share in Lok Sabha was 36.4 per cent across Bihar, whereas JDU and RJD+Congress fought separately which led to division of votes. Had they fought together their vote share had would have been 46.4 per cent and result could have been very different.

The State is known for its caste based voting. Corruption is a non issue, that's why people like Lalu still survive. BJP swept Lok Sabha because RJD and JDU both were competing for the same anti-BJP vote. Plus people voted for Modi as the Prime Minister.

JDU and RJD were together and part of the bigger Janata Dal of the 1980s. Hence they share a common vote bank. With JDU moving away from Lalu in late 1990s, BJP was able to wean away / break into Lalu's OBC, Muslim, Yadav vote bank. With Nitish joining BJP and Congress decline, it was able to defeat Lalu ending his 15 year rule in the year 2000. With JDU going back to RJD, this vote bank goes back to RJD and that's what happened in State by polls.

Amit Shah has a real challenge up his sleeve. BJP enjoys the support of upper castes as well Dalits because of Paswan and Kushwah. It has also over the years become the party of choice for OBCs and SC/STs. But breaking the arithmetic of RJD +Congress+JDU will require Uttar Pradesh type seat wise strategy. BJP had it easy in Lok Sabha in Bihar because of spilt of votes, but Assembly polls could be different.

Can Amit Shah do a another UP style coupe, it remains to be seen.

What could work for BJP?

Three out of four States which have gone to polls, have voted for BJP on the premise that same Government in State and Centre will lead to greater co-ordination and development. Biharis may be tempted to follow the same trend.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar have come together but seat sharing talks won’t be easy. Lalu Yadav will demand his pound of flesh. Nitish for survival could agree. This could lead to revolt in party.

What would work against BJP?

Targetting the Nitish Government too much could backfire. BJP was part of this Government for over 12 years out of 15 years. So, it can't put all blame on Nitish and JDU. A positive campaign built on development plank with a strategy to pierce the caste combination of Lalu (Muslims / Yadavs) + Nitish (Kurmi / Bhumihar / Most Backward Classes) + Congress (predominantly Muslims) will need to be developed.

Courtesy Niti Central


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