Elections In The Time Of Corona & The Five Electoral ‘Jinns’ Of Bihar
The first election after the pandemic is bound to play out as the biggest political thriller of the year. Will Bihar again upset Modi-Shah duo or will it be a ‘Maharashtra’ for “Nitish Kumar”?
Amidst the Corona outbreak and re-imposition of lockdown, political corridors in Patna seem to be quite busy in their respective offices. Although there are very few outdoor political meetings happening in the capital of Bihar, a series of dinner diplomacy has however begun. Despite the fact that the NDA is undeniably in a stronger position in upcoming state assembly election and the Opposition is quite confused and headless, there are a few ‘jinns’ that may affect the election results in Bihar which might end up shocking all political pandits across the country. This article will attempt to highlight five such factors that will play a major role in the elections.
The first is the departure from the traditional mode of campaigning. With the pandemic restricting most on-ground activities, the era of digital campaigns has overshadowed everything else, giving rise to novel ways of organising a campaign. Now even an 80-year-old politician is talking about social media and hiring a team for him/herself. Despite the fact that BJP is a master of digital campaigns and has plenty of resources, one can’t deny the fact that social media is a negative medium. According to Nieman Lab’s report, bad or negative news travels fastest on social media. With much of the work being conducted via digital campaigns, it may adversely affect the NDA, which has faced its fair share of criticism in the past few months. Coupled with anti-incumbency, this shift may act as a catalyst for change.
Drawing from the first factor, the second factor concerns the mode of voting safely at a time of social distancing. While major opposition parties like RJD, LJP, INC, JAP are demanding that the ECI postpone the election, BJP and JDU appear keen to conduct the state assembly election on time. The ECI also seems inclined towards this proposition, and has instead recommended new ideas to conduct election safely in corona times. One such option is that of the postal ballot for corona patients and senior citizens of Bihar. Due to this, there is an assumption that around 35-37% of voters will have to cast their votes by postal ballot. In a state with a long history of booth capturing, an idea of postal ballots raises some serious concerns regarding fair election in the state. Who will ensure the safety of voters? How will ECI monitor these postal ballots? How will the administration handle local bahubalis? What if local administration itself is biased in favour of the current government? These are a few serious concerns which should be addressed. Otherwise postal ballots would be a ‘jinn’ for everyone on the counting day.
Even assuming that the election is conducted as scheduled, voting in the backdrop of an ongoing pandemic is going to be one of the most important factors in this election. Nitish Kumar’s popularity is at its lowest and voters appear disillusioned. Even the cadre of BJP doesn’t look charged because of the reluctance in accepting Nitish Kumar as the CM face. The BJP this time around feel that are in a strong enough position now to demand a BJP leader as a CM candidate. Also, because of the weak and headless opposition, there isn’t any strong sense of urgency for change among voters in Bihar either. This makes it quite difficult to predict the voting pattern this year and predict how votes will be divided. Hence this factor may swing in favour of either parties. However, theoretically, a low percentage of voting is not a good sign for establishment.
While the pandemic is bound to cast its long shadow on the elections, it is the truly catastrophic migrant crisis that followed which will be a deciding factor. After a lot of drama and emotional outbreak, around 35 lacs migrant workers have come back home. Possibly after such a long time, many of them will be casting their votes in this assembly election. As the entire nation witnessed their pain, sorrow and journey, their anger can be a game-changer in the election. But point is that would they cast their votes for their anger and pain over caste and community? If they vote for their pain and anger, this is going to be the biggest jinn ever in the history of state assembly election of Bihar.
Lastly, the implications of the NRC CAA protests earlier this year cannot be underplayed and has the potential to again make headlines in North Bihar. JDU’s stand against NRC, Nitish Kumar’s order to not implement the NRC in the state has gained the trust of upper-caste Muslims. Also, entry of Owaisi’ party in state election will divide the rest of the Muslim votes. Hence, the stronghold of RJD-INC may give a shock to all of us.
These five jinns (factors) will affect the results drastically. The first election after the pandemic is bound to play out as the biggest political thriller of the year. Will Bihar again upset Modi-Shah duo or will it be a ‘Maharashtra’ for “Nitish Kumar”?
Saurabh Raj is a Gandhi Fellow and a Political Consultant