The assembly elections in Bihar will test not just the Election Commission, but also society in general on the discipline required to manage what will obviously be a very complex exercise. The ruling JD(U)-BJP alliance and the RJD led Mahagathbandhan will be the primary contenders for power in a state that is likely to indicate what affect the Covid-19 crisis has had on electoral preferences. Of course, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s performance over the past five years should be the primary factor, but it will certainly not be the only one. Experts are also looking at the outcome of the bypolls to be held simultaneously across the country to ascertain the wider trends. This will decide the nature of electoral campaigns in the future.
Bihar politics traditionally has revolved around caste. The combination worked out by ‘socialist’ Lalu Yadav that was dominant for so long, was successfully unraveled by Nitish Kumar with his own caste mathematics, while at the same time offering the promise of good governance. Unfortunately, he has not been able to entirely deliver, owing to a number of reasons, many out of his control. The recent return of migrants from India’s big cities is also expected to influence the voters. The events in Hathras could also polarise voting behaviour. It may be noted that, of late, Congress strategy has been to break the ‘Hindutva’ consolidation in favour of the BJP by, first, shedding tears for UP’s Brahmins killed in police encounters and, now, ‘tyrannised’ Scheduled Castes.
As the elections approach, it can be expected that the heat will be turned up on all such contentious incidents. The crowds that have been gathered for protests against the farmers’ bills, or at the Hathras village indicate that political parties care very little for Covid-19 precautions – be it wearing of masks or maintaining social distance. This does not augur well for when campaigning begins. Bihar has, thus far, had low Covid numbers and the elections could prove the super-spreader event. As such, it would be wise for the Election Commission to take heed and clamp down from right now.
There is a lot at stake, be it at the state or the national level. Much will be revealed in the coming days.