Election could also make or break the careers of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav
GN Bureau | October 1, 2015
Bihar elections are going to be the biggest electoral test for the Modi-led BJP government and a victory could provide the central government with new momentum. The electoral process begins on October 12 and concludes on November 8. ”No matter what the voters of Bihar decide, the ramifications will be felt far beyond the state’s borders,” scholars Milan Vaishnav and Saksham Khosla from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - a top US think tank - wrote about the Bihar elections yesterday.
Read more at: http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/09/30/battle-for-bihar/iid1
A win would bring the BJP closer to a Rajya Sabha majority and boost its chances ahead of state elections in 2016 and 2017. If it falls short, it would be a big blow, especially because prime minister Narendra Modi has associated his own reputation so closely with the campaign, even recently announcing a $19 billion economic package for the state, the writers say.
The election could also make or break the careers of Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad Yadav. Predict the scholars on the future of JDU and RJD leaders. Kumar’s star, once among the brightest of all state leaders, has dimmed after the 2014 general election debacle. For Yadav, who will likely return to jail to serve time for a corruption conviction, a victory would maintain his—and his family’s—relevance in state politics. Forming an alliance in Bihar would provide the Congress Party some comfort for its spate of recent electoral defeats and boost the standing of the party’s heir-in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi.
The scholars from the top American think-tank say that the best one can do when it comes to predicting election outcomes in Bihar is point to important factors that help shape the results. There are three in particular that merit mention.
“First, one increasingly resonant trend is the importance of governance and development in voter evaluations. By 2005, nearly half of Bihar’s voters felt that security had worsened during the preceding fifteen years while nearly two-thirds negatively evaluated the condition of roads and the availability of electricity. The souring economy and state of governance under fifteen years of RJD rule, during which per capita income in Bihar actually declined, allowed the BJP-JD(U) alliance to center its 2005 campaign on the pledge that it would reverse this decade and a half of “Jungle Raj” with “Vikas Raj” (vikas means development in Hindi). This promise, and its partial realization, delivered handsome electoral rewards.”
“Preelection surveys have clarified the link between good governance and popular perceptions of the ruling alliance and have emphasized the critical role development issues—namely, electricity, unemployment, and inflation—continue to play in the mind of the Bihari voter.”
“While Bihar remains India’s poorest state, Kumar’s efforts to roll out targeted welfare schemes, increase infrastructure spending, and improve law and order have paid economic dividends. Today, Bihar is one of the fastest-growing states in India (aided, in part of course, by a low starting point). In 2014–2015, per capita income in Bihar grew at 8.4 percent—making it the second-fastest-growing state in India.”
“The question is whether voters—their aspirations piqued by Bihar’s recent economic upturn—remain satisfied with the pace of change or, instead, feel that Modi’s BJP offers them a brighter future. Heading into the election, the BJP is touting Bihar’s progress during the eight years it was part of the ruling alliance while claiming that those gains were squandered when Kumar chose to dissolve the BJP-JD(U) coalition in 2013, placing politics above his state’s own interests. Several recent polls have suggested that many voters agree; voters have regularly rated the performance of the Bihar government higher when the BJP was a principal member. The BJP is also making much of the fact that Kumar’s pact with Yadav’s party will return Bihar to its Jungle Raj days by forsaking aspirational politics in favor of parochial caste calculations.”
Second, demographic shifts have introduced fresh uncertainty. Traditionally, men in Bihar have been significantly more likely to vote when compared to women. In 1962, total voter turnout in Bihar stood at 44 percent; however, this aggregate number masked considerable variation. Male voter turnout was 55 percent, more than 20 percentage points above female turnout (32 percent). That gap remained for the next three decades, before narrowing in the 1990s. By 2005, the differential in voter turnout between men and women reached single digits. In 2010, female turnout outpaced male turnout for the first time.”
“Researchers have argued that this shift has been pivotal in determining political outcomes in recent state elections, with women playing an especially critical role in the RJD’s 2005 ouster. Whether women are content with the gains made during Kumar’s rule or instead wish to give a new party a chance is a question analysts are intensely scrutinizing.”
“Young voters are also important when it comes to demographics. Out of an electorate of nearly 67 million eligible voters, almost 31 percent are between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine. The BJP’s ability to cater to younger voters through its messaging, social media, and projection of Modi as a leader in touch with India’s youth was instrumental in establishing the party’s dominance in 2014. One study found a stark correlation between changes in the BJP’s electoral fortunes and the share of first-time voters, those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. The ability of the BJP alliance to recapture the political imagination of young voters, and to mobilize them to turn out, will be key to its success.”
“A final factor pertains to the swings in parties’ caste support bases. Traditionally, each of the major parties has relied on distinctive vote banks. On the anti-BJP front, the RJD has attracted votes from the Yadav and Muslim-minority communities. Because the Congress—the other party with strong Muslim support—is allying with the RJD, the anti-BJP coalition is poised to sweep the Muslim vote. According to data from the Center for the Study of Developing Societies, the BJP alliance only earned 2 percent of the Muslim vote in Bihar in the last general election. The JD(U), for its part, has profited mainly by targeting EBCs and Mahadalits.”
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