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The battle for Bihar commences | HT Editorial – editorials


Even as the focus is on the elections in the capital, political forces have already begun preparations for the other big election at the end of this year — Bihar. On Thursday, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president and home minister Amit Shah addressed a rally in Vaishali on the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. He also reiterated, amid speculation over differences with the Janata Dal (United), that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will fight the election under the leadership of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.

Nine months is a long time in politics. But if indeed the BJP and JD(U) fight the polls together, they have the clear edge. While Lok Sabha outcomes cannot be extrapolated to make predictions about assembly polls, as recent state elections have shown, the fact that the NDA (which also includes Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party) won 39 of the 40 seats in the state means it starts with a psychological advantage. Caste equations also favour the NDA — as a large segment of upper castes, extremely backward classes, and Dalits, particularly Paswans, appear to be supportive of the alliance.

The challenge for the alliance, however, is its governance record. Mr Kumar, who delivered on law and order, infrastructure and education for girls in his first two terms, is widely seen as having presided over an ineffective government in the third term. Prohibition may add a section of women votes, but has spawned a parallel economy enmeshed in criminal networks. The next generation of reforms has not happened. But the NDA’s biggest advantage is the weakness of the opposition. The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) has struggled in the absence of Lalu Prasad, and his son, Tejaswi Yadav, has not been able to establish a connect on the ground. The Congress remains marginal. But both parties hope that a combination of economic discontent against the Centre and local resentment against Mr Kumar will tilt the balance over the year.

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