Bihar is the first state to go to polls in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic and that makes it a test case, for it will be as big a challenge for the voters as it will be for the candidates and political parties. What makes the challenge even bigger is the trail of destruction left behind by severe floods affecting nearly 18 districts, a battered state economy and the approaching festive season.
All the important festivals like Navratri, Durga Puja, Chhath, Diwali, Milad Un Nabi and a few more are scheduled in October-November, which usually bring migrants back home. With a large number of migrants already back and more likely to join, their mood and behaviour would be a thing to watch in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.
Though there is usually talk of anti-incumbency factor after 15-year-rule by any particular leader, in Bihar, a fractured opposition does not seem fully prepared to cash in on it, while the NDA is confident of another victory under Nitish Kumar. Here is a look at the 10 key issues likely at play in Bihar assembly elections 2020:
1. Voting percentage
The 2015 assembly election saw the highest voter turnout of 56.8% in Bihar largely due to greater participation by women. That will be a challenge to match for the election commission, as this is the first election happening in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic. The trail of devastation caused by floods in 18 districts will also be a big handicap. As the EC announced the election, Bihar government was still battling a heavy discharge from rivers originating in Nepal.
2. Digital reach
This election will be different from the past on more than one count. First and the foremost, campaigning mode will not be the same. Big rallies and public meetings will not be possible leaving the parties to reach out to masses either digitally or through limited physical outreach. That will mean a paradigm shift in electioneering and greater dependence on technology.
For the first time, the Opposition is trying to play up the migration issue in Bihar and the ruling dispensation is working hard to project its handling of the issue as its success. With nearly 30-lakh migrants reaching Bihar from various parts of the country amid the nationwide lockdown and poignant scenes going viral on social media, the issue will remain hot. Migration from Bihar is not a new development, but the pandemic has reversed the norm.
4. Covid-19 management
The healthcare in Bihar will be under a sharp focus. Conscious of it, the ruling dispensation brought about quick changes in the health department to get things right and it now has statistics under control with consistently falling fatality and positivity rates and an increase in testing for the disease. However, the opposition has been questioning the veracity of the figures. This may lead to a verbal showdown before the electorate.
Also Read: Bihar Assembly Election 2020: Polls to be held in three phases from October 28, says EC
5. Employment or lack of it
At a time when unemployment and falling economy are national issues, its echo in Bihar election is quite natural. Aware of it, the NDA offered jobs balm to migrants to assuage the hurt. The Opposition has been trying to play up unemployment as a big poll issue. Bihar’s unemployment rate had increased to 46.6% in April 2020, as per a survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
6. Dalit assertion
Dalit politics has taken precedence over minority politics before Bihar elections this time. Dalit leaders like Jitan Ram Manjhi and Shyam Razak have also switched sides. Constituting nearly 16% of the state population, the Dalits are in hot demand politically. How they behave could be an important factor this time.
7. Minority issues
This is the first election in Bihar when issues of Ram Mandir and Article 370 may not have the same impact. The buzz over CAA-NRC, which was quite loud before March, has also subsided. How the minorities will vote in this backdrop will be a thing to watch. They are traditionally known to vote in en masse and could impact the results on nearly 80 assembly seats and the influence could be more pronounced in the Seemanchal region.
8. Farm bills
As the protests grow over the two new farm reform bills passed by the Parliament and a war of words on the issue between the BJP and the Opposition escalates, Bihar elections may prove to be the first ground test of its traction amongst the masses. The PM had said during a launch of projects that Centre had followed the Bihar model for the farm reform bills. Bihar had dissolved all agriculture marketing committees and marketing boards in the state in 2006 after repealing the state APMC Act. Nitish Kumar has already said it improved procurement, however, the Opposition has hit the streets on the issue.
Also Read: From Modi to Owaisi, 6 key faces in face-off between Nitish Kumar, Tejashwi Yadav
Education has always been a big issue in Bihar. While the ruling dispensation takes pride in a chain of national and state-level institutions, including medical colleges, engineering colleges and polytechnics, created during the NDA regime, the Opposition plays up the issues of quality and school teachers. Schools teachers continue to be unhappy despite Nitish government’s pre-poll sops to calm them down.
10. Law & order
Nitish Kumar came to power in 2005 using the ‘law and order’ issue. It has always been a selling point for Nitish administration. But the RJD-led Opposition has started raising it as a big issue citing recent incidents of murder and loot. The war of words between the NDA and GA leaders has only intensified on the issue recently.
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