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    Hello and welcome to a chat with Archis Mohan on 'Bihar elections: Which way will the mandate shift?'


    Hello, everyone

  • A


    Sir, why has this election suddenly turned away from core issues like development, poverty and unemployment? Both key alliances seem to be raising not-so-important issues...


    I think development is a weak spot for both the alliances. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised much for Bihar during his Lok Sabha 2014 campaign. There has been little delivery on that. He has now promised so much more. Meanwhile, Nitish Kumar has made a name for himself on the issue of governance. Bihar improved on several key social indicators like women's empowerment, reduced school drop out rate, better hospitals, etc. But then Kumar was starting form a low economic base, and many things, particularly reviving the industry and job creation remain abysmal. Also, Kumar cannot talk much about his better governance as all of it came in the context of 15-years of Lalu Prasad rule, who now is his ally. And, the BJP cannot castigate Kumar much as it was a partner in his government. So, I think its easier to talk of issues like jungle raj, beef and the reservation controversy.

  • N


    What is the significance of pre-poll surveys conducted by various media groups in any election? What is the chance of them coming anywhere close, especially in the context of Bihar state election?


    The results in any pre-poll survey hinge heavily on how big the sample size is and whether it represents a cross section of the electorate. Bihar is extremely difficult given that 90 per cent of its population lives in rural areas and if at all journalsits and surveyors are actually tapping the rural voter, particularly the silent majority of the 114 castes that comprise extremely backward castes and the 22 dalit/mahadalit castes. These castes are not particularly voluble and their voting pattern not easy to gauge in this election.

  • A


    Do you see BJP getting a two-thirds majority?


    A very difficult question to answer at this juncture. Most observers believe the first phase has been good for the Grand Alliance, the second phase is likely to be evenly contested, third and fourth phase to the BJP and the fifth, the Seemanchal area, to the Grand Alliance. If its such a keenly contested election, and if there isn't a 'Modi wave', than I do not see how the BJP can get two-thirds majority. In any case, the party is contesting only 160 of the 243 seats, the rest 83 having been given to its allies. So, theoretically also its impossible that BJP on its own will get two thirds, that is 162, of the 243 seats.

  • R


    Asaduddin Owaisi announced at the last moment that his AIMIM will also contest the Bihar elections. The so-called secular parties have claimed that Owaisi’s entry is a ploy to divide the Muslim vote, which is quite significant in Bihar. AIMIM is contesting on only six assembly seats. And most pre-poll opinion polls suggest it will be a tough contest between the NDA and the Grand Alliance. Do you see AIMIM’s entry as advantage NDA?


    It had seemed so on paper, but AIMIM is essentially a party that has done well in areas that were once the Nizam territory - parts of Karntaka, Maharashtra and obviously Hyderabad. Owaisi is a good orator and the issues he raises do strike a chord with Muslims but north Indian politics is a different ballgame. In Bihar, Lalu Prasad remains massively popular among Muslims and him having also aligned with the Congress makes the combination so much more attractive to the Muslims. Owaisi had initially announced that his party will contest on 24 seats. Now, its down to six seats. Clearly, the party does not want to spend its thin resources on battles it is sure that it will lose. I do not think Owaisi's entry is as much an advantage as initially thought to the NDA.

  • V


    NDA is going into this election with Prime Minister Modi as its face — as the alliance did in Maharashtra and Haryana, too. The strategy worked in those states as the anti-incumbency factor also helped the BJP. However, Nitish Kumar is a popular face in Bihar. Do you think the strategy to pit Mr Modi against Mr Kumar will work in Bihar?


    If at all there is an electoral pattern in the last two years it is this - the Modi-led BJP has done well whenever faced with a discredited Congress. This was true for the 2014 Lok Sabha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Haryana and even J&K to an extent. However, it lost when faced with a credible party and leader in Delhi. Nitish Kumar remains a very popular leader. People in Bihar, across all castes, have nothing bad to say about him barring their disgust at his aligning with Lalu Prasad. Its a Catch 22 for Kumar as he benefits from Prasad's Muslim-Yadav vote bank but also suffers as some of his supporters are likely to desert him in favour of the BJP.

  • K


    Hi sir. What does the trend in the first phase of voting in Bihar suggest? Is the higher voter turnout going to be an advantage for NDA?


    Higher voter turnout is no longer a sign of a vote for change. Recent assembly elections even where the incumbent governments were elected have seen higher turnouts. Also, the higher voter turnout is a jump of only two per cent since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and seven per cent since 2010 assembly polls in Bihar. The significant bit is that women voted in more numbers than men, but this is also consistent with the past elections. But having said that, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an appeal among the youth and women voters. His rallies are still being well attended. It could be a vote for change.

  • V


    What paradigm shift can we see with respect to development in Bihar, irrespective of who wins the Assembly elections?


    Bihar desperately needs industry and job growth. A slew of projects have been announced by both the PM as well as Nitish Kumar. Bihar, particularly its youth, would hope that the projects are implemented. There is much that can be done. Investors have pointed out how Patna doesn't have one single decent hotel and only a single multi-speciality hospital. These are things that any government can redress in a short time.

  • A


    What could possibly be BJP's stance in the event of a hung Assembly?


    The BJP could decide to wait its turn. For, its unlikely, given the history between Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, that any government run by the two of them will be sustainable for too long. There is a prospect of 2005 getting repeated when Bihar saw two elections, one in February which produced a hung verdict, and then in October of that year which brought JD (U) and BJP alliance to power.

  • P


    Could the promise of 'good governance' prove a game-changer in Bihar elections?


    The promise of 'good governance' is potentially a game-changer as Bihar desperately needs some development. However, Nitish Kumar, admittedly starting from a low base after 15-years of Lalu Prasad, did commendably in several sectors. People in Bihar acknowledge that, too. But will they repose their faith the tried and tested Kumar, but this time along with Lalu Prasad, or go with the promise, as yet not delivered, of Prime Minister Narendra Modi? It would seem, going by the issues raised by rival alliances in the past fortnight, 'development' has taken a backseat.

  • R


    Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad were arch rivals before joining hands for this election. Kumar had previously called Prasad's term 'jungle raj’ in Bihar. So now, why would a JD(U) loyalist vote for an alliance, or vice-versa?


    Its the BJP that started the 'jungle raj' campaign in April and in my view a bit too soon. This has given Lalu Prasad time to rebut it effectively on the ground. This has also made the Yadavs rally behind Lalu Prasad as they think the BJP is insulting not just their leader but also the people of his caste. The Muslims are also solidly behind Lalu Prasad, and my assessment is that they are voting for Nitish Kumar because he has aligned with Lalu Prasad. Similarly, Kurmis, the caste that Nitish Kumar belongs to, are also supporting the alliance. But you are right that much of the upper caste, several among the Dalit and Extremely Backwards are disgusted with Nitish Kumar for having aligned with the Lalu Prasad. But a lot would depend on local factors, including the kind of candidates that each alliance has put up.