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No wave yet, Bihar election is down to seat-by-seat contests

Panini Anand | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 5:43 IST

The wave

  • There\'s a wave in favour of Narendra Modi and the NDA in upper-caste dominated Patna
  • However, minutes outside the capital, there\'s no semblance of any wave

The ground reality

  • Voting along caste lines will once again decide which alliance wins Bihar
  • Local rebels on each seat could play a key role in the outcome

More in the story

  • Which caste is aligning with which alliance
  • Why the NDA is confident of kickstarting a wave

Almost every inch of public space in Patna is covered with slogans, banners and billboards. Every political party claims it will bring development to the state of Bihar. Hotels in the city are chock-full of politicians, party workers and media-persons. The unbroken line of convoys arriving from the airport signals that things have reached a fever pitch.

The biggest dance of democracy since the Lok Sabha election of 2014 is upon us. It's time for the first phase of the Bihar assembly polls, with 49 seats going to the polls on Monday, 12 October.

All things Modi in Patna

In Patna, a majority of locals and visitors one comes across are checking in for the NDA. The caste character of Patna is dominated by the upper castes, which have traditionally gone in favour of the BJP. That's why there's an impression that there is a Modi wave in the state.

Even the media coverage of the election shows this. "The public relations exercise by the BJP is far stronger than by the rest of them, who are regional players. This brings a sense that there is a 'wave'," says a senior journalist, unwilling to be identified.

So the Modi wave does exist, as claimed by BJP leaders including the party's national president, Amit Shah. But the wave does not carry beyond the horizon - in fact, it's all quiet barely a minute outside the state capital.

The posters and flags disappear completely, and the only hint one gets that there's an important election around the corner is through a few vehicles bearing party symbols. The mood among the people is mixed.

In fact, while travelling across more than 35 assembly seats in different districts, the Catch team realised that people's reactions to the polls are still caste- and religion-based. People, as is usual in Bihar, are set to vote according to caste brackets and they have cooked up their own justifications for their choices.

The caste divide

Let the record show: the Bihar election is a forwards vs backwards contest.

Most of the Dalits we interacted with will vote for the NDA, despite agreeing that development in the last 10 years has changed their lives and surroundings. The upper castes will vote for the NDA despite accepting that Nitish Kumar has performed.

"Nitish would have become the Kejriwal of Bihar in this election. But he spoiled it by choosing to ally with Lalu," says Ratnesh Rai, an upper caste voter in Patna.

But why is Lalu Prasad Yadav such a figure of hate? Is it because of his performance or his caste? People start out with the same answer: for 15 years, Lalu presided over a 'jungle-raj' in the state, and they don't ever want to see those dark days again. But speak to them for a few more minutes, and the caste line comes tumbling out.

Travelling across 35 seats in various districts, we found that people will vote on caste lines again

Even among the Dalits, the chamars are not ready to vote for the NDA. They will go for the Congress, the grand alliance, and even the BSP on some seats.

The Extremely Backward Classes or EBCs, on the other hand, are not revealing their hand. Some start by praising the BJP and end up accepting they might vote for Nitish, and vice-versa.

Scorned local leaders

The other important factor that needs to be considered is local equations on each particular seat. Each major player, the RJD, the JD(U) and the BJP, has a long list of rebels who are contesting against their own party.

Even those who aren't contesting are not involved in the campaign, since they're trying to 'teach a lesson' to their respective parties for undermining them.

A prime example is JD(U) MLA Renu Kushwaha from Samastipur, who is now contesting on a BJP ticket.

Suresh Ranjan, a JD(U) supporter, is still going to vote for her. Why? "Because she is popular, literate, confident, vocal and active. Why shouldn't I vote for someone who is a tried and tested candidate, and has performed well?"

In Mahua, the RJD's local face, Jogendra Rai, was denied a ticket because Lalu's elder son, Tej Pratap, is contesting from this seat. Rai, also a Yadav, is trying to play spoiler for Tej Pratap.

In Begusarai, the BJP has denied a ticket to Surendra Vivek, who is now contesting from Sahebpur Kamal seat as an independent. Vivek and his doctor wife have spent a lot of time and money on social work for the last two years. Vivek enjoys a good public image and even local BJP leaders admit he would've been a good choice.

There are many examples in every phase of this election which suggest that there's no semblance of a wave for either the NDA or the grand alliance. In fact, this is a close, seat-to-seat election with the caste divide being the primary deciding factor.

However, the grand alliance is hoping that Nitish's track record of development will make the voters stick by them. On the other hand, the NDA hopes Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 30 rallies over the next four phases will be the catalyst for a wave.

First published: 11 October 2015, 10:16 IST
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.