Bihar elections may have a wider impact on nation

Polling began Wednesday morning in 71 assembly constituencies of Bihar in the first phase of three-phase elections amid tight security and COVID-19 guidelines in place. Of the total 2,14,84,787 electors eligible to exercise the franchise, 1,12,76,396 are male voters, 1,01,29,101 are female electors and 599 are in third gender category, according to data provided by the Election Commission. There are 78,691 service electors. A total of 1,066 candidates -- 952 men and 114 women -- are in the fray in the first phase of elections being held in constituencies spread across 16 districts.
The 2020 assembly election in Bihar has taken an interesting turn. The competition between top national and regional parties, the rift within existing alliances, the discourse around jobs, and most importantly, the focus on Nitish Kumar’s record have made the polls complex. Indeed, it is difficult to predict which key electoral issue is going to influence voters most deeply. No Assembly election in Bihar can be said to be imbued with deeper political meaning, especially considering the sharp political cleavage which is on view in our national politics, than the three-stage poll for which the first votes are to be cast today. Also, in no other election in recent memory in the state are the challengers being billed to be in with a chance.
This was considered quite inconceivable only a few weeks ago. It was widely believed that opponents of the NDA government of JD(U)-BJP helmed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, try as hard as they might, had no one to project who could even remotely match the CM in leadership qualities.
No doubt, much has happened in Bihar over these last 15 years. No one can deny the improvement in governance from earlier days when kidnappings in broad daylight were considered almost a legitimate enterprise. While the NDA in Bihar had its own hiccup several years ago, it overcame that. And how Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) will fare after it has now whimsically gone solo is something to be watched. In the meantime, Congress has slipped precipitously and is now little more than a bit player in the state.
Many BJP leaders have issued somewhat unconvincing clarifications that the LJP is not part of the NDA in the state. Modi’s silence on this issue in his campaign speeches on Friday has also deepened speculation over that there could be a tacit understanding between the BJP and LJP. There is no doubt that the PM is popular among the voters and, therefore, the LJP may be trying to use this to its advantage, despite the BJP’s protestations that it has asked the LJP to refrain from doing so. These developments pose a challenge for Nitish Kumar who is facing anti-incumbency after 15 years in power.
Guidelines have been issued by the Commission for the safe conduct of the electoral exercise in the midst of the raging COVID-19 pandemic. These guidelines include lowering the maximum number of voters for a polling booth from 1,600 to 1,000, staggering the polling hours and extending postal ballot facility to those above 80. Besides, sanitisation of electronic voting machines, wearing of masks and other protective gear by polling personnel and the availability of thermal scanner, hand sanitiser, soap and water has also to be ensured at polling stations.
 

- Prabhakar Purandare

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