Voting for phase two for Bihar elections took place on November 3. The turnout at 53.51 percent is almost as what was seen in the first phase (54 percent). With the completion of this phase, polling for 165 seats, which forms about two-third of the assembly strength, will be done and dusted. Phase three will vote on November 7, with the results on November 10.
While the focus is on the 71 seats where the ruling Janata Dal (United) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the 61 seats where the RJD and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are head-to-head, the outcome could be determined by the results of the 28 seats where JD(U) and the Congress are competing with each other. The two parties had contested together in an alliance in 2015 state elections.
These 28 seats account for 12 percent of house strength, and could play a crucial role in a tight election where opinion polls predict a JD(U)-BJP National Democratic Alliance (NDA) win, while support for RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav seems to be swelling.
Contest in these 28 seats are spread across the three phases: eight in the first phase, 11 in the second, and nine in the third phase. While the JD(U) has given tickets to 12 sitting MLAs, the Congress has given tickets to six sitting MLAs. Seven of these seats are reserved seats for Schedule Castes and one for Schedule Tribes.
The JD(U) and the Congress are facing tough contests from the RJD and the BJP respectively, and they need to win these seats to help the alliance.
Eleven 11 of these seats have a considerable minority influence as their population in these seats is greater than 17 percent, which is the state average. These are Manihari, Kadwa, Amour, Araria, Supaul, Valmiki Nagar, Maharajganj, Kuchaikote, Benipur, Kusheshwar Asthan, Sultanganj). In three seats the Mahadalit population is greater than the state average.
The voter base for the Congress and the JD(U) do not overlap. Their core is an entirely different set of voters: for the Congress it is the Muslims and the Yadavs; and for the JD(U) it is the general category and OBCs.
Both the parties have given tickets to candidates from caste/community which form their core vote bloc. The Congress is attempting to woo the upper caste, its traditional vote bank which it has lost in the Hindi heartland.
In 2015, the JD(U) won five seats in which Muslims had influence primarily because it was in alliance with the RJD and the Congress. The Muslim-Yadav vote was transferred seamlessly to the JD(U) helping it record a victory. That year, the JD(U) received 28 percent Muslim support.
JD(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has enjoyed fair support among the Muslim community, especially the Pasmanda Muslim voters. Post-poll surveys showed that the JD(U) enjoyed 15-20 percent support from the minorities in the 2005 and 2010 state elections.
However, his return to the NDA in 2017, and support to the Citizenship Amendment Act, has eroded this support, as evident from the 2019 general elections where he received just 5 percent support from the community.
The JD(U)'s only hope in 11 of the 28 seats is if there is a polarisation of the Hindu vote. However, the presence of Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party (LJP) in all these seats is not helping Kumar as it is cutting into the JD(U)’s Dalit vote bank and also pulling away a section of BJP supporters.
Both the JD(U) and the Congress have emerged as weak links in their respective alliances. Based on the C-Voter vote share predictions, a contested vote share for the Congress and the JD(U) have been prepared—and it shows both parties as the weakest link in their respective alliances. A contested vote share is the vote share of the party on the seats it is contesting.
Across polls, the JD(U) is expected to bag a lesser number of seats than the BJP due to the anti-incumbency Nitish Kumar is facing.
On the other hand, a section of supporters of the RJD feels that the Congress has been given too many seats. They fear a repeat of a similar experiment by the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh could ruin their chances in Bihar.
As the JD(U) is facing a tough contest in 71 seats and the Congress in 37, both these parties will be hoping to gain some advantage in the 28 seats they face each other.
These seats could decide whether Nitish Kumar once again becomes Chief Minister, or whether Tejashwi Yadav will become the youngest Chief Minister of Bihar.Amitabh Tiwari is a former corporate and investment banker-turned political strategist and commentator. Twitter: @politicalbaaba. Views are personal.