A Guide to the 2016 Assam Elections

 In April and May, four different states (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal) and one union territory (Puducherry) are going to the polls to elect new legislative assemblies. Below is a brief guide to the Assam assembly elections. For more information on these elections, please see Pranav Gupta’s overview as well as Sandhya Goswami’s and Vikas Tripathi 2015 EPW article, both of which were consulted for this guide. Uddipana Goswami’s Conflict and Reconciliation: The Politics of Ethnicity in Assam provides a definitive overview of the many dimensions of ethnic conflict in Assam’s colonial and post-colonial history, while Sandhya’s Goswami’s 2003 Journal of School of Political Economy article provides a definitive review of Assam’s political parties.

Assam’s politics are a direct reflection of the state’s uniqueness. Tucked away in India’s northeast, the state is a melting pot of cultural and ethnic identities. It has struggled with separatist violence, religious and ethnic tensions, and debates about the autonomy and independence of its many tribal populations. At the same time, Assam is a state that is developing rapidly and defies simple generalizations.

Like many previous elections, this election will fuse questions over Assam’s ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity with tensions over tribal issues and illegal immigration from Bangladesh. A Congress-led government that has held office for fifteen years will be fighting against feelings of anti-incumbency. The BJP will try to notch its first win in a state election in over a year, and post its first victory ever as a coalition leader in east Indian state politics.

This election will be a contest between three main electoral players: the Congress-UPP alliance, the BJP-BPF-AGP alliance, and the AIUDF-JD(U)-RJD allianceBecause this is the only one of the four upcoming elections in which the BJP could displace a Congress government, it will probably be the election most closely watched by the national media in Delhi.


  • What is Assam?

At 31.2 million people, Assam is the largest state in northeastern India. Its capital is Dispur, and its largest city is Guwahati. Assam is well-known for its tea and silk, which are the state’s largest exports.

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The state of Assam includes many different tribal populations; twelve percent are categorized as Scheduled Tribes (STs), which qualifies them for targeted benefits related to employment and education.Various movements, peaceful and militant, have occurred in Assam’s post-independent history to demand greater autonomy and sometimes complete independence for different ethnic and tribal groups. Such independence movements during the 1960s to 1980s produced a new set of small states in the Northeast: Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Mizoram. Indeed, for decades Assam had its own armed separatist movement, the United Liberation Forces of Assam (ULFA), which laid down its arms in 2011 after an agreement with the Assamese and Indian governments.

Not all movements have called for full independence. The Bodos, who make up more than 40% of Assam’s ST population, led a movement in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s that resulted in greater autonomy through the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) that was established in 2003. While the Bodos are the most prominent, several other tribes have won concessions of autonomous governing councils from the central and state governments.

As a neighbor of Bangladesh, Assam has regularly received large inflows of Bangladeshi migrants throughout its history. Considerable tensions have generally surrounded this migration. The Assam Movement, or Assam Agitation, which occurred from 1979 to 1985 was the most organized outbreak of such tensions. The All Assam Students Union (AASU) led protests and demonstrations against undocumented Bangladeshis immigrants demanding that migrants be expelled from the state. This movement came to a head on January 19, 1983, when more than 2,000 Bengali Muslims were massacred in one of the worst pogroms in Indian history. The movement ended in 1985 with the Assam Agreement between the AASU and the government of India, after which the AASU became the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and entered party politics. The AGP won the 1986 and 1996 state elections, governing from 1986 to 1991 and 1996 to 2001.

Muslims constitute the largest religious minority in Assam. According to the 2011 census, 34% of residents were Muslim, the largest of any state outside of Jammu and Kashmir. This population includes Assamese Muslims, Bengali Muslims (i.e., originally from West Bengal), and Bangladeshi Muslims. Because nearly all migrants that have arrived from Bangladesh are Muslim, nativist movements are often inflected with religious overtones. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for example, has stated that all Muslim Bangladeshi migrants will be expelled from Assam during previous campaign trips to the state. On a recent campaign stop, he said that if a BJP government was elected, a fenced border will be built by December 2016 to keep out Muslim Bangladeshi migrants.

Language has also been as another key point of tension throughout Assam’s history. In 1960, the Assamese Official Language Act was passed, making Assamese the sole official language of the state. This act has never been fully implemented however. While Assamese is the official language of much of the state, it is not in three districts of the state in the Barak Valley, where Bengali is the official language. In the four districts of the Bodoland Territorial Council, Bodo is another official language. The Language Act of 1960 has therefore been the subject of much public debate, with some calling for repeal of the law in contrast to others calling for its full implementation.

According to data from the 2011 Assam assembly elections survey, Assamese-speaking Hindus constitute 31% of Assam’s population, Assamese-speaking Muslims constitute 9%, Bengali-speaking Hindus constitute 10%, and Bengali-speaking Muslims constitute 20% [Editor’s note: These figures have been corrected from a previous version of the article, in which figures were not properly weighted to the state’s overall religious demographics per the 2011 census].

  • Why is Assam having elections?

Like Bihar last year, Assam will be electing a Vidhan Sabha, or legislative assembly, to govern the state’s affairs. Assam’s Vidhan Sabha has 126 seats. Whichever party alliance can combined assemble 64 seats will have enough to back a government led by their named chief ministerial candidate. Once the chief minister has secured a majority of votes in the Vidhan Sabha, s/he will name a government of ministers. State governments hold office for five years if they are able to maintain a majority in the Vidhan Sabha.

  • When are the elections being held?

The elections are being held in two phases. In the first phase on April 4, 65 constituencies voted. In the second phase on April 11, the remaining 61 constituencies will have elections. The final results of the elections will be announced on May 19, along with the results of the elections in West Bengal, Puducherry, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu.

