HT Explains: A 5-point FAQ on the Lok Sabha battle in Bihar | Latest News India

    HT Explains: A 5-point FAQ on the Lok Sabha battle in Bihar | Latest News India

    The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 39 of the 40 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) in Bihar in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While this makes it near impossible for the NDA to increase its tally, the state will play an important role in determining whether the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the NDA retain their 2019 parliamentary strength nationally. Here are five questions that will matter in deciding the 2024 contest in Bihar:

    Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar during an election road show. (HT Photo)

    Did the BJP make the right call in re-inducting the Janata Dal (United) or JD (U) in the NDA?

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    Between 2015 and 2023, chief minister Nitish Kumar has switched sides four times. He contested with Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in the 2015 elections, switched sides to the BJP in 2017, rejoined the RJD in 2022, and jumped back to the BJP in 2023. The 2023 realignment of the JD(U) and the BJP in Bihar came despite the latter’s top leadership saying repeatedly that the BJP would never do business with Kumar or his party. The position of the BJP rank and file in the state, which has been flipping between defending and attacking Kumar, is unenviable. The biggest tangible adjustment the BJP has had to make for bringing back the JD (U) in the NDA is that it is contesting only 17 PCs in the state. Would the BJP have been better off contesting a larger number of PCs without the JD(U) in the state? That would have given it a greater chance of retaining or perhaps even crossing its 2019 seat tally of 17 even if its 100% strike rate of 2019 did not happen again.

    Is JD(U)’s mojo intact?

    This is an even bigger question for the NDA. While Kumar’s JD(U) won 16 PCs in the 2019 elections, its performance dipped significantly in the 2020 assembly elections when it finished a distant third with just 43 lawmakers in a House of 243. Having been the state’s chief minister since October 2005 barring a brief gap between May 2014 and February 2015, Kumar also carries a large pent-up anti-incumbency burden. Coupled with the ideological confusion and lack of organisational cohesion within its ranks, the JD(U) could generate significant headwinds for the NDA’s prospects in these elections. Even a limited sub-par performance by the JD(U) will make it impossible for the NDA to replicate its 39-1 landslide victory of 2019 in Bihar and give an opening to the RJD to make gains.

    Does Lalu Prasad Yadav not being in jail help the RJD’s election machinery?

    The RJD fought the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2020 assembly elections with its patriarch Lalu Prasad Yadav in jail. While Yadav is not campaigning in the 2024 elections because of ill health, his staying out of jail could have made a difference to the RJD’s election management. Yadav is among the most shrewd and rooted politicians Bihar has ever had and is believed to understand the political and social fault lines in the state like very few people. Will the RJD benefit from him being hands-on with the campaign and last-mile strategising for the RJD and its larger alliance in these elections? The question is even more important given the churn within the JD(U) in the NDA camp.

    Is the RJD fighting these elections to maximise its seats or widen its social base with an eye on the 2025 assembly elections?

    This is perhaps the most important question for the opposition camp in Bihar. The RJD fell marginally short of being the single largest party in the state after the 2020 assembly elections. The 2020 contest also saw the RJD stabilising its alliance with smaller parties such as the Congress and the Left parties in the state. The RJD is contesting just 23 PCs in the state and has given the rest to its allies. A caste-wise analysis of RJD’s candidature suggests that it is making serious efforts to make inroads into important sections of the non-Yadav OBC groups such as the Khushwaha caste, even at the cost of antagonising part of its core Yadav base and adversely affecting winnability in some PCs. While investing in a particular caste group might not bring much dividend in a Lok Sabha election because constituencies are very large, things could be very different in assembly elections. Is the RJD fighting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections with an eye on assembly elections scheduled for October 2025 and could even be held earlier? This would make the 2024 contest only a pit-stop in the RJD’s scheme of things.

    Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s national appeal drown Tejashwi Yadav’s job-provider image among young voters?

    If there is one thing RJD’s heir apparent Tejashwi Yadav has done differently from his father, it is to try and carve out an image that goes beyond the party’s core base of Yadavs and Muslims and appeals to a wider section of the underclass. Tejashwi has done this by promising hundreds of thousands of government jobs to millions of educated unemployed in Bihar. Part of the promise was delivered when the RJD and the JD(U) were running a government between 2022 and 2023 in the state. RJD’s campaign pitch in the 2024 elections is essentially Tejashwi Yadav’s job-provider appeal rather than some pan-India agenda of the INDIA block or the Congress.

    Will this strike a chord with the young voters in Bihar? Or will voters make a distinction between the Lok Sabha and the assembly election and vote for Modi as the prime minister candidate even if they support Tejashwi Yadav for the chief minister’s post? This is the crux of the political contest in the state and the BJP will be hoping that Bihar sticks to the by now established trend of the NDA and BJP enjoying a vote premium in national elections.

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