Will Bihar elect a hung house?
Big role for independents, small parties
If the Bihar Vidhan Sabha elections are held today the electorate may toss out a hung house. But yesterday is not today nor would tomorrow be today. The poll scene changes as fast as the swirls in the swollen Ganga.
Over 5.5-crore electorates have very limited options. Omnipresent corruption and Bataidari Act hang before the people like a naked sword. Both land-owners and share-croppers are apprehensive of the Bataidari laws. This development seems to have alienated, to a great extent, villagers from the NDA’s ‘sushan’ government. Nitish Kumar’s charisma seems to be on the wane. The ‘Wild West’ image of the Lalu Prasad-Rabri Devi era has, however, not got blurred in the people’s mind. Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP is almost on the margin.The third option, the Congress party has no leader to steer its boat and channel people’s mood into ballot boxes. The Congress party needs a charismatic leader to bring the underground current of sympathy over-ground. The selection of candidates may have its own impact on the Congress fortune. In this murky situation Independents may hit the bull’s eye, assert political analysts. They, together with smaller parties, may emerge as an important factor in forming the new government after the polls.
The BJP seems to have lost its sheen to a large extent. General people consider the saffron brigade as an appendage to Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal-United (JD-U). Ram Vilas Paswan has already hitched his bandwagon to the Lalu caravan. The man, who till yesterday ‘boasted’ of holding keys to government formation in Bihar and ‘forced’ elections that brought Nitish-led NDA government to power, is now far away from the ring. Paswan talked of making a Muslim as Chief Mister but now has settled down to deputy chief ministerial berth for his younger brother in the Lalu Prasad-led government if the RJD-LJP combine is voted to power.
The Congress party, on the other hand, has certain percentage of ‘captive’ votes all over the state. The Rahul Gandhi factor has enthused the youth to some extent. But handicap is lack of leadership to turn them into winning votes. The Left and smaller parties have a limited role to play. These parties or groups may have localised influences but their candidates would be more vote-splitters than being winning horses. On the whole, the present scene is so confusing that even rouble-rousers and star-gazers can not forecast any definite result at this hour. It is, however, too early to jump to any definite conclusion at this stage. The electorate mood changes overnight. A whiff of air may turn into tornado to make or mar any party or combination. The present scenario predicts a triangular battle with an edge for Nitish Kumar. It is the Congress alone that would put candidates for all 243 Vidhan Sabha seats. The other two camps, JD(U)-led NDA and the RJD-LJP alliance, have seat-sharing pact with their allies The Congress has never made it alone since 1995, though it did enjoy power as an ally of Lalu Prasad’s RJD twice. In 1995 when undivided Bihar witnessed straight fight between Congress and Lalu Prasad-led Janata Dal, the party could secure just 29 seats in a 325-member house. Nitish Kumar’s fledgling Samata Party was formed just before the polls. The BJP then was not a force to be reckoned with.
In the next polls the grand old party contested all the 324 and won 23 cutting into the votes of the BJP. It went on to support the Rabri Devi government and reaped good benefit by having 22 ministers. The remaining Congress MLA was made the speaker.
In the two subsequent assembly elections in February 2005 and October-November 2005, (which saw a brief President’s rule), the Congress fought in a virtual alliance with the RJD on 84 and 51 seats, respectively, but could win only 10 and nine seats.
Nitish Kumar led the NDA government came to power in November 2005 on the plank of development and the electorate’s anger against Lalu Prasad had helped him win the election.
Five years after his victory, the image of Bihar as a lawless state seems to be changing.
Today, there are roads in Bihar. The law-and-order situation has improved. And the bureaucracy is no longer invisible, it works to an extent. Fifty per cent seat reservation for women in the grassroots democracy is the other shining achievement of the NDA government. Drought has become a big challenge for Nitish Kumar. The abduction of four policemen by armed Maoists early September and the killing of one of them have come at a wrong time for the Chief Minister. The incident indicated the helplessness of the administration and that all is still not well in the state where 31 out of 38 districts are Maoist-infested. Maoists are emerging strong and election compulsions have tied down the government’s hands. Nitish Kumar cannot act tough with the ultras.