Bihar has always been an epicenter of caste politics. A grand battle is on the cards in the state this time. NDA (consisting of 3 parties) is taking on the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance consisting of eight parties). The NDA, led by the BJP, comprises Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) (that made a ghar wapsi of sorts in 2017) and Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP. The mahagathbandhan is led by Lalu Yadav’s RJD, Congress, Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP (which recently left NDA), former Bihar chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM, Saini’s VIP and Sharad Yadav’s LJD. 

From the NDA, JD(U) and BJP are contesting for 17 seats each and LJP for 6 seats. From the mahagathbandhan, RJD is contesting for 20 seats, with one candidate from the CPI(M-L) and Sharad Yadav, who is likely to contest on a lantern symbol. The mahagathbandhan has INC contesting in nine, RLSP in five, HAM in three and VIP in three seats. This is the lowest number of seats that RJD is contesting since its formation. In 2009 and 2014 it contested for 28 and 27 seats respectively. 

Also read: IRCTC scam: Lalu Yadav gets interim relief by Delhi high court, but will remain in jail

Due to frequent changes in partners, the contest in Bihar, has become quite interesting and difficult to predict.

Image may contain: text

In 2014, BJP led alliance won 31 out of 40 seats in Modi wave, helped by split of votes between the UPA and JD(U). In the 2015 state election, Lalu and Nitish joined hands to hand a deadly blow to the BJP. In 2017, Nitish and Lalu split with JD(U) back in NDA fold. Since then, NDA allies HAM and RLSP have left. Sharad Yadav broke ranks with Nitish, but couldn’t force a split in the party. The refurbished NDA enjoys a big lead of 175 against mahagathbandhan in the state as shown in the table below. 

No photo description available.

Tejaswi Yadav has shown a big heart in accommodating allies to broaden the socio-economic base of the alliance. The alliance boasts of the support of Yadavs (14%), Muslims (17%), Mahadalits (10%), Koeri / Kushwaha (8%) community accounting for half of the population. On the other hand NDA boasts of support from upper caste (15%), Kurmis (4%), Dalits (6%), Adivasis / Others (2%) and Most Backward Classes (24%). 

No photo description available.
Source: India Today PSE

While the contest appears even stevens on paper, the RJD has taken a big risk by banking on Upendra Kushwaha, Jiten Ram Manjhi, Sharad Yadav and Mukesh Saini. Kushwaha, Majhi and Sharad are well past their prime. They are no more the leaders of their respective communities. RJD has given way too many seats to them. While they could benefit from M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) votes of RJD, Lalu’s candidates may not get the reciprocity. 

HAM and RLSP where both with NDA at the time of 2015 assembly elections and performed disastrously. They contested on 44 seats but could win only three. Their poor performance was one of the major reasons for BJP’s loss in 2015. The seats on which RLSP/HAM are pitted against JD(U)/BJP will be interesting to watch out for. The Congress party’s upper caste vote many not get transferred to these candidates harming mahagathbandhan’s prospects. 

No photo description available.

The opinion polls predict a sweep for NDA in Bihar. On an average NDA is expected to win 31 and mahagathbandhan 9 seats. Smaller parties like BSP (2.2% vote share) and CPI (1.2% vote share) who have not been accommodated in the alliance are likely to divide the anti-BJP vote and damage mahagathbandhan. 

The mahagathbandhan hopes to exploit the double anti-incumbency against Nitish who has been in power for almost 13 years and 5-year rule of Modi. It is banking on the performance in by-polls where it performed well. By-poll results have to taken with a pinch of salt as they are contested on hyper local issues. When people go out to vote in by-polls they don’t go to elect a PM or chief minister but only the MP / MLA. As per India Today Political Stock Exchange, both Nitish and Modi continue to rule the popularity charts. Nitish, the sushashan babu (the ‘good governance’ guy) is the most preferred chief minister candidate while Modi is the most preferred PM candidate. They both enjoy a significant lead over their nearest rivals (20%-30%). 

Why Lalu’s RJD has offered so many seats to weak partners is difficult to understand. The charismatic leader who has witnessed many battles, may already be feeling the heat. Is he finding a way out to blame the partners post-poll for the heavy loss expected? Only time will tell…

Amitabh Tiwari is a political consultant, strategist and commentator advising political parties and leaders. He was a former corporate and investment banker who tweets @politicalbaaba.