  • What are the stakes of this election at the national level?

The Indian National Congress (INC), which for many decades led the national government and many state governments, has been on a downward electoral slide over the past few years. This culminated in their embarrassing loss in 2014, in which the party was reduced to a historic low of forty seats in the Lok Sabha. After Karnataka and Kerala, Assam is the largest state governed by the INC. Losing it would be another embarrassment that shows the party’s diminishing appeal, following  on previous losses in head-to-head contests against the BJP in the 2014 elections of Haryana and Maharashtra. Another Congress loss to the BJP would further embolden other parties seeking to emerge as the national alternative to the BJP.

While successful in the most recent national elections and many state elections in the last few years, the BJP suffered two striking losses in last year’s elections in Delhi (to AAP) and Bihar (to a grand alliance of JD(U), RJD, and the INC). Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are eager to turn this narrative of losses around, especially with the crucial elections in Uttar Pradesh only a year away. Modi and Shah aim to extend their party’s advantage over INC in state and national politics, since the INC after all played only a minor role in the Delhi and Bihar elections.

  • What are the main parties contesting? What are their electoral strategies?

As in any Indian election, a multitude of political parties are contesting the polls. Three main alliances have emerged:

1) Indian National Congress (INC) – United People’s Party (UPP) alliance

Led by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who has led the state since 2001, the INC will be facing a tide of anti-incumbency after winning elections in 2001, 2006, and 2011. The Congress party in Assam faced a major rebellion last year, when minister Himanta Biswa Sarma left over the question of succession and joined the BJP along with nine other Congress members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). The weakened Congress government is hoping to focus on its record of development in Assam, and will be leaning heavily on its Assamese Muslim vote bank while also hoping to pull a significant share of votes from Assamese Hindus, Bengali Hindus, and the tea tribes.

While there was talk last year and earlier this year about a potential alliance between INC and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF), nothing emerged from such talks. The electoral calculation may be that a tie-up with the AIUDF, which speaks to the aspirations of the Bengali Muslims in the state, could hurt the INC with its traditional voters among the Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu communities.

Without any major allies, the INC will need to either win a majority of seats largely on its own or a definitive plurality that gives it a mandate to make alliances with other parties (most likely the AIUDF) after the election. Congress recently tied up an alliance with the United People’s Party (UPP), a recently-launched Bodo party, which will compete in four constituencies in the Bodoland Territorial Council areas.

The INC will contest 122 of Assam’s 126 seats, while the UPP will contest 4 seats.

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Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi

2) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) – Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) alliance

This alliance is being led by the BJP’s union minister of youth affairs and sports, Sarbananda Sonowal. Sonowal, who belongs to the Sonowal tribe that is categorized as ST, was once a member of the AASU and the AGP. In contrast to the Bihar elections last year, in which Prime Minister Modi’s heavy involvement was deemed a strategic failure, the BJP will rely heavily on popular Assamese leaders. This includes Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is directing the BJP’s electoral strategy.

S_Sonowal_official_portrait

Union Minister Sarbananda Sonowal

The BJP is hoping to win a large share of the Assamese Hindu and Bengali Hindu vote in the state, which powered its win in half the Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014. In previous elections, the BJP’s base consisted primarily of Bengali Hindus in the state, since the AGP and INC had cornered most of the Assamese Hindu vote. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections changed these dynamics when the BJP won seven seats while the AGP won zero.

Himanta_Biswa_Sarma_briefing_media_at_his_office_dispur

Himanta Biswa Sarma

Through their alliance with the AGP, the BJP will aim to unify the Hindu vote, as Hindus make up 62% of the state’s population. In order to appeal to both Assamese regional sentiment and Hindu religious sentiment, party spokesmen have been referring to the AIUDF, a Bengali Muslim outfit, as their main opponent instead of the INC. BJP talk of building a fenced border to keep out Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants also serves to highlight religious and ethnic differences and thereby consolidate the Hindu vote among both ethnic Assamese and Bengalis.

The BJP will also try to expand its vote among tribal communities. Six ethnic groups that currently have Other Backwards Class (OBC) status in Assam — Tai Ahoms, adivasis (also known as tea tribes), Koch Rajbongshis, Morans, Sooteas, and Motoks — are seeking Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to expand the educational and employment benefits provided to these communities. At the beginning of March, the BJP government in Delhi established a committee to recommend ST status for these communities by May, following through on a campaign promise from the 2014 national elections.

The BJP has also made a strategic alliance with the major Bodo party, the Bodoland People’s Front (BPF). After thirteen years in alliance with the INC government, the BPF broke their alliance in 2014 to tie up with the BJP for the upcoming state elections. As the predominant political force in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) areas of north Assam, this was a coup for the BJP, since the BPF is likely to perform strongly in the BTC constituencies (they currently hold twelve constituencies).

Lastly, the AGP, for so long the vehicle of regionalist sentiment in Assam, decided to tie up with the BJP for this election cycle. As mentioned above, the AGP has faced a secular decline in vote share since the 1990s when they were at their peak strength. Their pre-poll alliance with the BJP is a recognition of their declining electoral strength in Assam.

In this alliance, the BJP will contest 84 seats, the BPF will contest 16 seats, and the AGP will contest 24 seats. Two other political parties representing tribal communities, the Rabha Jatiya Aika Manch  and the Tiwa Jatiya Aika Manch, will also be contesting 1 seat each under the BJP symbol.

3) All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) – Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) – Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) alliance

The All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) has emerged as a growing electoral force in the last decade. Established in 2005 by Badruddin Ajmal, a religious leader and scion of a wealthy perfume manufacturer family, the AIUDF has made itself the electoral home for Bengali Muslim votes in the states, winning the second-largest number of seats (18) in the Vidhan Sabha elections of 2011. The AIUDF’s increasing share of the Bengali Muslim vote has come largely at the expense of Congress. In 2014, AIUDF won three Lok Sabha seats in Assam, equalling Congress’ total in the state despite a lower vote share due to the geographic concentration of their supporters.

