It’s a long night for Bihar, perhaps the last for Nitish Kumar as the chief minister of the Hindi-heartland state, a hotbed of caste politics. For, Bihar starts counting votes on Tuesday (November 10). If exit polls are to be believed, Bihar Chanakya Nitish’s 15 year legacy would finally come to an end and Lalu-putra Tejashwi Yadav would ascend the throne.
Elections to the 243-member Bihar assembly were held in three phases in October and November, which witnessed a turnout of 57.05 per cent voters, higher than that of 2015, despite the pandemic that had locked people inside their houses. Analysts often suggest the mandate of an increased turnout often goes against incumbents.
The counting of votes for will begin at 8 am and early trends are expected by 10 am.
The election was fought from three sides with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) leading the NDA along with the BJP and other smaller allies. In Mahagathbandhan, Tejashwi led his Rashtriya Janata Dal along with Congress and Left parties. The surprise this year was Chirag Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party which chose to fight the elections alone, on a pro-BJP, anti-JDU stance.
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The three leaders, Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav, and Chirag Paswan are the chief ministerial candidates of the NDA, Mahagathbandhan and LJP, respectively. For Nitish, who has served as chief minister for the last 15 years, seeking a fourth term was likely to face the anti-incumbency sentiments.
LJP opting to fight the elections alone was seen by many as a BJP ploy to cut the JD(U) chief to size, given Chirag’s expression of loyalty to Prime Minister Modi and the PM’s reluctance to throw direct jibes at him in his campaign rallies.
What To Watch Out For
The most keenly watched seat will be Raghopur in Vaishali district from where Tejashwi Yadav is seeking re-election. Kumar is a member of the legislative council and has not contested the assembly election. Raghopur has been in the past represented by his parents Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi, both former chief ministers. Tejashwi’s elder brother Tej Pratap Yadav is contesting from Hasanpur in Samastipur district.
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Tuesday’s counting will also decide the political fate of nearly a score of ministers. Prominent among them are Nand Kishore Yadav (Patna Sahib), Pramod Kumar (Motihari), Rana Randhir (Madhuban), Suresh Sharma (Muzaffarpur), Shrawan Kumar (Nalanda), Jai Kumar Singh (Dinara) and Krishnanandan Prasad Verma (Jehanabad).
With much of the NDA’s election narrative focusing on RJD’s association with “jungle raj”, the fate of “bahubalis”, leaders known for strong arm tactics, will also be keenly watched. Two of the most notorious criminal-turned-politicians – Anant Singh (Mokama) and Reetlal Yadav (Danapur) – are contesting on RJD tickets.
Preparation For Counting
Counting will be taken up at 55 centres across 38 districts where the outcome will decide the fate of the Nitish Kumar government. According to Chief Electoral Officer HR Srinavasa, central armed police forces have been deployed at the strong rooms, where EVMs have been stored since completion of voting, and halls where these will be unsealed Tuesday morning after counting of postal ballots gets over.
Election officials and district administrations face the daunting task of restraining supporters of political parties from crowding the counting centres amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Prohibitory orders will be in place outside the counting centres to prevent people from gathering in large numbers, officials said.
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According to Srinivasa, while 19 companies of the central armed police forces will be deployed at strong rooms and the counting halls, another 59 have been entrusted with maintaining law and order. Each company comprises roughly 100 personnel.
Exit Polls Show Saffron Rout
Most exit polls have predicted a rout for the ruling JD(U)-BJP combine and a resounding victory for the Mahagathbandhan led by Tejashwi, who has thrown down the gauntlet at redoubtable Nitish Kumar, the battle-scarred veteran more than twice his age.
While the majority mark is 122, Chanakya-CNN News18 has projected 180 seats for the RJD-led grand alliance, 55 for the NDA and eight for others. India Today-Axis My India poll showed the RJD-led block winning 139-161 seats, as against 69-91 for the NDA. It predicted 3-5 seats for LJP and also 3-5 for others.
The ABP-CVoter exit poll predicted NDA to get 104-128 seats and 108-131 seats for the opposition grand alliance. It projected LJP to get 1-3 seats. A similar trend was predicted by Times Now-CVoter, which projected 116 seats for the NDA, 120 for the opposition alliance and a single seat for LJP.
Republic TV-Jan Ki Baat exit poll also gave a clear majority to the RJD-led alliance with 128 seats, while it projected 104 seats for the ruling NDA, seven seats for the LJP and four for others. TV9 Bharatvarsh projected NDA to win 115 seats, the grand alliance 120 and four each for LJP and others.
What victory means for Mahagathbandhan
A win for the RJD-led coalition will bring a redemption of sorts for Tejashwi Yadav whose leadership abilities were called into question after his party failed to win a single seat in the Lok Sabha elections last year. The NDA had won 39 of the 40 seats and one had gone to the Congress, an RJD ally.
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It may also revive the fortunes of the three Left parties, the CPI, CPI-M and CPI-ML, which were consigned to near oblivion over the past two decades. The five-party ‘Mahagathbandhan’ also comprises these three Left parties, which were a force to reckon with in the past.