National Importance of Bihar Elections and an NDA advantage
The history of Bihar is one of the most diverse in India. Bihar consists of three distinct regions, each with its own history and culture — Magadh, Mithila, and Bhojpur.
Bihar is the birthplace of Gautam Buddha and one of the oldest dynasties of India i.e. the Mauryan Dynasty (founded by Chandragupta Maurya). Bihar also takes pride in its heritage as it is the base of one of the oldest universities in the world i.e. the Nalanda University. Despite a rich heritage and history, Bihar has always considered to be backward state. However, it is slowly transforming, progressing, and competing with other states. These assembly elections may prove to be a defining moment for both Bihar and its CM Nitish Kumar.
Nitish Kumar has been the Chief Minister of Bihar for 15 years, minus a brief interruption when Jitan Ram Manjhi was at the helm of affairs. The ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), comprising of Nitish Kumar's JDU and the BJP, is pitched against the Mahagathbandhan of the RJD and the Congress in the elections. As is common with every election campaign, the government is outlining its "achievements", while the Opposition is highlighting the government’s "failures." But, there is an additional factor that makes these elections different from the previous ones. The relevance of these elections goes much beyond Bihar and its politics because of many reasons — Bihar has more than 6 crore registered voters. During the last Assembly elections in 2015, the voter turnout was 57.04 percent, so it's a large state with 243 assembly seats.
First Major Elections after the COVID Outbreak
What is the impact of COVID on the Indian political system? Will the COVID affect the electorates' decision or voting pattern? Is the economic slowdown due to the lockdown going to be a decisive matter for people? A number of questions are being raised with Bihar’s state elections as they are the first elections to be conducted after the Covid-19 pandemic hit India. The Election Commission of India has issued detailed guidelines for campaigning, nominations, polling, and counting. All eyes will be on the execution of these guidelines that will also be applicable to other elections, including the one in West Bengal next year that will be conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Physical campaigning is, for the first time, playing a very limited role in state elections. Rallies by leaders are digital and nominations for candidates will be online. Only groups of up to five people are allowed to campaign door-to-door, and roadshows cannot have more than five vehicles.
So, the elections in Bihar will be observed very closely, both in India and other countries, owing to its timing and the challenges it will be dealing with. They are definitely going to be very different from the elections we have experienced so far after independence.
BIHAR – Country’s Workforce Comes from Here…
Bihar provides one of the largest workforce, skilled and semi-skilled, to all parts of the country. From industries to agriculture, you can find the Bihari workers everywhere in India. Lakhs of migrant workers returned to Bihar from other states due to the lockdown imposed in order to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes coronavirus diseases or Covid-19. The return of the workers triggered a spike in Covid-19 cases and deepened the unemployment crisis in Bihar. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on Bihar's healthcare facilities in an unprecedented way. In the light of these circumstances, the voting pattern of migrants will have a national resonance as the workers will vote on the basis of social, political, and economic factors in the areas where they are currently residing. Another factor that will make a difference is how the states that were the working ground for these migrant workers had treated them during the lockdown.
The National Effect
Modi’s face will continue to be the most attractive for the NDA during these elections too. The majority of the media surveys have established that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity has soared despite the ongoing challenges. The Bihar election result will be the first authentic indicator of the people's opinion about him, BJP, and its allies. This are also one of the elections where BJP took a strong stand and stood with CM Nitish Kumar. BJP even went on to state — “Even if BJP gains more seats, Nitish Kumar will continue to be the CM”. This is a very rare statement to be heard in coalition politics in India. This clearly shows and sends a message to the cadres of both the parties, BJP and JDU, that they are acting as one in this battle. Another thing to be noticed is that Lalu Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan will not be a part of this election process. Therefore, a complete shift is taking place in Bihar Politics.
The Bihar election result will set the tone for the crucial Bengal Assembly elections that are due seven months later. An NDA defeat may galvanize the opposition parties. If NDA wins, it will set the stage for a tough fight for Bengal as BJP will present a stronger challenge to Mamta Banerjee.
The New Bihar
Like many other states, Bihar is also changing with times.
It's not known as the old Cow Belt anymore; it's progressing. There has been political stability in the state with CM Nitish at the helm of affairs for almost 15 years. The law and order situation has improved, and modern infrastructure is being developed. So, it’s a new Bihar that is going to vote in these elections.
Be it Mahatma Gandhi's 1917 Champaran Satyagraha, or Jayaprakash Narayan's call for Total Revolution in 1974 that led to the Emergency, or Lalu Yadav's 1990 arrest of LK Advani during the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, Bihar has often been the center stage of Indian politics. These assembly elections being held in a completely new environment of COVID will be a new learning experience for everyone — a new kind of politics, elections, and for a brand new government if we go by the trend. Again, all these factors will prove to be an advantage to Nitish Kumar and NDA.