The AIUDF has been eager to frame itself as the major opposition force to the BJP in Assam. Though not in an official alliance with the Congress, the AIUDF will not be contesting seats in Upper Assam so as not to split the anti-BJP vote in this region. If the AIUDF-led alliance and Congress each win enough seats, it is possible that a coalition government could be brokered after the election.

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AIUDF leader Badruddin Ajmal

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who led a successful grand alliance of the JD(U), RJD, and INC against the BJP in last year’s Bihar elections, tried to produce a similar alliance between the AGP, AIUDF, and Congress for Assam. No such alliance emerged, though JD(U) and RJD, which do not presently hold any seats in Assam’s Vidhan Sabha, ended up aligning themselves with the AIUDF. Both Kumar and Bihari political stalwart Lalu Yadav will be campaigning during the upcoming elections in an effort to establish a presence in Assam.

The AIUDF will contest 76 seats, while the JD(U) and RJD will each contest 12 seats.

Nitish

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar

Lalu

RJD leader Lalu Yadav

The Left Front will collectively contest 59 constituencies in Assam: the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) will contest 19, the Community Party of India (CPI) will contest 18, the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) will contest 10, the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI(ML)) will contest 9, and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Revolutionary Communist Party of India (RCPI) will each contest 2 seats.

The All India Trina Mool Congress (AITMC), which presently governs in West Bengal, will also be contesting 25 seats separately.

  • Where does each party expect to perform well?

The infographic map below from Mint below examines where each party has performed well in the past two elections, the 2011 Vidhan Sabha elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Assam-Battle-Ground_web

The blue stripe in the upper left corner of the first map (Winner – 2011 AE) is Bodoland, and the BPF is likely to win these assembly constituencies again. The constituencies colored in yellow in these first two maps, where AIUDF won the largest share votes, are the areas where Bengali residents are most heavily concentrated: Lower Assam in the western pocket of the state and Barak Valley at the southern end. AIUDF will again be competing in these areas.

Note the mass of red in the second map (Winner – 2014 PE). This is Upper Assam, where Assamese Hindus and Muslims are concentrated, and the density of red shows that the BJP won this area decisively in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The AIUDF-led alliance will not compete in these constituencies so as not to split the anti-BJP vote with Congress.

The BJP knows that its strength lies in Upper Assam; its alliances will help most in Lower Assam. Without any major allies, Congress will be competing statewide and hopes that the upstart UPP might be able to delivering some Bodoland constituencies at the expense of BPF.

  • Who is going to win the election?

Conventional wisdom has been that Congress, facing strong anti-incumbent headwinds after fifteen years in government, is likely to lose a number of seats while the BJP is likely to emerge as the largest party in the state. BPF’s breaking of its alliance with Congress to join with the BJP after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the AGP’s recent addition to this alliance show that regional parties expect the BJP to have the upper hand once all the votes are counted.

Three polls by major survey organizations have been released so far. The first, conducted by CVoter (who, full disclosure, is one of my research affiliates) for India TV, projects the BJP-led alliance to expand its vote share (from 34% to 35%; note that the BPF did not contest with the BJP in 2011) and the Congress’ to shrink (from 39% to 36%). It does not project a majority for the BJP-led alliance, since 57 seats overall would be a few short of a majority. However, this poll was fielded before the addition of AGP to the BJP-led alliance and thus presents a favorable picture for the BJP.

At the beginning of April, CVoter released a new poll for Times Now showing similar results: the Congress alliance winning a vote share of 37%, BJP-led alliance alliance winning 35%, and the AIUDF-led alliance winning 12%. Based on the seat projections released with the poll, neither Congress nor the BJP would hold a majority of seats in the Vidhan Sabha. Such a scenario could make Badruddin Ajmal’s AIUDF the kingmaker in government formation negotiations.

A third poll conducted by ABP-Nielsen, and also fielded after the announcement of the BJP-BPF-AGP alliance, projects that the BJP-led alliance will win a sizable majority of 78 seats. It is noteworthy that in both the CVoter and ABP polls, Congress is projected to win significantly more seats than AIUDF.

However, we will not know the final results of the election until Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal have all voted by the middle of May. The results for all these state elections will be announced on May 19.

*Thanks to Pranav Gupta, Jyoti Mishra, and Rahul Verma for their reviews and comments.

Questions? Anything unclear or in need of further explanation? Please add any additional questions to the comments.

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A Guide to the 2015 Bihar Elections

If you have regularly been reading this blog (thank you, if that is the case!), you have probably seen many mentions of the upcoming Bihar elections. You might be wondering what these elections are, or why this blog has been discussing them so much. This post is meant to provide someone with no knowledge of Indian politics the proper information to understand the Bihar elections.

Before we begin, it will be best for you to familiarize yourself with the names of two alliances: the Grand Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). These are the two main party alliances contesting the elections in Bihar.

You should also familiarize yourself with the three following Indian politicians. Their names will come up frequently in this article.

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Narendra Modi

This is Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. He led his party, the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to victory in the Lok Sabha (national parliamentary) elections last year with a majority of seats. This was a big deal, because no party has won a majority of seats in the Lok Sabha since 1984. The BJP did well in the national elections, but has also been on a roll in the state elections, winning many major state elections over the past three years.

