Bihar Assembly Elections end on a note of suspense

A security official keeps a vigil as voters stand in queues to cast their votes at a polling station during the third phase of Bihar Assembly Elections, at Mahua in Vaishali district, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020   | Photo Credit: PTI

The three-phase Bihar Assembly poll amid the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic slowdown ended on Saturday with around 55% voting for the third and final phase with 78 seats at stake.

Over the last month of relatively subdued campaigning due to the coronavirus outbreak, leaders of both alliances — the JD(U)-led NDA and RJD-led UPA — have addressed a series of public meetings every day. While the ruling NDA raised issues of Pulwama, the Ram Temple and CAA, the opposition focused on development, corruption and jobs for unemployed youths in a State where nearly 58% of the population below the age of 25.

Crucial campaign

While a month before the election, the prospects for the NDA was visibly bright with the caste and class combination adding up in their favour, the arrival of RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav changed the scenario with his whirlwind campaign. Mr Yadav addressed a marathon 247 public meetings, with an average of 19 a day.

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His speeches raising issues of employment and promising 10 lakh government jobs attracted and electrified huge crowds of young people. Mr Yadav was the major campaigner for the UPA, addressing 51 public meetings for Congress candidates, and emerged as the face of change as opposed to three-time Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. In the process, the RJD leader also broke out of the party’s traditional MY(Muslim-Yadav) caste calculus while setting the poll narrative on development and economy including migration, poor health and education.

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Despite his relative youth, the RJD leader kept his cool and did not react to aspersions and jibes from Mr. Kumar, who cast aspersions on him and his family, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who termed him “jungle raj ka yuvraj (crown price of lawlessness)”.

Mr. Yadav also managed to ensure that there were no voices of dissension from any of his politically ambitious siblings.

On the other hand, JD(U) president and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who is otherwise known as Mr Cool, was often seen losing his temper during public meetings — sometimes berating protesting audiences and sometimes attacking on Tejashwi Yadav personally. At one public meeting at Harlakhi in Madhubani, onions were thrown at him apparently in protest against sky-rocketing prices of the kitchen staple, while at Parsa in Saran, his rally was interrupted by slogans of “Lalu Yadav zindabad”.

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Mr. Kumar was seen as having lost touch with common people over the last one year. He had stopped meeting journalists and people while relying heavily on a set of bureaucrats known to be close to him over the years.

Seeking votes for his fourth consecutive term, 69-year-old Mr Kumar seemed to acknowledge the anti-incumbency and at his last public meeting at Dhamdaha in Purnia on November 5, said this would be his last election and hoped “all is well that ends well”.

Apart from corruption and prohibition, the NDA campaign was also marred by confusion with the exit of the NDA ally Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) led by Chirag Paswan. The party put up candidates against most JD(U) candidates while leaving the field for the BJP.

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Mr. Modi also slammed Mr Yadav, reiterating his epithet of “jungle raj ka yuvraj in all his 12 public meetings and harping on “15-years of lawlessness of the previous RJD regime”. The Prime Minister and other BJP leaders also touted the scrapping of Article 370, the underconstruction upcoming Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and invoked Chhatee and Ganga (deities) to woo the voters. However, these issues failed to resonate with the voters, especially the youth for whom “unemployment, corruption and migration” were the core issues deciding their vote preferences.

While UPA partner Congress contested 70 seats, its focus was on about 45 seats, with vigorous campaigning and clear electoral strategy.

It is surmised that in the final tally the Congress could add about 28-30 seats. The three Left parties, specifically the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) which contested 19 seats, too are expected to add significantly to the UPA tally. The CPI and CPM contesting six and four seats respectively, are likely to win four seats.

The result of the Bihar poll will be out of November 10.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 8:29:28 AM |

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