November the 3rd, 2020, was the unique day when many Biharis like me followed the second phase of the Bihar Vidhan Sabha election with one eye on the U.S. presidential election.
As the Americans lined up to express their verdict on whether to give four more years to Donald Trump, the Biharis reached the polling booth across 17 districts (94 constituencies) to let it be known if Nitish Kumar deserved five more years as their Chief Minister.
By all indications, it appeared slightly more than half of the American voters were fed up with a fluke president and wanted Joe Biden instead, it wasn’t clear by the second phase of elections if the Biharis -- restless after nearly 15 years of Nitish’s government -- really wished to replace him with Tejashwi, a son and the political heir of Lalu Yadav.
The second phase of the Bihar election recorded an average of 55.70% turnout spread over the districts of Patna, Nalanda, Bhagalpur, Khagaria, Begusarai, Samastipur, Vaishali, Saran, Siwan, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, Madhubani, Sitamarhi, Sheohar, Purvi Champaran and Pashchim Champaran. Except for a few districts along the southern side of the river Ganga, most districts were to its north; and the dialects in this region varied from Magahi in the south to Angika, Maithili and Bhojpuri in the north.
The second leg of voting revealed once again more enthusiasm among women voters. Their turnout was 58.80 percent compared to 52.92 among male electors.
The voters’ mobilization was, however, not uniform. If the Minapur assembly constituency in Muzaffarpur district recorded the highest (65.10%) voting, Kumhrar in the state capital had the lowest (35.69%).
In the second phase, Tejashwi, on behalf of the RJD fielded its candidates in 56 seats -- 27 against the BJP and 25 against the JD(U). The JD(U) was his ally in 2015. The BJP, on the other hand, brought 46 candidates in the field and the JD(U) 43. Other parties officially contesting included the CPI (4), the CPM (4), the LJP (52) and the RLSP (36).
In a direct contest the BJP-JD(U) combination was expected to trump the RJD and its allies, but there were other players and much talked about ‘Tejashwi momentum’ as well.
Performance of many of the candidates -- largely members of famous casts or political families or bahubalis themselves -- were being watched by political observers. They included Alok Kumar Mehta (RJD-Ujiarpur), Shailesh Kumar (RJD-Bihpur), Chetan Anand (RJD-Sheohar), Ms Beena Singh (RJD-Mahnar), Luv (Cong - Bankipur), Nitish Mishra (BJP-Jhanjharpur) and many more. The RJD still had the most candidates with criminal cases.
On the side of the ruling incumbents, the fate of seven ministers of Nitish’s coalition cabinet was on the line. They were: Nand Kishore Yadav (Patna Sahib), Rana Randhir Singh (Madhubani), Shrawan Kumar (Nalanda), Ram Sevak Singh (Hathua), Maheshwar Hazari (Kalyanpur), Suresh Sharma (Muzaffarpur) and Madan Sahni (Gora Bauram).
It’s important to keep track of the electoral performance of ministers because the popularity or otherwise of Nitish would be gauged by how many of them were returned by their constituents. It was anticipated many of Nitish’s ministers would be grounded because of their non-performance.
In Bihar, the intensity of participation in elections revealed how much stake a caste felt in the outcome of the process. In other words, participation in the electoral exercise was a sure matrix of how aggressively politicized castes and their leaders were in this otherwise backward state.
To illustrate this point, take two sets of cases: The Bankipur constituency where the Kayasth were greater in number had two candidates from the same caste. One was the actor-politician Shatrughan Sinha's son Luv Sinha who, on a Congress ticket, had challenged the sitting BJP MLA Nitin Navin. The percentage of polls in this constituency was as depressingly low as 35.89. Perhaps, accentuated by the coronavirus factor, the most educated caste population in the middle of the capital city seemed to be disaffected and least engaged in the democratic process.
Contrast the above with Raghopur seat from where the opposition Grand Alliance chief ministerial candidate Tejashwi Yadav was contesting, or, his elder brother Tej Pratap Yadav's Hasanpur. The voters’ participation in these two constituencies stood at 57.97 and 58.59 percent respectively. Both the sons of Lalu Yadav were challenged by a candidate of their own caste: Satish Kumar Yadav (BJP) was against Tejashwi whereas Raj Kumar Rai opposed Tej Pratap on a JD(U) ticket. Satish Kumar had once defeated Tejashwi’s mother Rabri Devi, a former Chief Minister of Bihar, from the same constituency. It would be worth watching this time around.
Against the tall claims of Bihar being the birthplace of students’ (JP) movements etc. and its people being so politically or socially conscious, the state has relentlessly been hemorrhaged by the condescending upper castes, the so called educated-professional elites, and the aggressiveness of the middle or the lower caste leaders. The latter believed only in the ultimate goal of the usurpation of political power without any obligation to deliver.
The latest round of elections to the state legislature didn’t promise to produce anything different.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.