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Opinion

Bihar enters survey mode – editorials

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The campaign for Bihar’s election, scheduled for the end of the year, has begun. In an exhibition of what the campaign would look like in the era of coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Union Interior Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Amit Shah addressed the workers in a digital rally. His message was simple: the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance had complied with governance; he will win a two-thirds majority under Prime Minister Nitish Kumar; and the Center and the state government have worked to address the anguish of the poor, particularly migrant workers.

Mr. Shah’s claims are questionable. There is a feeling in Bihar that in his third term, Kumar’s record in office has been spotty, especially when compared to his own past record of improving Bihar’s infrastructure, law and order. The past five years have been marked by political instability. He won the elections in alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), but changed partners halfway. The next generation of reforms, necessary to attract investment to industrialize the state, has not happened. But most critically, Kumar’s record in relation to health and the economic crisis in the past two months has had several gaps. Bihar tests were low in the initial period; was not proactive in bringing back migrant workers, who are central to the state’s remittance economy; When the migrants returned, there was an increase in cases beyond the anticipation of the state government; and has been unable to rigorously follow health protocols and find an adequate financial response.

However, the BJP-JD (U) alliance has a career edge, mainly due to caste arithmetic and opposition status. In Bihar’s triangular politics, every time two actors come together, they have an advantage over the third. The ruling combine has the substantial backing of the upper castes, backward communities, and a large segment of Dalit. But its greatest strength is the RJD. With Lalu Prasad still in prison, the party’s mantle of leadership is with Tejaswi Yadav, who does not have the massive contact and charisma of his father. The RJD has strong backing from Muslims and most of the Yadavs (although segments of Yadav moved in the Lok Sabha elections to the National Democratic Alliance). This social coalition is enough to make the RJD a strong opposition, but not enough to win. It is also unclear whether the RJD has the political weight to capitalize on palpable discontent against the state government. But regardless of the result, the real importance of the poll lies in how parties mobilize in times of a pandemic and the changing nature of the issues that will now be central to voter elections.

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