Mr. Modi is a very charismatic speaker, and quite popular across India. He’s also popular in Bihar; his NDA alliance won a plurality of the vote and 31 of Bihar’s 40 seats in the Lok Sabha in last year’s national elections. Even though he is not running for any office, he will be regularly visiting Bihar to hold campaign rallies and is very much a factor in this election.nitish1

Nitish Kumar

This is Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)). He is the current Chief Minister of Bihar, and has served in that position since winning the Vidhan Sabha (legislative assembly) elections in 2005–with the exception of one short period which will be discussed later. For the first eight years of his chief ministership, he governed in a coalition with the BJP. However, when Modi was named the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2013, he ended the JD(U)’s alliance with the party. In the current elections, he is leading the Grand Alliance with the support of two other parties, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Indian National Congress. He will be referred to just as Nitish below.

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Lalu Prasad Yadav

This is Lalu Prasad Yadav, the leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). He was Chief Minister of Bihar from 1990 to 1997, and effectively ran the state from 1997 to 2005. Though his wife, Rabri Devi, was technically Chief Minister during this second period, Lalu was effectively running the show (Lalu was barred from being Chief Minister after his conviction for embezzlement of the Bihar government treasury). He and Nitish were longtime political foes but are now part of the same alliance, the Grand Alliance, for these elections. He will be referred to just as Lalu below.

Modi’s BJP versus Nitish’s JD(U) and Lalu’s RJD. That’s the simplest summary of theelection, if it could be stated in just eight words. There are a lot of political parties, changing alliances, and complex caste dynamics at play in Bihar, so stay focused on those eight words to not lose sight of the big picture.

Now let’s dig into the details.


Background

  • What is Bihar?

Bihar is a state in northern India. In terms of population, it is the third largest state in the country, with a total population of 104 million, according to the 2011 census. It is located in the easternmost part of the Hindi belt, the chunk of north-central India where Hindi is predominantly spoken. Bihar’s capital city is Patna.

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Bihar

Bihar is known for being a poor state that struggles with maintaining law and order. It has something of a reputation as India’s equivalent of the “Wild West.” Since the 1970s, the state has lagged behind the rest of India on a number of economic and development indicators. According to 2011 census data, Bihar is the state with the lowest literacy rate; more than one in three Biharis (36%) is illiterate. Bihar also consistently ranks as the poorest state in terms of income per capita. From 2013-2014, the years for which data are available for all states, net state domestic product (the equivalent to GDP) per capita was $235, the lowest of all states, compared to an all-India average of $605. Bihar is primarily an agricultural state, with 88% of its population living in rural areas. Of this rural population, 98% do not have access to a toilet. Many Biharis emigrate to other states in search of work.

Bihar has had an impressive record of economic growth over the past decade. Between Nitish’s election in 2005 and 2014, the economy has been growing at 14% a year. However, Bihar is starting from such a high level of poverty that it still remains far behind most of India’s states. It is widely assumed that it will take decades for Bihar to catch up to the rest of India.

At the same time, Bihar has played a central role in India’s political and cultural history, both ancient and modern. It was in Bihar that the Buddha found enlightenment, Mahavira founded Jainism, Chandragupta and Ashoka were born and governed over the Mauryan empire, and classical texts like the Ramayana and Kama Sutra were written. Bihar was at the center of Jayaprakash Narayan’s movement against Indira Gandhi in the 1970s, and the politicization of caste after the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in the early 1990s. As the poster below illustrates, Biharis have a great deal of pride in their state.

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Bihar is known for being an extremely caste-conscious state. As will be discussed below, it is impossible to understand the politics of Bihar without some level of familiarity with the caste system. Bihar is also known for being a very politically minded state. Or as one colleague told me, “In Bihar, you can ask the rickshaw puller what he think about theelections, and he will give you a three hour seminar about the voting patterns of different castes.”

  • Why is Bihar having elections?

Every five years, India’s states have new elections for their Vidhan Sabhas, or legislative assemblies. These elections happen on a staggered schedule so that every six months or so there are Vidhan Sabha elections in one or more states. The Vidhan Sabhas are structured similarly to the Lok Sabha or the House of Commons in the UK, that is, they are parliamentary systems in which the party or party alliance that wins a majority of seats elects the government for the state. Members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) areelected from delimited assembly constituencies, and only need to receive a plurality of votes — not a majority — to win the seat. The Vidhan Sabha elects a Chief Minister for the state, who then picks his or her ministers that make up the state government.

The Vidhan Sabha also elects representatives for the Rajya Sabha, which is India’s upper house of the national parliament. The winner of the Vidhan Sabha elections therefore governs the state and chooses who will represent the state in New Delhi.

  • When are the elections being held?

The elections are being held over five phases on five separate dates: October 12, 16, and 28, and November 1 and 5. The results will be announced on November 8.

The reason the elections are held over this period of time is that conducting elections inBihar is a massive logistical exercise. The Electoral Commission of India needs to move its voting machines and staff around the state to supervise voting. Security forces also need to be placed in some areas where the Naxal movement, a Maoist low-level insurgency, poses security threats.

  • What are the stakes of this election?

At the simplest level, control of Bihar’s Vidhan Sabha and the appointment of some representatives to the Rajya Sabha are what are up for grabs here. But as with any country with a federal political system, the outcomes of state elections often have broader meaning for national politics.

The Bihar elections are being seen primarily as a test of the BJP’s and Modi’s strength. The BJP has pulled off an impressive string of wins in national elections last year but also in the state elections of many major states over the past three years. Their string of wins was cut short by the Delhi state elections earlier this year, in which the anti-corruption Aam Adami Party (AAP) pulled off an impressive win. Winning in populous Bihar would continue their series of wins and be a major coup for the BJP.

Looking forward on the election calendar is also important to understanding the significance of the Bihar elections. Next year, India’s fourth and sixth largest states, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, will be holding Vidhan Sabha elections. While West Bengal has long been dominated by leftist or left-leaning parties and Tamil Nadu has long been governed by regional parties, the BJP is looking to make inroads in both states. It is also looking to compete in Assam and Kerala, which will be holding Vidhan Sabha elections at the same time next year.

