The Bihar elections – a pretty complex affair

The Bihar elections is promising to be a pretty complex and messy affair. On a high level, it seems to be a pretty simple matter, with a confrontation between 2 rival alliances – these being the BJP led alliance on one side, and the messy secular alliance on the other side. The Lok Sabha elections had made it clear to the non-BJP opposition that if they were a divided vote, then the BJP would ride all over them, especially in the alliance with the LJP (Ram Vilas Paswan) while Laloo and Nitish fight each other and their individual vote banks not being enough to face off with the BJP. As a result, with the Lok Sabha elections revealing that Nitish was defeated badly by his former partner, and Laloo not doing anything great either, there was a movement to move together as alliance partners (which was shocking for a lot of people since their vote banks are not really similar, in fact, they were competitors for attracting the votes of the downtrodden castes and hence fierce competitors).
The messy part is because Nitish and the BJP were collaborators in a shared Government (run by Nitish) before Narendra Modi became the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP and Nitish did not want to have a shared image along with Modi in front of his support base, given that a number of Muslims voted for the JD(U). As a result, when the last so many years of a Government were shared, how do you campaign using the support of these past few years – do you praise those years or dismiss them ? The BJP now dismisses those years, but it is sticky; Nitish is in an even stickier position because he came to power criticizing the corrupt and criminal years of Laloo Prasad Yadav, and it is difficult to suddenly go in front of the population and ask for support for a collaboration with the same person who you have criticized for so many years (and it was difficult for Laloo to also support Nitish’s claim to be the Chief Ministerial candidate for the alliance).

Another messy area is the presence of Jiten Manjhi. When Nitish lost the Lok Sabha elections in a big way, he claimed moral responsibility and handed over the reins to Jiten Manjhi, an associate, and one he thought he would rubber-stamp and run by proxy. Manjhi, a Mahadalit (a category that Nitish claimed ownership over), had other ambitions and tried to prove that he was an independent Chief Minister (note, he does not make a claim about being a good Chief Minister and his period was not known for being an above average or even an average performing Government); as a result, it was humiliating for Nitish since he had to get Manjhi kicked out of the party. This seems to have turned the Mahadalit vote against Nitish (although in this messy arena, nobody really knows the extent to which such feelings run). Manjhi was supported by the BJP all the way, which was of course thrilled with one sense of implosion inside the JD(U), and he became a part of the BJP led alliance (although Paswan is uneasy since this is another competitor for the vote base).
The elections are due very soon, being divided into multiple phases over a month. The messy part is supported even further, with the presence of rival candidates in many constituencies from all parties, with even the more disciplined BJP facing some internal voices of dissent (with one Government officer turned MP even claiming that seats were being sold). These rebels under-cut the votes of whichever party they belong to, and the presence of bahubali candidates, even though reduced somewhat, continues to be there.
The complexity comes out in the form of the various opinion polls happening over the past weeks, and they cannot come to an agreement. Most of the polls (although not all of them) show a very tightly fought election, with the victory margin between the different combinations not being very high, just a different of 1-3% which would make all the difference in terms of the seat margins. However, there can be further swings in support, with the murder of a Muslim man in Dadri in UP because of the allegations of beef eating, which is supposed to be consolidating the Hindu vote, but also gearing up the Muslim votes and even those of many lower castes which don’t have such strong views of cow slaughter.

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