Whether you like it or not, the upcoming Bihar elections are all about Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
There is no other official Chief Ministerial candidate and Nitish is fighting a battle for his very political survival and that of the JDU.
Will Nitish make it a hat-trick and prove that he has in him to be around to make another Prime Ministerial bid in the future? (His 2014 one was a totally aborted attempt) This will be a closely
watched election and come November, Indian politics could see a sea change.
These are the following things that are going in his favour for a clear victory...
Building a caste alliance: Bihar is a grim place where caste politics rules. RJD’s Laloo Prasad Yadav (by himself or his proxy) got three terms despite showing zero development. Even Nitish countered Laloo at first by caste politics.
And now you have both Nitish and Laloo fighting together and uniting their caste alliances. If this factor alone clicks, then it could be game over for the opposition National Democratic Alliance.
Minority votebank politics: If the Nitish-Laloo combination wasn't enough, then they also roped in the Congress to ensure that they would corner the entire Muslim votebank.
Indian politics is a funny place where a single minority vote bank could tilt the scales. In this regard at least you feel that Nitish has maximized things in his favour.
Nitish is still the tallest leader: Nitish may have lost a lot of sheen in the last couple of years, but he still remains by far the tallest leader in the State.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is an outsider and the BJP hasn't even officially announced a CM candidate.
Nitish is way ahead of the likes of Sushil Kumar Modi and Ram Vilas Paswan. Indian politics is largely a personality-based affair and if Nitish still retains his connect with the voting masses, then he could still come out on top.
However there are also a lot of things going against Nitish...
Strange seat-sharing arrangement: In the last Assembly elections in 2010, JDU got a good 115 seats and the RJD with just 22. So it is quite strange that both have ended up with 100 seats each.
What this means that is that Nitish is not going to give a seat to many of his sitting MLAs.
Last time the JDU had an efficiency rate of 80+% in terms of seats contested and won while the RJD was below 15%.
JDU is clearly the strongest party of the alliance and you could say that they are playing down their strengths instead of playing them up.
Last time the Congress got 4/243 seats and they were wiped out in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. So to give them 40 seats sounds really disastrous.
A realistic seat sharing arrangement for the JDU-RJD-Congress probably should have been 140-80-20.
Putting his foot of the development pedal: Nitish's first term was all about development and in contrast the second term was a disaster.
Modi won the 2014 general elections on a development plank and also the subsequent State elections. If the Modi magic clicks, then it's curtains for Nitish.
The Manjhi fiasco: Nitish should never have put Jitan Ram Manjhi on the Chief Minister's chair in the first place but when he did he sacked him and antagonized a section of his vote bank.
The Manjhi factor could still play the spoiler.
Asaduddin Owaisi and his AIMIM are hardly going to get any seats in Bihar and yet he could play a spoiler for the Muslim votebank. Similarly Mulayam Singh Yadav and his Samajwadi Party are not a force in Bihar and yet he has announced that he will contest all 243 seats.
There will be dozens of disgruntled and strong candidates from both the JDU and RJD and if Mulayam gives all of them tickets, they could really become spoilers.
The Rajya Sabha factor…
Today in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress has 68 seats and the JDU has 12. Add CPM to the mix and this troika has more than one-third of the seats in the Upper House.
What this means is that the BJP simple cannot pass any bill (like the GST) which requires two-thirds majority.
However the Congress is set to lose big in 2016 and if the JDU loses and the BJP sweeps Bihar then Modi could well have 70 seats for his party alone (from the current 48) and totally neutralize Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Nitish.
That’s how crucial this election is!
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here