A win in Bihar would also bode well for the BJP’s prospects in the Vidhan Sabha electionsof neighboring Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state, which is to be held in 2017. All of this would be favorable for the BJP in the run-up to the next national elections, which will be held in 2019.

The Bihar elections are also very much a test of the BJP’s opposition. If the Grand Alliance of Lalu, Nitish, and Indian National Congress coming together are enough to stop the BJP, then perhaps such grand alliances can serve as a model for the BJP’s opposition in other state elections. If the Grand Alliance in Bihar is not able to hold a majority, then the BJP’s opposition will have to do some soul-searching, and perhaps adopt an alternative strategy to take on the BJP in future elections.

Caste and Religious Groups

  • You’ve mentioned that caste is very central to Bihar’s politics. What are the major caste groups in Bihar?

Within the Hindu segment of the population, which together comprises 83% of Bihar’s electorate, the three main caste groups are the upper castes, the Other Backwards Classes (OBCs), and the Scheduled Castes (SCs).

The upper castes comprise about one-sixth (15%) of the Bihari electorate. The Brahmins (5%), Bhumihars (4%), Rajputs (5%), and Kayasthas (<1%) make up most of the upper castes, though there are others as well.

The OBC castes make up 50% of Bihar’s population, the largest bloc by caste category. Within the OBCs, there are three castes that are more politically powerful and generally more socially and economically advantaged than the other OBCs. The first of these are the Yadavs, who make up about 15% of the electorate. The second and third are the Kurmis and Koeris, who together make up about 11% of the electorate (Kurmis and Koeris are technically separate castes but closely related, and their voting behavior is often similar). Lastly are the Extremely Backward Classes (EBCs), those OBCs who are not Yadavs, Kurmis, or Koeris. They together constitute about 24% of the electorate.

The SCs, or dalits, are the most socially and economically disadvantaged of caste groups. Dalits make up 16% of the Bihari electorate. Within dalits, the Bihar government under Nitish created a separate category for mahadalits, the poorest of the dalit castes, who would be targeted for special welfare schemes. However, the mahadalit category was expanded to included all but the Paswan caste. The Paswans and Pasis–who are closely related to the Paswans, but are categorized as mahadalits–are among the least disadvantaged of the dalit castes, and together comprise 5% of the electorate. The Chamars, another mahadalit caste that is relatively advantaged as compared with other mahadalits, constitute 6% of the electorate. Nineteen other mahadalit castes make up the remaining 5% of the dalit share of the electorate.

This categorization leaves out Muslims, who make up 17% of Bihar’s electorate, and the Scheduled Tribes (STs), which are aboriginal tribes that make up just 2% of Bihar’s electorate (Figures for specific castes are based on the results of previous CSDS post-poll surveys of Bihar. Census data only provides information on the share of Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Muslims within each state. ).

Caste Percent of Electorate inBihar
Upper Castes Brahmin 5 15
Bhumihar 4
Rajput 5
Other Upper Castes (Kayasthas, etc.) 1
Other Backwards Classes (OBCs) Yadav 15 50
Kurmi and Koeri 11
Extremely Backwards Classes (EBCs) 24
Scheduled Castes (SCs) / Dalits Pasis (Mahadalit) and Paswans 5 16
Chamars (Mahadalit) 6
Other Mahadalits 5
Muslims 17
Scheduled Tribes (STs) 2
  • Do these caste groups traditionally vote as blocs? If so, how do these caste groups traditionally vote?

Some of them have, while other have not, and their allegiances have often shifted over time. To understand why these caste groups have voted the way they did, it is important to understand a little about Bihar’s political history.

Bihar has been through three political phases since India’s independence: 1) 1947-1967, when a Congress led by upper caste leaders governed, 2) 1967-1990, during which Congress’ and the upper castes’ support base declined and middle castes’ influence grew, and 3) 1990-present, during which Congress and the upper castes were marginalized, OBCs were empowered, and OBC leaders like Lalu and Nitish governed.

As this third phase was ushered in by Lalu’s 1990 victory, upper castes have tended to resent Lalu in particular. Since then, the upper castes traditionally have supported theBJP. In the 2014 elections, the BJP won the upper caste vote by large margins. Lokniti colleagues Nitin Mehta and Pranav Gupta have examined the voting patterns of upper castes in Bihar in an Indian Express article. They did not find significant differences in voting patterns between the different castes in this category. They found that the BJP won the upper caste vote heavily in last year’s national elections, and performed strongly with these groups in the 2000, October 2005, and 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections.

The Yadavs have traditionally backed Lalu, one of their own, and his RJD. They constitute the Y in what people called Lalu’s M-Y base (the M stands for Muslims). They have consolidated quite strongly behind the RJD in most state and national elections over the past twenty-five years. Lokniti colleagues Sanjay Kumar and Vibha Attri have found that a majority of Yadavs have supported the RJD in the 2000, October 2005, and 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections, as well as the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, a plurality of Yadavs backed the RJD.

The Kurmis and Koeris have generally backed Nitish, a Kurmi, and his JD(U), though his party has not consolidated their vote to the same extent that Lalu’s RJD has consolidated Yadavs. Kumar’s and Attri’s analysis from the aforementioned article finds that the JD(U) has won a plurality but not a majority of Kurmi / Koeri votes in the 2000, October 2005, and 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections, as well as the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Only in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections did Nitish win more than half of the Kurmi / Koeri vote. The Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP), a party started by Koeri former JD(U) politician Upendra Kushwaha in 2013, will be competing for the Koeri vote in alliance with the BJP. The RLSP is not expected to win a majority or even a plurality of Koeri votes in the upcoming elections. But any votes they do win are likely a loss for the JD(U) and the Grand Alliance.

