Since three non-Congress, non-BJP parties are crucial in three States of East, the election outcome in this region will largely determine, what may be the fate of the ‘third front’ in post-election scenarios. In West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar, the BJP and Congress may be able to increase their vote share, but this may not dramatically alter seat shares. The Hindu-CNN-IBN Election Tracker survey conducted by Lokniti-CSDS shows that both in Bihar and Bengal the ruling parties have become slightly less popular, but at this moment they are ahead of their political rivals in the electoral race. If Lok Sabha elections are held now, the ruling parties except in Jharkhand will win comfortably due to a combination of popular satisfaction and divided opposition.
All is not well for the JDU. A large proportion of respondents, including people from Nitish’s own Kurmi community, blamed the JDU more than the BJP, for the alliance coming apart. What’s more, while Nitish Kumar continues to be the most popular choice for the Chief Minister of the state, his ratings have declined by nearly ten percentage points compared to his popularity during the 2010 assembly elections. Dissatisfaction with the Nitish government has also increased during last two years. Net satisfaction with the state government (i.e. satisfaction minus dissatisfaction) has come down from 81 in 2011 to 44 now. The break-up of the JDU-BJP alliance and the revival of RJD (particularly among Rajputs) make the contest more complex. The survey indicates an 8 percent swing in favour of the BJP mainly due to an Upper Caste consolidation. Meanwhile, the ruling JDU seems to be retaining its vote share and is ahead of all other parties in the race. The Congress may not be able to increase its vote share, but an alliance between the two parties could change the electoral result in the State in 2014. While most people want the JDU to go it alone in the next Lok Sabha polls, among those who want it to align with another party, most are of the opinion that the Congress would be the JDU’s best choice for an ally. Of all the communities, the desire to see a JDU-Congress alliance for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls is the strongest among Muslims. An alliance between the two could mean an absolute consolidation of the Muslim voters behind the JD (U)-Congress alliance.
These findings make the contest in the state less one sided. Bihar politics may well see more twists and turns in the months ahead. Alliances between parties can change the entire nature of electoral contest in Bihar.
In neighbouring West Bengal too, the ruling Trinamool Congress holds on to its 2009 strength, particularly in the rural parts of the State. This is despite a sharp drop in people’s net satisfaction with Mamata Banerjee’s government from 70 in July 2011 to just 8 now. One would have imagined that with dissatisfaction with the Trinamool Congress rising, its main rival, the CPI (M) led Left Front would be the direct beneficiary. However that does not seem to be happening on the ground. The survey reveals that if parliamentary elections were to take place now, the Left Front would not be in a position to improve on its 2009 performance. The Left’s support among Muslims is down compared to both the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2011 Assembly elections. Moreover, among the 42 per cent respondents who are dissatisfied with Mamata Banerjee’s government only about half said they would vote for the Left, with the rest mostly favouring the Congress. So, Left parties are projected to get 28 percent of the votes, down 15 percentage points since 2009. Trinamool Congress on the other hand is expected to get about one third of the popular vote in the State. The main beneficiaries of dissatisfaction with State government are the Congress and BJP. The Congress is not only retaining its control over the Northern parts of the State, its traditional stronghold, but it is also giving a tough fight to both the Trinamool and the Left in the Greater Kolkata region. This is also the region where the BJP seems to be making substantial inroads. Some highly urbanized parts of Bengal seem to be witnessing a four-way split among the Congress, BJP, Trinamool and the Left.
As in Bihar and West Bengal, ruling government seems to have declined in popularity in Assam also. Yet, the Congress would be in a better position than other contestants in the state. The Biju Janata Dal continues its hold over voters in Odisha. In fact, in the region, it is the only state government that has managed to increase net satisfaction level from fifty to fifty nine. In terms of projected vote share, Congress may stage some revival in Odisha while BJP appears to be doing very well in Jharkhand. In sum, Bihar and West Bengal could be the states to throw up surprises in this region.
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