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Bihar Assembly poll unlikely to be cakewalk for NDA allies

While the BJP swept the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it has not been doing so well in Assembly elections since 2018. Beginning with Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2018, the trend continued in Maharashtra, Haryana, Delhi and Jharkhand in 2019, a cause for concern. And this despite a spectacular performance in the General Elections earlier in the year spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Election Commission (EC) today announced the three-phase schedule beginning October 28 for the Bihar elections for which the counting will take place on November 10. Notably, the result from neighbouring Jharkhand in 2019 was partly attributed to a substantial dip in the BJP’s vote share in urban areas.

This may worry the NDA allies in Bihar (BJP, JD-U and LJP) who are yet to resolve seat-sharing and other issues. The BJP believes it has an upper hand given the state of the Opposition in Bihar but political observers believe the ground situation in Bihar, like it was in Jharkhand, is far from what it appears.

Observers say Sushant Singh Rajput and Ram Mandir are not an issue for the state where anything related to castes still has the potential to change the scenario as it happened in 2015. The bottom line is votes of backward classes, Muslims, etc., and their issues will decide the fate of parties. The contentious agriculture reforms also have the potential to form another cornerstone.

However, BJP leaders, who expect great dividends from the agri-reforms, claim the MSP and APMC are not an issue in Bihar.

This apart, while upper castes have grievances against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, it seems migrants who returned home amid the Covid lockdown are also not too happy with him. Besides the massive anti-incumbency faced by Nitish Kumar, floods and damage to farm land are other issues that are expected to affect the results.

BJP’s focus areas include PM Narendra Modi’s self-reliance pitch (atmanirbhar Bihar) and monetary help, rations and MGNREGA jobs for migrants after they reached Bihar in the lockdown. With JD-U ‘s Nitish Kumar as face, BJP president JP Nadda is learnt to have asked party MPs to work not only for ensuring victory for saffron candidates but also nominees of all NDA constituents.