The EBC vote has often split in different directions and has not consolidated behind one party in the last fifteen years. Since 2005, the JD(U) and the BJP have won the largest share of EBC votes in state and national elections, with the JD(U) slightly outperforming the BJP, except for the 2014 BJP blowout, according to Kumar’s and Attri’s analysis in an Indian Express article. However, the two parties’ combined total has not exceeded 65% of the EBC vote in the past fifteen years, and it is unclear how the breaking of the JD(U)-BJP alliance will play with the EBCs this year. For that reason, many commentators are saying that the EBC vote could determine the winner of the elections next month.

The Dalit vote has also split in different directions. Lokniti colleague Shreyas Sardesai has extensively explored patterns in Dalit castes’ voting behaviors in an Indian Express article. He finds that Pasis’ and Paswans’ votes have tended to go to whichever electoral alliance that Ram Vilas Paswan, a Paswan politician who leads the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), ties himself to. When Paswan was allied with RJD and Congress, a majority of Pasi and Paswan votes went to the RJD. When Paswan allied himself to the BJP in last year’s national elections, a plurality backed the BJP. Given that Paswan is contesting these elections with the BJP, it is expected that many will back the BJP again this time.

Indian Election Rally

Ram Vilas Paswan

The Chamars have moved away from Lalu’s RJD over the past fifteen years and hardly been consolidated by another party. In the past ten years, a plurality have backed the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, the Dalit leader who was Chief Minister of neighboring Uttar Pradesh four times between 1995 and 2012 (and whose face adorns the banner of this blog). Sardesai writes that Mayawati’s support among Chamars may be an impediment to the NDA’s efforts to consolidate the dalit vote.

The remaining mahadalit castes, which once strongly supported the RJD, have steadily shifted their support to the JD(U) and BJP over the past fifteen years. Jitan Ram Manjhi, a dalit leader who has been tied to multiple parties in the past, is now trying to win their support with his own party. In 2014, after the JD(U) won only 2 of Bihar’s 40 seats in the Lok Sabha election, Nitish stepped down as chief minister and named Manjhi, then in the JD(U), as chief minister. Only ten months later, in February of this year, Nitish asked Manjhi to step down so Nitish could resume his chief ministership. Manjhi refused, and as a result, the JD(U) expelled Manjhi, Nitish became chief minister again, and an infuriated Manjhi started his own party, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), which in these elections will be contesting as part of the NDA.

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Jitan Ram Manjhi (left) meets with Narendra Modi

  • Isn’t it a bit reductive to say that some castes will vote one way and other castes will vote another? What about the parties’ respective policies?

It is a bit reductive. It’s probably more precise to say that some political parties derive their support from a strong affiliation with caste, while others draw support from more diverse coalitions. Lalu’s electoral power very much comes from his ability to draw Yadav and Muslim votes. Nitish’s base of support has been broader–he has tried to build his resume off economic development policies, not his caste–but he has still relied on a relatively strong showing among Kurmis and Koeris. Paswan’s backing by Paswans and Pasis has certainly been caste-based, while Manjhi is now trying to pitch himself as the leader of the mahadalits to win their vote. Modi’s BJP has traditionally drawn on the support of upper castes, especially in Bihar, but it is trying to increase its votes among all Hindu voters in the hope of repeating its 2014 performance.

  • What about the Muslim vote?

Muslim voters have not always voted as a unified bloc, as Lokniti colleague Hilal Ahmed points out in an Indian Express article, but Lalu’s RJD has typically won the greatest share of Muslim votes. His coalition was labeled the M-Y coalition, for Muslim and Yadav voters (though this omits dalits, who also provided him with support). In the 2014 elections, Ahmed finds, the RJD won about half of Muslim votes, while in the 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections their votes were split between the RJD, JD(U), Congress, and other parties. The most consistent trend that can be found in these data is Muslim voters voting against the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party. This dynamic will work to the benefit of the grand alliance, if, as expected, it holds.

There is a potential X factor in this year’s Bihar elections. Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of parliament from Hyderabad who leads the All-India Muslim-e-Majles (AIMIM), a party whose purpose is to protect and advance the rights of Muslim communities in India, has announced that the AIMIM will get into the Bihar race for the first time. Frustrated with how he says the JD(U), RJD, and Congress are not focusing enough on improving the well-being of Muslim communities, he is fielding candidates in the legislative assembly seats in Seemanchal, the eastern part of Bihar where Muslims constitute a majority in 10 of 24 constituencies.

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Asaduddin Owaisi

If AIMIM wins a significant or even marginal share of the Muslim vote in these regions, they are almost certainly to be at the expense of the Grand Alliance. For this reason, it is being said that his presence in the race will help the BJP in the Bihar polls, in two ways. First, as described above, any votes or seats that he wins are likely to be votes and seats that the Grand Alliance would otherwise have won. Second, if AIMIM’s presence in the race polarizes voters along religious lines, then Hindu voters of different castes may be more likely to vote for the BJP. Owaisi has strongly denied claims that he is being supported by the BJP.


Political Parties and Leaders

  • What are the main political parties and alliances contesting the elections in Bihar? Who are their leaders?

The Grand Alliance includes these parties:

— The JD(U), led by Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s chief minister. The JD(U) is contesting 101 of Bihar’s 243 assembly constituencies. Nitish is the chief ministerial candidate for the Grand Alliance.

— The RJD, led by former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, is also contesting 101 of 243 constituencies.

— Indian National Congress, led by Sonia Gandhi at the national level and by Ashok Chaudhury in Bihar, will be contesting the remaining 41 constituencies.

