Bihar has seen a high turnout of women voters in the last few elections — both Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha. In the 2015 election, the polling percentage of women voters was higher than the male voters. Statistics show that female voters who voted numbered 1,89,14,687 out of a total 3,12,72,523 female electors, which was 60.48%. The number of males who voted stood at 1,90,78,453 out of 3,57,82,181 total number of 3,57,82,181, which was 53.32% in terms of polling percentage. In the 2019 parliamentary polls, 59.58 % of women voted while the percentage of male voters was 57.33%.
In fact, it is no secret that female voters were the force behind Nitish Kumar’s return to power for a third term in 2015 when the main poll plank was the implementation of total alcohol prohibition in the state. In the last few elections, the EC has been promoting all-women managed booths to encourage the participation of women voters but the number of such booths was limited. For the first time a record 2.04 lakh women personnel are being engaged in election duty following the increase in the number of all women booths.
It won’t be a smooth ride for NDA as government is facing storms of criticism for never seen before migrant crisis, a rising COVID graph, healthcare unpreparedness, increasing unemployment and the sheer misery unleashed on the poor because of government mismanagement. For some unknown reason, Nitish Kumar showed extreme reluctance to take back Bihari workers and students stranded in other states during the lockdown. He differed with the BJP on repatriating students from Kota. He argued against the Centre’s proposal to run special trains for migrants. When a heartbreaking video went viral, of a toddler trying to awaken his dead mother on the railway platform in Muzaffarpur after getting off a migrant special, Nitish showed little sympathy. And he has continued to remain cold to the plight of returning workers who are now being blamed by his government for bringing COVID to Bihar.
Access to qualitative institutional healthcare
Bihar is one of the hotspots of the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Bihar has the sixth highest number of active Covid-19 patients with the lowest rate in the country. It conducts 7,917 tests per 10 lakh people against the national average of 18,086. At 14.7 days, Bihar has the third-worst doubling rate against the national average of 23.6 days. The current state of affairs in Bihar can be seen as an acute manifestation of perennial weaknesses in its healthcare system. These weaknesses are not limited to the infrastructure and human resources, the also reflect the inefficiency in governance and lack of trust and accountability. The current state of healthcare in Bihar has largely been shaped by a legacy of constant neglect and with shortage of beds and ICUs in healthcare facilities, what we are witnessing is the derailment of women and child health initiatives.
Reverse migration and a large unemployed force
The visuals of thousands of familes walking back to their villages during lockdown and the absolute apathy of govt towards these migrant workers is still fresh in public memory. Out-migration has been a long-standing problem of Bihar, which supplies labour force to most of the developing cities of the country. Policymakers have long said that lack of economic development in the state has forced generations of Biharis to flee, looking for work in other states.
However, the fact that Bihar had a migrant problem of its own came to the fore during the coronavirus lockdown. The sudden announcement of lockdown in March shut down factories, shops and other businesses across the country.
Labourers working in these businesses for paltry incomes soon exhausted their means of livelihood and started walking home to an uncertain prospect.
Women comnstituting a large share of these daily wage earners don’t want to go back to the same ortdeal and now, have started demanding jobs from the Nitish Kumar government, which is seeking a fresh mandate
The monumental mismanagement of the state’s government hospitals has completely exposed the crumbling public health infrastructure and the Nitish Kumar government is facing the heat. Overworked, underpaid and uninsuresd ANMs, contractual staff and ASHA workers have been protesting against Nitish Govt. The major demands of these health staff hired under the National Health Mission (NHM) are pay revision, a 15 per cent increment in salary every year, regularization of work under the state government, compensation of Rs 25 lakh to the kin of health workers who succumbed to COVID-19, and the payment of Employment Provident Fund.
Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) have an important role among frontline workers on the ground battling the COVID-19 pandemic but, they are neither getting adequate security nor money. The non payment of coronavirus duty payment and AES survey payment have left these frontline workers in lurch. This has forced them to go on strike. There are more than 90,000 ASHAs in Bihar.
To add to this, thousands of schoolteachers and jeevika didis, key mobilisers for government functions, are angry with the CM’s failure to meet their long-pending salary demands. According to official figures, there are more than eight lakh self-help groups in the state in which lakhs of jeevika didis are working at the grass root level in thousands of villages. They play an important part in mobilising women from their respective villages for any government programme or function.Needless to say they are one vote bank Nitish Kumar won’t wish to lose.
A safe and secure Bihar
The law and order situation, which has been the selling point for the Nitish Kumar government since his first term, also presents a grim picture of the state. The state has seen a spate of gang rapes and videos being made viral even when the grotesque Muzaffarnagar Shelter case hasn’t seen any acquittal
A foolproof flood control strategy
Loss of lives, livelihoods and settlements impact women the most as they are in a child caring role. Floods are cause of perennial sorrow in Bihar, where 28 of the 38 districts are marked flood-prone. This year, though, the floods were more severe than usual and affected the state at a time when people were already struggling to deal with the pandemic and lockdown. At least 8.3 million people in 16 districts were displaced, and many are living in relief camps still. The Opposition has claimed politicization of relief, while the government has blamed earlier regimes for weak embankments and corruption.
The BJP believes it has an upper hand given the state of the Opposition in Bihar but political observers believe “the ground situation in Bihar, like it was in Jharkhand, is far from what it appears”. Local issues govern Assembly elections and BJP has not been doing so well in Assembly elections since 2018. Beginning with Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018, the trend continued in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and Jharkhand in 2019. And this despite a spectacular performance in General Elections spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The bottom-line is female voters will decide the fate of parties in these elections where the the combination of coronavirus pandemic, migrant crisis, job losses, floods and farmers’ issues have the potential to give a setback to BJP.