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#BiharPolls phase III: Nitish's work, Modi's promise & a dash of caste

Special Correspondent | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:00 IST

At polling booth

  • Bihar votes in the third phase of polling on Wednesday
  • On offer: 50 seats in Patna, Vaishali, Saran, Bhojpur, Buxar, Nalanda
  • It\'s a straight contest: Nitish\'s work versus Modi\'s promise of doing better

On the ground

  • In Nalanda, Kurmis and Yadavs may benefit the Grand Alliance
  • Many of Nitish\'s supporters are upset with him for allying with Lalu
  • Modi has overshadowed state BJP leaders and Manjhi, Paswan as well

In Nalanda, the contest couldn't be more straightforward. It's between Nitish Kumar's widely acknowledged good work and Narendra Modi's offer of doing better.

The district votes on 28 October, along with Patna, Vaishali, Saran, Bhojpur and Buxar. Together, the six districts account for 50 assembly seats.

Read: Phase 3 of Bihar polls tomorrow; future of Lalu's sons and 50 seats at stake

For the most part, the voters' choice would be guided more by issues of governance than caste. This is remarkable given that Nalanda has a history of caste polarisation. It was here, on 25 October, that Modi declared his regime won't scrap reservation. This is not to say, however, that caste won't matter at all.

Nalanda, a 2,500-year-old synonym for the country's ancient scholarship, is the home ground of Nitish. And the polling here will be a litmus test for his Grand Alliance.

Caste equation

Kurmis and Yadavs hold the key to victory in at least seven seats, and they seem determined to exert their influence.

In Hilsa, we come across a group of farmers gathered in the town square. Of course, they are discussing the election. How do they read the contest in their constituency?

"Yadavs and Kurmis have come together. Modiji is definitely going to find things difficult here," says Shivpoojan Sharma. He sold his farmland a few years ago to educate his son, and hopes the next government would give the young man a job.

Ayodhya Prasad is also part of the group, and he leans towards the BJP. "Modiji is very important for the state," he says. "But he should have named Rajiv Pratap Rudy as the CM candidate."

Suresh Kumar, a graduate, will cast his first vote in this election. He believes the Kurmis will decide the winner in Nalanda.

'Modiji is very important for Bihar but he should have named Rajiv Pratap Rudy as CM candidate'

Kurmis are around 4% of Bihar's population whereas Yadavs constitute about 14%. But while the latter are spread uniformly across the state, Kurmis are mainly concentrated in Nalanda and surrounding areas.

In Nalanda, they are roughly 30% of the electorate. And most of the Kurmi voters we spoke with seem inclined to go with Nitish.

Modi looms large

The chief minister enjoys considerable support in Patna as well. Shanti Devi, who makes a living selling fruits on the street, swears by him. "It is only because of Nitish that I am getting the widow's pension."

Is she upset that he has allied with Lalu Prasad, as many Nitish supporters of the chief minister say they are? "He has done no wrong. I think it was a right decision to join hands with Lalu," Shanti retorts.

For her, as indeed for most poor and lower middle class people, the BJP is Modi. Not a single state leader of the party has made any impression on them.

Indeed, Modi has overshadowed the BJP's local allies as well. Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi are nowhere to be found on NDA's banners and posters, and few NDA supporters talk about them.

Upsetting alliance

In the region between Nalanda and Buxar, nearly every voter falls into one of three categories - those who sing praises of Nitish's good work; those who admire him but disapprove of his alliance with Lalu; and those yearning for change.

It's the second category that can swing the outcome. They are willing to go with the BJP to prevent Lalu from gaining power.

In Buxar, the voters are more favourable to Nitish, partnering Lalu or not. Azeem Khan, who runs a bookshop in the town, says, "Nitish has improved law and order. He has made positive changes in agriculture. Implementation of welfare schemes is more efficient. I think he deserves another chance."

Breaking the mould: Muslim Md Junaid will vote for 'new leader', Dalit Dalip Mehto will vote BJP

As for the alliance with Lalu, Azeem has an interesting take on it. "Lalu did good work for the poor during his initial years and the baton was taken over by Nitish after him. In a way, all the tenders were passed by Lalu but it was Nitish who executed the contracts. Their alliance will certainly be good for the state."

This election is also dispelling some old notions, such as that all Muslims and Dalits will always vote for Lalu, Nitish or the Congress, no matter what.

Mohammed Junaid, a student, acknowledges the developmental work done by Nitish but maintains that Bihar needs a new leader. Autorickshaw driver Dalip Mehto, a Dalit, is more unequivocal.

He will vote BJP, he says. For "change", of course.

First published: 28 October 2015, 9:54 IST