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Sonia Gandhi

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) includes these parties:

— The BJP, led by Narendra Modi at the national level and by former deputy chief minister Sushil Modi (no relation to Narendra Modi) in Bihar, is contesting 160 of Bihar’s 243 assembly constituencies. The BJP has not officially named a chief ministerial candidate so as to avoid offending any particular caste grouping, but it is widely expected that Sushil Modi would become Chief Minister were the BJP-led alliance to win.

— The LJP, led by Ram Vilas Paswan, is contesting 40 of 243 constituencies.

— The RLSP, led by Upendra Kushwaha, is contesting 23 of 243 constituencies.

— The HAM, led by Jitan Ram Manjhi, is contesting 20 of 243 constituencies, and 4-5 of its members must contest as members of the BJP.

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Sushil Modi

Those are the main sides: JD(U) + RJD + Congress vs. BJP + LJP + RLSP + HAM.

  • Who else is contesting the election? How do they help or hurt either of the main alliances?

There are other parties and party alliances that are contesting the elections as well. None are expected to win enough seats to form a government, but they can influence the elections by winning seats of their own or taking away votes from the other two alliances. If neither major alliance wins the necessary 122 seats to form a government, they will need to invite one of these other parties to govern with them, or new elections will have to be held.

A third front, the Secular Socialist Morcha, has been formed to contest all 243 seats. The main partners in this coalition were in negotiations to contest elections as part of the Grant Alliance, but were dissatisfied with the number of seats being offered to them. The Samajwadi Party (SP), which governs in neighboring Uttar Pradesh and is led by Mulayam Singh Yadav (whose grandnephew is married to Lalu’s daughter), was dissatisfied that it was offered only five seats as part of the Grand Alliance and walked out of negotiations. It is ironic that he is now fighting the Lalu-Nitish alliance, since he was the one to bring Nitish and Lalu together in the first place. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) — not to be confused with the Indian National Congress — also broke off negotiations after being offered only three seats. The SP and NCP then teamed up with the Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) of Pappu Yadav, an MP who was expelled from the RJD, and three other small parties to forge a new alliance.

This alliance consists of the SP, contesting 85 seats; the JAP, contesting 64 seats; the NCP, contesting 40 seats; the Samras Samaj Party (SSP), contesting 28 seats; the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP), contesting 23 seats; and the National People’s Party (NPP), contesting 3 seats. None of these parties won any seats in the 2010 Bihar Vidhan Sabha election, though the NCP did win one Lok Sabha seat in Bihar during the 2014elections and the SP won four seats in the 2005 Vidhan Sabha elections. However, only the NCP, SJP, and SP existed in 2010; all the other parties broke off from larger parties.

The presence of the Secular Socialist Morcha could take votes away from both the Grand Alliance and the NDA, but the fact that they are all secular parties who have opposed the BJP in the past means their presence is more likely to hurt the Grand Alliance. The NCP, SP, and SJP together won a little more than 2% of the vote in 2010.

The Left Front will also be contesting all 243 seats. This alliance is made up of the Communist Party of India (CPI), contesting 91 seats; the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (CPI (M-L)L), contesting 78 seats; the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)), contesting 38 seats; the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI(C)), contesting 6 seats; the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB), contesting 5 seats; and the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), contesting 3 seats. Which parties within the Left Front will contest the remaining 22 seats have not yet been settled.

The Left Front is opposed to the BJP, and therefore could take away vote share that would go to the grand alliance. Historically, leftist parties have had a strong social base in Bihar, especially in the Naxal-affected areas in the southeast. Their popularity among dalits means that their support in this community could come at the expense of the dalit parties in the NDA. Together these parties won a little more than 4% of the vote in the 2010 Vidhan Sabha election.

Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) will be contesting all 243 seats as well. The BSP’s support derives primarily from the Chamar caste within the dalits in Bihar. As stated in Sardesai’s article, the rise in support among Chamars for the BSP has come at the expense of Lalu’s RJD. In this way, votes for the BSP hurt the Grand Alliance. However, the BJP’s alliance with the dalit parties of HAM and LJP this election mean that votes for the BSP could potentially hurt the NDA’s efforts to consolidate the dalit vote. The BSP won 3% of the vote in the 2010 Vidhan Sabha elections, and 2% of the vote in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The Shiv Sena, a far-right Marathi Hindu nationalist party that is a coalition party to theBJP in Maharashtra’s Vidhan Sabha, will also be contesting 150 of 243 seats. They have never contested elections in Bihar before, and are trying to expand their presence into the Hindi belt. Their vote share is expected to be nominal, and to come largely at the expense of the BJP.

Lastly, as stated above, Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), is contesting the 24 seats of the Seemanchel region where Bihar’s Muslim population is concentrated. AIMIM’s presence in the race is widely expected to help the NDA by winning Muslim votes that otherwise would have went to the Grand Alliance, and potentially polarizing the electorate along religious lines, which would be a boon to the BJP.

Alliance Party Seats Contested
Grand Alliance Janata Dal (United) (JD(U)) 101
Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) 101
Indian National Congress (INC) 41
National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 160
Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJSP) 40
Rashtriya Lok Samta Party (RLSP) 23
Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) 20
Secular Socialist Morcha Samajwadi Party (SP) 85
Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) 64
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 40
Samras Samaj Party (SSP) 28
Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) 23
National People’s Party (NPP) 3
Left Front Communist Party of India (CPI) 91
Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (CPI(M-L)L) 78
Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) 38
Socialist Unity Center of India (Communist) (SUCI(C)) 6
All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) 5
Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) 3
Undetermined 22
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 243
Shiv Sena 150
All India Majles-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) 24

Alliance Formation and Electoral Strategies

  • So if a political party wins 3% of votes in Bihar, that means they win 3% of seats in the Vidhan Sabha. Right?

