Home » Politics » 'Y' for youth, not Yadav: the new X-factor in Bihar politics

'Y' for youth, not Yadav: the new X-factor in Bihar politics

Panini Anand | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:47 IST

Status quo

  • The NDA and the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance are locked in a tight battle for Bihar
  • The election is expected to be caste-based, and the numbers look like a dead heat

Way forward

  • According to estimates, there will be 8,000-10,000 young first-time voters in every constituency
  • The youth are expected to vote for aspiration, not on caste lines
  • All parties are focused on attracting the youth

As Narendra Modi stood on the stage announcing a special package for Bihar, these people were capturing the moment on their smartphones. They shouted slogans and cheered for him.

They probably know they are the X-factor in the upcoming assembly elections. They are the youth of Bihar.

Bigwigs squabble

The PM not only understands how key the youth of the country are to any election; he makes it a point to talk about them all the time, no matter where he is. He talks about institutes with professional courses, skill development programmes and job generation.

"Every youth wants to start his own business. I want them to be entrepreneurs. Even with a very small workforce and investment, they should get a chance to live their dreams," Modi said in his address.

Immediately after the PM's speeches in Arrah and Saharsa, Lalu Prasad reacted strongly. He said Modi can't fool the youth of the state, and that they will not let him trap them in his 'false and fake promises'.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also tried to break the illusion Modi created through his speeches.

So why is it that these seasoned politicians are squabbling over the youth?

A game of numbers and aspirations

The NDA, led by the BJP, bets on upper caste and Dalit-Mahadalit votes, whereas the JD(U)-RJD-Congress alliance relies on OBCs, including Yadavs, EBCs and Muslims. This is why it is projected to be such a close battle between the alliances, and nobody seems to have a clear advantage.

"Look at the level of discourse at the political meetings: it has reduced to a very low and personal level. That shows there is lack of confidence among the leaders, and no one looks confident of victory," says Arshad Ajmal, a political activist and commentator from Patna.

"Even Modi's anxiety is visible in his speeches. He is less confident that before, because he doesn't want to lose in the state."

But one of the primary things that can swing this election - the one thing common across all castes, is the youth.

The key lies in their sheer numbers, and the fact that their minds are yet to be swayed one way or another. The young people of Bihar, like all of India, are aspirational, and whoever can assure them a good future will bag their vote.

"There are 8,000 to 10,000 first-time voters in the 18-23 age group in each assembly segment. They dream big and have great aspirations. We are closely observing them and we hope they will vote for us," says a BJP leader from the state.

The Bihar election promises to be a close battle, and the youth may tilt the balance either way

"All these caste brackets have youth as the liquid vote. They are not driven by caste or identity politics. They are more interested in the future than history. Modiji was always an inspiration for them. We know their vote is important to us and we are working on it," the BJP insider adds.

But JD(U) leader KC Tyagi counters this, saying: "Modi was a new face, a new candidate in 2014 election. The perception about him among all sections of society, including the youth, is not the same any more. The report card of the last 15 months has exposed him. The youth voted for Nitish in the past two elections, and they will vote for him again."

Appeasing the youth

The parties' attempts at youth appeasement are quite visible. While Modi is trying to accomplish this through his speeches and promises, Nitish is trying to appeal to them through the digital platform and a social media-oriented campaign strategy.

Young faces like Chirag Paswan of NDA member Lok Janshakti Party and Lalu's sons, Tejaswi and Tej Pratap Yadav, are also active in the campaign. Former CM Jitan Ram Manjhi, now also with the NDA, also has a team of youths to campaign for the alliance.

Surprisingly, Arvind Kejriwal too has become a factor. The AAP's success in providing an entry point to the youth and its appeal to them was a big factor in Delhi.

Kejriwal has praised Nitish in the past, and his team might go to Bihar and campaign in the incumbent CM's favour.

The BJP has an aggressive strategy for capturing the imagination of the youth, and that is forcing others to counter it strongly.

The BJP and its sister organisations have activated youth networks in cities like Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Bengaluru, in a bid to interact with students and the migrant workforce from the state.

Even Bihari youth, who live in these cities, have friends and relatives in the state. They can be 'convinced' to vote for the BJP.

Modi model vs Sushasan Babu

So far, though, this 'wild card' of the election has not given any indication as to which side it will go with.

It's the Modi model against the state's own 'good governance' man, or Sushashan Babu, as Nitish is called.

While Modi still carries a strong mass appeal, even Nitish's strongest critics accept that he has performed.

The youth, though, know that much more needs to be done before their aspirations are fulfilled. Their destiny is in their hands, for it is they who'll probably decide who gets to rule the state over the next five years.

First published: 19 August 2015, 11:22 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.