Elections in any democratic society should be seen as a normal act wherein people elect their representatives who undertake the responsibility of governance to ensure a better standard of living and dignified life for all citizens. In that sense of the term, political parties who are in the profession of governance should put forth their promises for people to vote them to power based on their performance.
But, for quite some time, elections in our country have become instruments to ‘encroach’ power, and given rise to all kinds of alliances.
The recent developments in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan indicate a new low in this direction. It is important to see and evaluate the current election campaign in Bihar against this backdrop. In a telling rebuttal to the ‘development’ narrative of the NDA that had denigrated the ‘caste, clan, and community’ politics of the Mahagathbandhan in the past, the allies have hit back. Real issues, like jobs, education, health, and industry are the new focus of the election narrative in Bihar 2020.
Turning the tables on the ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance, the Mahagathbandhan’s Chief Ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav has stressed on 15 years of non-performance of the Nitish Kumar government by raising common people issues like unemployment, education, and health. If the crowds attending his rallies are any indicator, he seems to have struck the right cord with them. Unemployment in the state is at an all-time high, and the youth and students are worse affected by the jobs cuts or delay in the recruitment process for the central government jobs.
In many ways, Tejashwi’s oratory style is reminiscent of his father Lalu Prasad: the way of addressing and resultant connect with the audience, but the tone and tenor of his speeches have changed. On more than one occasion, the RLD scion has emphasized that his “politics is different from Lalu Ji’s; now is the need for economic justice, which is required for all”. He speaks about government jobs and promises to start the process for recruitment in his first cabinet meeting if he gets elected. He is also promising school teachers ‘same salary for the same work.
As Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Prime Minister Narendra Modi lash out at dynasty rule in Mahagathbandhan with the ‘double Yuvraj’ phrase in an apparent hint to Tejashwi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, their detractors view it as lack of confidence on the part of government which has nothing to show on the performance front. Apart from the natural anti-incumbency factor, working against the government, the official figures on unemployment and infrastructure have also put it on the back foot.
According to the ‘Handbook of statistics on the Indian States 2018-19,’ unemployment rate in Bihar has risen steadily in the past 15 years. While the urban unemployment rate was 64 per 1,000 in 2004-05, it went up to 105 in 2018-19. Similarly, the rural unemployment rate went up from 15 to 102 in the corresponding years. Add to this the burden of an estimated 22 lakh migrant workers who returned to the state in the wake of the Pandemic. It has been reported that a majority of them are still to find work.
The grand alliance with RJD, INC and the left appear more consistent and sure vis a vis their strategy as well as campaigning during their second experiment to build an alliance based on political commitment after their impressive success in Jharkhand last year. With clear agenda and plans in place, it is rolling on the ground with full conviction and trust within alliance partners. But this kind of clarity and strong bonding is missing in the NDA, which is grappling with inherent contradictions.
For the NDA alliance, PM Modi has taken the charge to rejuvenate energy into his supporters and mobilize votes for Nitish led NDA alliance, but the latter has been not accepted by all the party members including many state-level leaders, who crossed BJP and are now challenging Nitish Kumar on LJP symbols, thus sending confusing signals to grassroots workers.
Adding to the NDA’s woes is one of its own scion or chirag (pun intended).
Chirag Paswan’s (LJP) decision to fight the state elections independent of NDA, and at the same time pledging loyalty to the Prime Minister is having a negative impact.
How can one regional party fight election against another main partner within NDA, which has declared its CM candidate?
Many disgruntled ex-office bearers of BJP are contesting the election on LJP tickets. This will only enhance division of the NDA vote to the advantage of the opposition alliance. Although LJP is hardly likely to win a seat or two, it could dent the JDU vote share because in many constituencies LJP will able attract BJP core voters. It’s interesting to note the commentary by some experts: They say Chirag’s decision to contest elections against JDU candidates will not harm the BJP, but they are not admitting that ultimately the NDA alliance stands to lose out on seats.
Also, I can see that for BJP, it is a double anti-incumbency wave, one for its 15-year alliance government with Nitish Kumar, and two, the central government, as there could be many genuine grievances, which were not fulfilled during the past six years of Modi government.
In contrast, the projection of Tejashwi as the leader from his party for this election, has not met with opposition within the grand alliance. There are some minor partners RLSP, HAM and VIP who were in the alliance during 2019 Lok Sabha Polls, but are not in the coalition for the assembly elections. Understandably, as the leader of RLSP is a CM aspirant it is obvious for him to go it alone. The grand alliance seems to have also learned from experience in other states, that the baggage minor alliance partners can cost dearly in the current political environment due to shifting loyalties of small players.
हमारी सरकार आने पर विकास से उपेक्षित सीमांचल और कोसी क्षेत्र में चहुंमुखी विकास कार्यों के लिए ‘सीमांचल विकास आयोग’ और ‘कोसी विकास आयोग’ का गठन किया जाएगा।
अररिया के सिकटी विधानसभा क्षेत्र में पार्टी प्रत्याशी डॉ. शत्रुघ्न मंडल के पक्ष में जुटा भारी जनसमर्थन। pic.twitter.com/ACB8TbZsOd
— Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) November 4, 2020
Several poll analysts have observed that Congress has taken more than its ‘winnable’ share of seats to fight the election. Yes, the Congress is not strong, but the grand alliance is capable enough to support it in all aspects.
As for the Left parties, this assembly election is crucial to reclaim their lost ground. CPI-ML had three members in the outgoing assembly. This faction of Left was beautifully able to combine the peasant and workers struggles with social justice agendas. The CPI-ML also followed the Bahujan formula of Kanshi Ram, regarding taking care of 85% of the population and giving representation to those communities in the leadership.
Why I am saying this? If you look at the current three MLAs of the party, all of them are from the lowest rungs of society. The party indeed has fostered new leaders not only to lead its protests and struggles, but also made them capable to lead in the legislature and speak for their own people. This is the big shift seen in the left political approach in the recent times.
On the performance front, one may recall that only a few months ago in the pick of the COVID-19 cases, the Deputy Chief Minister of Bihar government had put the onus of bad health facilities in the state on its predecessor. However, the present government has been at the helm of affairs for almost 15 years, and their entire campaign was based on reforms and governance in the Bihar. So their argument on this count does not hold water.
The migrant labour also seems to have been rubbed the wrong way by the government. While other states rushed to the rescue of their native people, the Bihar government had said, it did not have the resources to help. Images of Bihari students in Rajasthan seeking the state government’s intervention to return home during lockdown are also fresh among people.
Even before the pandemic exposed the poor health infrastructure in the state, the outbreak of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) in June 2019, wherein nearly 117 children lost their lives, it was clear that the health system did not have the capacity to prevent the situation. According to Nation Health Portal (NHP) 2018 data there is one doctor for 28,391 people in the state.
Equally grim is the education scenario. With university sessions and examinations not being held on time, it’s not difficult to imagine the quality of education or teachers presence in schools or universities. The large scale migration of students to other parts of the country for education speaks for itself.
As the campaigning reaches a crescendo, and we still have a few days to go before the fate of political parties for the Bihar Assembly is sealed on November 7. The results will be declared on November 10.
Notwithstanding the poll outcome, one thing is clear in this election, the shift has clearly been on talking about the real bread butter issues of employment and job.
It will be interesting to see how much faith the Bihari voter reposes in Tejashwi’s promises on job, health, education, and irrigation fronts. Defying initial rejections by pollsters and journalists, who had predicted a walk over to NDA, Tejashwi has emerged as a strong contender for the CM’s post and a force to reckon with.