November 29, 2020

Bihar elections: In 94 seats today, RJD bets Left proves right; BJP hopes 2015 does

Contest tough, but Mahagathbandhan feels it has an edge with alliance workers ‘in sync’ on the ground.

In the 2015 Assembly elections, when the Mahagathbandhan had won against the BJP in Bihar at the peak of the Narendra Modi wave, North Bihar had given the saffron party half of its 43 seats. Most of the 94 seats voting on Tuesday are in North Bihar. As part of the NDA, the BJP is contesting 46 of them, and the JD(U) 43.

The contest is likely to be tough, with the NDA banking on EBC and women voters, and the Mahagathbandhan on the combined social base of the Congress and Left. The dark horses could be the LJP, that has put up candidates in 52 seats, and the RLSP, with 36 nominees in the fray — both of which could end up hurting the NDA combine.

In the 2015 Assembly elections, 31 of these 94 seats had been won by the RJD, 30 by the JD(U) and 22 by the BJP, while the Congress and LJP had won seven and two seats respectively.

The JD(U) might be out of the Mahagathbandhan, but the RJD-led alliance is confident its new Left partners will fill the gap. The RJD set aside as many as 29 seats for the Left — six for the CPI, four for the CPM and 19 for the CPI (M-L), counting on the latter’s “very high strike rate”. Of the 29 seats, 13 are in this phase.

Despite how late the partnership was stitched, it is seen as working well on the ground, with the RJD confident that its gamble on the transferability of Left votes will pay off. Though the Left vote share has declined from 5.04% in 2005 to 3.51% in 2015, its voters comprise a committed cadre. This is one reason the RJD pushed for an alliance with them and chose to let go of the HAM and VIP, though the Congress had wanted a larger gathbandhan. “Further, in a post-poll scenario, the Left parties are the least likely to break away,” says an RJD leader, speaking from experience of the bitter parting with the JD(U).

Both the CPI (M-L) and RJD leaders say their workers are in sync, as opposed to “the fractured NDA coalition”. “There is trust, as well as the recognition of a desire for change in government. People have aspirations, are tired of Nitish Kumar and are looking for a viable alternative,” says a CPI (M-L) leader, claiming they are not flustered by the BJP throwing allegations of Naxal and extremist links at them.

According to the leader, they are even more positive after the first phase, where the CPI (M-L) contested eight seats (it is in the fray in six in this phase). “We have a winning chance in all of them, including Arrah, where we came from behind… In many seats, the RJD contesting alone is not viable. The CPI (M-L) gives a cushion.”

The CPI (M-L) leader gives the example of Aurai, where the party went in with a weak organisation. With two Yadav candidates in the race, it believes its Muslim nominee is ahead, with the help of the RJD. “Muslims are the largest block here, but since Independence, only Yadavs have been winning,” the leader says, adding that in many urban areas, the poor hit hard by the lockdown and ASHA workers involved in Covid work are supporting the alliance.

Says Dipankar Bhattacharya, the CPI (M-L) general secretary, “We are very encouraged by the first phase and the momentum is only growing. All these comments (by the BJP) are not making a difference on the ground. The need for change is such that none of this matters.”

The CPI, four of whose six seats are in this phase, is counting on a resurgence in Begusarai. It was once known as “mini Moscow” or “Leningrad”, with the CPI winning from Begusarai North for the first time back in 1957 (its first win in North India).

This time, as part of the Mahagathbandhan, it is contesting from Teghra, Bakhri (SC), Bachhwara, as well as two seats in Madhubani, and one in Purnea. Teghra seat is home to the CPI’s new icon, Kanhaiya Kumar, and is set to see a triangular contest among the party’s Ram Ratan Singh, sitting JD(U) MLA Virendra Kumar Singh (son of former advocate general Ram Balak Mahto), and the LJP’s Lalan Kuwar (a BJP rebel). The latter two are fighting for the same Bhumihar votes.

Pointing out that it was here that Nitish recently made his remark “baap se poochho”, telling the crowd to ask their fathers what the state had before his time, Bhavesh Kumar says, “Virendra Kumar Singh seldom visited the constituency after becoming an MLA and is facing strong anti-incumbency.” He believes the CPI is ahead, though adding pointedly, “There has been hardly any demand for Kanhaiya to campaign here.”

The CPM, the weakest amongst the three Left parties with no win in 15 years, is contesting from Bibhutipur, Matihani, Pipra and Majhi, three of which vote on Tuesday. However, even the party is aiming high, says a leader, due to “the winds of change and the support of other alliance partners”.

 

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