Bihar 2020: Women and young voters will seal Nitish Kumar’s fate
Virtually a quarter of the voters in Bihar happen to be below the age of 30. And women voters comprise 47% of the electorate. Around four and a half million voters are first time voters
If Bihar Assembly elections were to be fought on Twitter, the outcome would have been decisive and out by now. Going by their tweets on just two days this week, Tejashwi Yadav (2.6 million followers) would appear to have left chief minister Nitish Kumar (6 million followers) far behind.
The Bihar chief minister addressed four election rallies on Wednesday and posted videos of all of them on his Twitter handle. But all of them were liked by fewer than one thousand followers. Retweets were also in one or two hundreds. But Tejashwi Yadav’s tweets invariably received four to six thousand likes—in one case the likes went up to 51 thousand—and retweets were also in thousands.
But that could be due to the social media teams! And Twitter following does not translate into votes. Indeed, opinion polls, most notably and recently the Times Now-CVoter tracker, forecasts 141-160 seats for the NDA in the 240-member Assembly.
But the tracker appears to have exercised caution in predicting far fewer seats for even NDA allies besides the smaller parties. The combined Left, contesting together for the first time, appears to have been underestimated and given just five seats. NDA allies have also been given five seats and so has the Lok Jan Shakti Party of Chirag Paswan. Similarly, the tracker dismisses ‘Others’ (Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, Vikassheel Insaan Party, Jan Adhikar Party and AIMIM) lightly.
But these are early days and the forecasts will change. What is more interesting is the finding that 84% of the respondents in Bihar are angry with Nitish Kumar and the state government. Around 30% of them still want him to continue, the tracker says, but 54% are angry and want a change.
The other significant finding is employment being rated as the topmost concern by over 80% of the respondents. Roads, electricity and transport etc. figure way behind, possibly because most people are satisfied with what they have. Nitish Kumar clearly knows this too because in his very first election meeting last week, he was at pains to explain why Bihar has failed to get industrialised. It is because, he said, Bihar is land-locked and does not have access to the sea.
The explanation did not cut much ice with people, who were quick to point out that Punjab, Haryana or even Uttar Pradesh did not have access to the sea either. While Tejashwi Yadav has promised to create a million jobs and created a job portal for the unemployed, Nitish Kumar mocked at the promise, ridiculing his young rival’s lack of maturity and experience. It was arguably not a very smart thing to do. Expressing helplessness at election-time and holding out no hope is bad optics.
There are other indications to suggest that NDA leaders are somewhat desperate. The Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai warned voters that if RJD won the election ‘by mistake’, Bihar would become a safe haven for terrorists from Kashmir. In the process he reminded voters of what the present Home Minister Amit Shah had claimed in one rally after another in 2015. If the Mahagathbandhan won, the victory would be celebrated in Pakistan with firecrackers, Shah had declared in rallies he addressed.
But unlike 2015 Amit Shah is not camping in Patna. And even Prime Minister NarendraModi, who addressed 31 election rallies in the state five years ago, is scheduled to address just 8 or 9. The current BJP president J.P. Nadda’s speeches, sprinkled liberally with Urdu words, are not setting the river on fire so far and though the party has unleashed all its fire power, there is anxiety also that Bihari voters might react to communal speeches as they had done last time.
BJP’s defeat in 2015 had upset forecasts by pollsters. Narendra Modi had launched an aggressive campaign against Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. There was something wrong with Nitish Kumar’s DNA, he had said, ridiculing JDU as standing for ‘Janata Ka Daman Aur Utpeeran’. Nitish Kumar too had paid back in kind by describing the BJP as the Bharatiya Jhootha Party and attacking the PM who was at the peak of his popularity
In this election the two are on the same side. Bihari voters have a long memory but nobody can ever take them for granted. While political pundits are sanguine that popularity of the BJP and the Prime Minister remains intact in the state, nobody is quite sure how the voters would react to the tanking of the economy, mishandling of COVID and floods, the Chinese aggression, the GST fiasco and the failure to grant a special status to Bihar.
In 2015 it was pitched as two sons of the soil (Lalu and Nitish Kumar) pitted against Modi and Shah. The strategy, chalked out by Prashant Kishor, worked. But this time Kishor is conspicuous by his absence. He has not been visiting his home state although at the beginning of the year there were indications that he might float a party and even contest the election. But the pandemic and the lockdown, the migrant crisis and the economy might have made him decide to sit out the election. But few political observers are ready to believe that Prashant Kishor is busy reading in Delhi or watching films in Hyderabad.
Significantly, no party or alliance in Bihar has ever polled in assembly elections more than 45% of the votes. The closet and the highest, 44% of the votes polled, were secured in 2015 by the RJD-JD(U)-Congress-Others alliance that came to be known as the Maha Gathbandhan. Even in 2010, when the JD(U)-BJP together had swept the poll by bagging 206 seats (115 by JD(U) + 91 by BJP), the alliance had polled only 39% of the votes.
Women and relatively younger voters would seem to hold the key. Out of the 7.29 Crore voters in the state, 47% happen to be women. And a quarter of the voters (24% in March, 2019) are in the age group of 18 to 29. Which way will they tilt?