The stakes are high for the various alliances in the third and final phase of Bihar assembly elections, which will go to polls on Saturday (November 7).
Voting will be held on 78 seats and all the alliances, including the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the main challenger Grand Alliance (GA) or the mahagathbandhan, and the third motley grouping Grand Secular Democratic Front (GSDP), are going for the broke.
The NDA comprises the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the GA consists of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), the Congress and the Left parties and the GSDP is an alliance among Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) and Rajiv Ranjan alias Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party (JAP).
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Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), which had created a pre-poll flutter by breaking ranks with the ruling NDA and picking up the gauntlet against Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led JD (U), is itching to play the spoilsport.
The LJP is in direct contest with the JD (U) in all the 122 seats, where the latter has fielded its candidates.
The 78 seats going to polls on Saturday are spread across 16 districts of north Bihar and the Seemanchal region. The GA had won 54 of those seats in the 2015 assembly polls, including 24 by the JD (U) alone, which was in alliance with the RJD.
However, the poll arithmetic has changed drastically following the JD (U)’s switch to the NDA. The JD (U) is likely to find the going tough and emulate its five-year-old performance.
The RJD, which is sniffing an opportunity to emerge as the single-largest party, is likely to consolidate its tally in the final phase.
In 2015, the RJD had won 20 of the 78 seats, where polling will be held, while its GA ally, the Congress, had bagged 10. The BJP had won 19 seats and another five had gone to other smaller regional parties.
But five years on, the LJP’s rebellion against the JD (U) leadership has markedly altered the ground reality and the latter is fighting the last phase with its back towards the wall.
The JD-U has expelled 33 leaders from the party for six years days ahead of the final phase of voting.
The BJP has also been caught unaware by the RJD’s concerted bid to raise local issues in a bid to blunt the former’s jingoistic nationalistic and Hindutva pitch.
In East and West Champaran districts, 11 seats will go to polls in the third phase. The BJP had won six seats from these two districts, despite a GA sweep five years ago.
The BJP had drawn a blank in 2015 in Madhubani, Samastipur, Madhepura and Saharsa districts, where voting will be held on Saturday on six, five and eight seats each, respectively.
The BJP is hoping that 2015 was an aberration and 2020 would be an encore of 2010 assembly polls.
Darbhanga, Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi districts have five and six seats each, respectively, where polling will be held on Saturday.
In 2015, The BJP and the JD (U) had won six and three, respectively, out of the 17 seats up for grabs.
In Seemanchal region, the BJP and the JD (U) had won six seats each out of 24. The GA’s tally from the region was 15, including JD (U)’s six and Communist Party of India’s (Marxist) lone victory.
Traditionally, Seemanchal has been a RJD and Congress stronghold.
For instance, in 2010, the JD (U) and BJP had scripted history after the combine had won 206 out of 243 seats in the Bihar legislative assembly, but had failed to breach the opposition citadel in Kishanganj. The RJD and the Congress had won four seats in Kishanganj in 2010.
The assembly seats, where polling will be held on Saturday, are located adjacent to Nepal, West Bengal and Bihar and many of them have a high Muslim population, which may lead to polarisation. A sizeable section of Yadav and extreme backward classes’ (EBCs) voters in these constituencies may work to the GA’s advantage.
The BJP has unleashed its star campaigners, despite the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak, such as defence minister Rajnath Singh, UP CM Yogi Adityanath, and BJP chief JP Nadda for the third phase.
However, Tejashwi Prasad Yadav, RJD chief Lalu Prasad’s son and the GA’s CM face, is unfazed by the BJP’s campaign blitzkrieg, as his public rallies have been a rage.
Paswan is targeting the five seats in Samastipur district, where the LJP had performed well in last year’s parliamentary election. The AIMIM, buoyed by its maiden victory in Bihar in Kishanganj bypoll last October, is eyeing to make inroads into the Muslim-dominated Seemanchal region.
Political observers see a discernible change in the third phase.
“The tone and tenor is expectedly changing in the third phase due to the voters’ profile. However, key issues such as employment and reverse migration due to Covid-19-induced nationwide lockdown restrictions will continue to resonate. The RJD has tapped into popular sentiments during the campaign. This phase holds the key as far as the formation of the next state government is concerned. So far, polling has been held on 165 seats. However, no alliance can claim to have got the number to form the next government. This election has been intense and a fight to the finish,” said Professor NK Choudhary, a political analyst.
Professor Ajay Jha, another political analyst, said that Muslims held the key in the final phase of polling. “Muslims are known for tactical voting, which may help the GA. However, the AIMIM can make the difference. The voting pattern of Muslims in the Seemanchal region and Darbhanga and Madhubani districts, where the community has the numerical strength, will be interesting to watch. The BJP will also keep a close eye on any fragmentation of Muslim votes,” he added.
Bihar assembly polls: Third phase at a glance
Total number. of seats: 78
Seats held by BJP: 19
Seats held by JD (U): 24
Seats held by RJD: 20
Seats held by Congress: 10
Seats held by Others:05
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