Political developments have gained momentum in Bihar. On 13 December 2022, in an interaction with the media in Patna, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav would be leading the ruling coalition in the next assembly elections in 2025. He repeated this announcement at a meeting of the ruling coalition. His statement followed the defeat of the Janata Dal-United (JDU) candidate in the by-election in Kurhani assembly constituency, revealed by the counting of the votes on 8 December 2022. Nitish said that he was not a prime ministerial candidate but that he was very much involved in a campaign aimed at making India Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-free.
The coalition that includes the JDU, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress have been in power since August this year. But the defeat of this Grand Alliance in the by-election has sown seeds of doubt on the future of the alliance. It is believed that Nitish’s statement is aimed at bridging the chasm between the JDU and RJD supporters.
His statement reflects the anxiety of the Grand Alliance over the different outcomes of the by-polls before and after the RJD and the JDU came together. A few months ago, before the coming together of the two parties, the Bochhan constituency, again in Muzaffarpur, had its by-election. At the time, the BJP and the JDU were in alliance. Yet, RJD’s candidate Amar Paswan won. However, in the by-election in the same district this December, the new alliance consisting of RJD and JDU lost. Besides the parties of Nitish and Tejashwi, five other parties are part of this new alliance. In Kurhani, JDU’s Manoj Kushwaha lost to BJP’s Kedar Gupta by a margin of 3,632 votes.
After its victory in Bochhan, the RJD had claimed that the Bhumihars had backed its candidate. But in the Kurhani by-election, the Bhumihars seem to have shunned the RJD. The defeat has become a cause for concern for the RJD. The party is shocked that it lost in a constituency with few Savarna voters. Senior JDU leader and minister Vijay Kumar Chaudhary said that the poll outcome was “unexpected”.
Before the Kurhani by-election, Mokama and Gopalganj also had their by-elections. In Mokama, RJD candidate Neelam Devi, the wife of former MLA Anant Kumar Singh, was elected. But this could be considered as Anant Singh’s victory rather than the party’s. It is noteworthy that here the votes for the BJP increased substantially. Even though it lost, the BJP had the satisfaction that its votes had increased. In Gopalganj, the BJP succeeded in retaining its seat. BJP’s nominee Kusum Devi won by a margin of 2,000 votes.
In the 2020 assembly polls, the JDU and the BJP were in alliance. In August 2022, the JDU parted ways with the BJP. But despite that, there was only a nominal fall in BJP votes. That has raised the question as to where Nitish Kumar’s vote bank is shifting.
Bihar politics appears to be at a new crossroads. The BJP’s vote base is growing and the party is working to increase it further. On the other hand, the RJD and the JDU have been unable to retain their voters. It was alleged that in Gopalganj, JDU supporters did not vote for the RJD and in Kurhani, the RJD votes did not back the JDU candidate. These allegations might be excuses to explain away electoral setbacks but there is no denying that RJD and JDU have failed to transfer their votes to each other. A former JDU minister who campaigned in Kurhani said that RJD and JDU workers had yet to win each other’s confidence and that was why their votes were shifting to the BJP.
Parties like the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and Vikassheel Insaan Party (VIP) are also influencing voter preferences. Their vote share becomes important when the margin of victory is low. However, their role is of little consequence at the macro level. Who will benefit or who will suffer due to their presence is decided by the party, the candidate and the caste equations. For instance, in Kurhani, VIP founder Mukesh Sahni fielded a Bhumihar. He got around 10,000 votes. But whether they came from the Bhumihars or the Mallahs, who are said to be the party’s primary vote base, is difficult to say. Each party is offering its own interpretation.
Three by-elections have been held in the state since the formation of the new government. What is common between the three is that in each case the BJP got more votes and expanded its presence in the constituency. In contrast, the Grand Alliance failed to keep its flock together. This is a warning bell for Nitish Kumar and Tejashwi Yadav and a cause for unease in the Grand Alliance.
Nitish Kumar’s announcement that Tejashwi Yadav will lead the Grand Alliance in Bihar in 2025 could clear the air. But the real issue is how the Grand Alliance plans to draw the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs) – who have been voting for the BJP – into its fold.
Translated from the Hindi original by Amrish Herdenia
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