KS Shankar / IHN-NN
NEW DELHI/PATNA: Curtains came down Thursday evening on campaigning for the third and last phase of the Bihar assembly elections, involving 78 constituencies in 16 districts that are up for polls on November 7. The feverish canvassing saw the BJP and the Congress party from rival sides launching no-holds barred attacks on each other, while the powerful regional parties allied to them raked up state-level issues.
Leaders of the NDA, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party(LJP), addressed a series of public meetings in this last round of the high-stakes elections to the 243-member assembly. Among star campaigners were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav, chief minister Nitish Kumar of the JDU and Chirag Paswan of the LJP.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hammered home a few points. Stated the PM at an election rally in Forbesganj in Araria district: “In the last decade, every house in the state got electricity and gas connection. Now, from 2021 to 2030, it is time to fulfill the other aspirations of the people.”
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at a Mahagathbandhan rally in Araria district took swipes at both the Prime Minister and at chief minister Nitish Kumar, as with a spin-off of the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) by dubbing them ‘Modi Voting Machines’ (MVM). Asserting that the youth of Bihar is angry, the Congress leader said: “EVM or MVM will not matter anymore. People of Bihar will vote for Mahagathbandhan.” Added the Congress leader, “We have a life-time’s relationship with the people of Bihar. He (Modi) used to spread hatred in society. Hatred cannot be defeated through hatred but by love,” he said.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav concentrated on his party’s promise to provide jobs to the youths. Stated he at a rally in Darbhanga town, “As I’ve promised, I will provide 10 lakh government jobs with my first signature at the first cabinet meeting if voted to power.” The party’s young chief ministerial face added, “Besides, I’ll focus on the core issues plaguing the state like padhai, dawai, kamai, sinchai aur mahangai [education, medicine, employment, irrigation and price rise… I’m young with new thoughts,” he told the cheering crowd.
The 31-year-old leader, who studied only upto Class X but is battle-ready, has been drawing huge crowds at his public meetings — over a dozen spots he reaches out to via helicopter ride every day. The mass frenzy at these rallies, however, might not mean victory. RJD supporters mainly consist of Yadavs and Muslims. They might not necessarily form the magic numbers to win a poll in most constituencies – as was evidenced in the 2019 LS polls. What is keenly watched is whether the RJD-led alliance will be able to woo other segments of the society to its side this time.
As many as 1207 candidates are in the fray for this last round of elections for the assembly. Results will be known after counting on November 10, five days hence.
The NDA in the state comprises the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Grand Alliance or Mahagatbandhan consists of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Left parties. The GSDP is an alliance among Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (JAP).
Also testing their luck in the assembly polls are parties like the LJP, RLSP, AIMIM, BSP and NCP. They hope to be the kingmakers in the event of a fractured verdict – aiming at a scenario of both the NDA and Mahagathbandhan failing to muster the majority support for a new government. Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which had created a pre-poll flutter by breaking ranks with the ruling NDA and picking up the gauntlet against the chief minister Nitish Kumar-led JD (U) is itching to play spoilsport. The LJP is in direct contest with the JD (U) in all the 122 seats the latter is contesting.
The 78 seats going to polls on Saturday are spread across 16 districts of north Bihar and the Seemanchal region. The Mahagatbandhan had won 54 of those seats in the 2015 assembly polls, including 24 by the JD (U) alone. At that time, the JDU was in an alliance with the RJD. Sometime later, Nitish Kumar broke ranks with the RJD and revived his ties with the BJP to continue remaining in power.
The poll arithmetic has changed drastically following the JD (U)’s switch to the NDA. The JD (U) is finding the going tough this time. The public mood against Nitish Kumar is palpable. At one campaign rally, onions were thrown at him, and he says it was a deliberate plan hatched by the RJD to tarnish his image. However, he was chastened. He told public rallies that this would be the last time he is contesting an election. He and his JDU have ruled Bihar for about 15 years, just as RJD ruled Bihar for as many years.
