Sensational as Nitish Kumar’s break-up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Narendra Modi’s leadership was, it led to the obvious question: with the winning combination in tatters, which way will Bihar go in the 2014 general election?

Since then, the question has assumed greater relevance and for the following reasons: Lalu Prasad’s reported resurgence and the corresponding decline in the popularity of Mr. Kumar; signs of administrative failure in incidents such as the Gaya terrorist attack and poisoning of mid-day meals resulting in the deaths of schoolchildren, and finally, the Modi factor thanks to which the BJP is expected to carve out an independent identity in a State where it had played second fiddle to the Janata Dal(United), earlier the Samata Party. There was jubilation in the BJP ranks that the 17-year long alliance had finally ruptured, allowing the BJP to test its own strength.

Two sections

If Mr. Kumar went broke expecting to reap big dividends from the decision, he has reasons to be worried going by the findings of the 2013 The Hindu-CNN-IBN-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) election tracker. The survey looks at Bihar in two different sections. In the first, it follows the vote share change between 2009 and 2013 for all contesting parties, and in the second it examines the governance record of Nitish Kumar and the reactions from voters, including JD(U) voters, to his unilateral decision to end the JD(U)’s alliance with the BJP.

Taking the second part first, the survey shows deeply felt anguish over the break-up of the alliance, even among the JD(U)’s traditional voters. Around 38 per cent of respondents overall said Mr. Kumar should have accepted Mr. Modi’s leadership. Surprisingly, 41 per cent of respondents among the Kurmi-Koeri castes, who form the JD(U)’s core vote base, too said he should have accepted Mr. Modi. More surprisingly, 24 per cent of Muslims felt the same way. The question whether the BJP should have saved the alliance by not promoting Mr. Modi elicited similar replies, except from Muslims. Only 20 per cent of respondents overall said the BJP should have kept Mr. Modi out. The figure was slightly higher for the Kurmi-Koeri castes with 27 per cent endorsing the view that the alliance could have been saved by not promoting Mr. Modi. Among Muslims, the share of people feeling this was far higher at 35 per cent.

Fortunately for Mr. Kumar, this negative feedback is balanced by the survey’s findings with regard to vote shifts between 2009 and 2013. The survey shows an increase in the vote share of all parties, barring the Congress, which remained stagnant at 10 per cent.

The vote shares of the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) were up by one percentage point and five percentage points respectively — from 24 per cent to 25 per cent for the JD(U) and from 19 per cent to 24 per cent for the RJD. The biggest gainer turned out to be the BJP whose vote share went up eight percentage points — from 14 per cent to 22 per cent.

What does this show? Minus the BJP, the JD(U) presumably will contest more seats which should explain the small vote share gain for the party. But looked at another way, this finding shows that the JD(U) has not suffered the expected damage from breaking the alliance. Even with all things going against the JD(U), it is still the single largest party in Bihar. The BJP has made significant gains but whether this will result in a larger share of seats is difficult to say because an alliance between any two parties can completely alter the electoral landscape.

The problem with the survey is twofold. Its vote share projections contradict the findings on voter perception of the break-up. The survey says Mr. Kumar’s own supporters are unhappy that he broke the alliance. Yet his vote share has gone up, even if marginally. So who is supporting him and why?

Alliance formation

Second, the survey doesn’t factor in alliance formation ahead of 2014. Should Mr. Kumar align with the Congress, the alliance will trump other parties. An alliance among the RJD, the Congress and Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Jan Shakti Party will likely do even better than a JD(U)-Congress alliance. So the future of Bihar is really in the hands of the Congress, which ironically is at the bottom in terms of vote share.

In the end, much will also depend on how the Bihar government tackles crises which seem to be piling up. Currently, Mr. Kumar tops the list of regional leaders likely to head a third front government. But, as the survey shows, his approval ratings are rapidly plunging, which may leave him with no option but to align with the Congress.

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