The RJD, which is sniffing an opportunity to emerge as the single-largest party, hopes to consolidate its tally in the final phase. In 2015, the RJD had won 20 of the 78 seats, where polling will be held, while its ally, the Congress, had bagged 10. The BJP had won 19 seats and another five had gone to other smaller regional parties. But five years on, the LJP’s rebellion against the JD (U) leadership has markedly altered the ground realities and the latter is fighting the last phase with its back to the wall.
A strong anti-incumbency mood is evident across the state. Big question is whether PM Modi can turn the tide in favour of the BJP, if not the NDA, this time. The JDU is faced with an internal tumult as well. It has expelled 33 leaders from the party for six years, a few days ahead of the final phase of the voting.
Notably, the BJP has been caught unawares by the RJD’s concerted bid to raise local issues in a bid to blunt the former’s jingoistic nationalistic and Hindutva pitch.
In East and West Champaran districts, 11 seats will go to polls in the third phase. The BJP had won six seats from these two districts, despite the Mahagatbandhan sweep five years ago. The BJP had drawn a blank in 2015 in Madhubani, Samastipur, Madhepura and Saharsa districts, where voting will be held on Saturday on six, five and eight seats each, respectively.
The BJP is hoping that 2015 was an aberration and 2020 would be an encore of 2010 assembly polls. Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi districts have five and six seats each, respectively, where polling will be held on Saturday. In the 2015 assembly elections, the BJP and the JD (U) had won six and three seats respectively, out of the 17 seats up for grabs.
In Seemanchal, the BJP and the JD (U) had won six seats each out of 24. The Mahagatbandhan’s tally from the region was 15, including JD (U)’s six and Communist Party of India’s (Marxist)’s lone victory. Traditionally, Seemanchal has been an RJD-Congress stronghold. In the 2010 Bihar assembly elections, the JD (U) and BJP had scripted history after the combine won 206 out of 243 seats in the assembly, but failed to breach the opposition citadel in Kishanganj. The RJD and the Congress won four seats in Kishanganj in 2010.
SEATS IN THIRD PHASE
The assembly seats where polling will be held on Saturday are located adjacent to Nepal, West Bengal and Bihar. Many of them have a high Muslim concentration, which may lead to polarization of voters. A sizeable section of Yadav and extreme backward classes (EBC) voters in these constituencies may work to the Mahagatbandhan’s advantage.
The BJP has unleashed its star campaigners as defence minister Rajnath Singh, UP CM Yogi Adityanath and BJP chief JP Nadda for the third phase campaign. Yet, Tejashwi, RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s son and the GA’s CM face, is unfazed by the BJP’s campaign blitzkrieg. His public rallies have been a rage.
LDP’s Chirag Paswan, who inherited the political mantle from his recently deceased father Ramvilas Paswan, is targeting the five seats in Samastipur district, where the party had performed well in last year’s parliamentary election. The AIMIM of Asaduddin Owaisi, buoyed by its maiden victory in Bihar in the Kishanganj bypoll last October, is eyeing to make inroads into the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region.
The third phase of polling will decide the fate of leaders such as Abdul Bari Siddiqui contesting from Kewati, Loktrantrik Janata Dal chief Sharad Yadav’s daughter Suhasini Yadav from Bihariganj, Lovely Anand contesting from Saharsa, Nikhil Mandal from Madhepura and Akhtarul Iman from Amour. Eight ministers of the JD-U are trying their luck in this phase. Power minister Bijendra Prasad Yadav is contesting from Supaul, Vinod Narayan Jha from Benipatti, Madan Sahani from Bahadurpur, Suresh Sharma from Muzaffarpur, Laxmeshwar Rai from Laukaha, Bima Bharti from Rupauli, Narendra Narayan Yadav from Alamnagar, Maheshwar Hajari from Kalyanpur and Ramesh Rishidev from Singheshwar. –IHN-NN
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