No! Like the United States or the United Kingdom, India has a first-past-the-post electoral system in which the party that wins a plurality of votes within a constituency wins the seat. But unlike the United States or the United Kingdom — and you’ve probably realized this at this point — India has a tremendous number of ideological, caste-based, region-based, or religion-based political parties that win comparatively small vote shares. This means that a party does not need to win a very large share of votes in constituencies (or therefore at the state or national level) in order to win seats. They just need to outperform other parties within constituency boundaries.

For example, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NDA won 38% of votes in Bihar, a plurality, but this was enough to win a sizable majority (31) of Bihar’s 40 Lok Sabha seats. The RJD-Congress-NCP alliance won 28% of the vote, but a lot of it was in constituencies where the NDA won a plurality, so the RJD, Congress, and NCP ended up winning only 7 Lok Sabha seats together. Nitish’s JD(U) won 16% of the vote, but only 2 Lok Sabha seats.

This is why it makes sense for the parties to align with each other in alliances — be it the Grand Alliance, the NDA, the Secular Socialist Morcha, or the Left Front. The alliances are effectively non-compete clauses in which the parties ensure they do not eat into each others’ votes within individual constituencies. By forming a grand alliance, the JD(U) contests elections only within its 101 allotted constituencies, the RJD contests elections within its 101 allotted constituencies, and the Congress contests elections within its allotted 41 constituencies.

  • How did these alliances form?

For Biharis, it is a weird sight to see Nitish and Lalu contesting an election together. Nitish came into power in Bihar in 2005 with the support of the BJP, on the premise that he would end the corruption, economic stagnation, and the general sense of lawlessness — what critics call “jungle raj” — that existed when Lalu’s RJD governed. Nitish and Lalu were political archenemies.

When the BJP named Narendra Modi as their prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in 2013, Nitish ended his alliance with the BJP, as he saw Modi to be a divisive figure. In the 2014 elections, Nitish’s JD(U) contested separately from the RJD-Congress-NCP alliance. Though together these parties won 44% of votes compared to the NDA’s 39%, combined they won only 8 seats versus the NDA’s 31. In other words, by contesting separately the JD(U) and RJD-Congress-NCP split the anti-BJP vote in a way that redounded to the BJP’s benefit. This time around, they decided not to make the same mistake by contesting the elections together.

The BJP’s alliance is not so different from the one it had in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, except for the presence of Jitan Ram Manjhi’s HAM after Manjhi was expelled from the JD(U). The presence of Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP in the Modi-led NDA is a strange sight as well. Paswan was a minister in an earlier NDA government, but resigned in protest after the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, which happened under then-Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Paswan’s son announced that it was time to forget about the riots and “move ahead” as the LJP rejoined the NDA, now led by none other than Narendra Modi.

  • What are the electoral strategies of the Grand Alliance?

The key to victory for the grand alliance is making sure that its different parties’ support bases hold together. As Lokniti colleagues Rahul Verma and Pranav Gupta explore in an article for The Hindu, the parties of the Grand Alliance were ahead in approximately 130 assembly constituencies during the 2014 elections, and “can manage a victory by simply ensuring that the voters of the individual parties from 2014 do not drift away.”

But Lalu’s supporters do not like Nitish, and Nitish’s supporters do not like Lalu. Will their supporters be willing to vote for the other’s candidates? That is the critical question. For example, let’s say you are a dalit who has supported Lalu and the RJD, but live in a constituency that has been allotted to a candidate for Nitish’s JD(U). Will you vote for this candidate, or defect to another party’s, such as one of the dalit party candidates aligned with BJP? Alternatively, let’s say you voted for Nitish and the JD(U) in 2005 and 2010 because you were frustrated with Bihar’s corruption and slow pace of development under Lalu, and you are living in a constituency that has been allotted to Lalu’s RJD. Will you vote for that RJD candidate, or might you vote for a BJP candidate that focuses on development and heavily criticizes Lalu? The BJP were in coalition with Nitish for most of his chief ministership after all.

The good news for the Grand Alliance is that Nitish remains popular in Bihar, as Lokniti colleague Sanjeer Alam shows in an article for The Indian Express. Nitish is widely seen as having facilitated economic development and improved the law and order situation in Bihar. The Grand Alliance will stress his record of governance while also playing to the traditional caste loyalties that have tied voters to their parties.

At the same time, they will focus on voters’ anxieties about a BJP-led government in Patna, particularly with Muslim and OBC voters who would stand to lose the most in such a situation. In off-the-record conversations with journalists, Lalu has been saying that he aims to exploit popular perceptions of the BJP as an upper caste Hindu party by framing this election as a competition between the upper castes and the backward castes. When Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Rasthriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that is the ideological mentor to the BJP, said that reservation policies which keep quotas for dalits and OBCs in government jobs and university placements need to be revised, Nitish and Lalu were quick to pounce on these comments as evidence that the backwards castes would stand to lose from a BJP victory.

Nitish and Lalu are also trying to mobilize Bihari regional pride in their favor. For example, an offhand remark by Narendra Modi that something was wrong with Nitish’s “political DNA” was then treated by Nitish as an insult to the genetics of all Biharis. Nitish’s campaign launched DNA collection camps, and sent the hair and nail samples of Biharis who flocked to the camps to Prime Minister Modi’s office in Delhi. This exercise may sound silly, but it is an excellent example of how the Lalu-Nitish alliance is trying to win voters’ support by treating Modi and the BJP as outsiders who do not understand the needs of Bihar.

  • What are the electoral strategies of the NDA?

The NDA is trying to undercut some traditional caste loyalties while using others to their advantage. By not officially naming a chief ministerial candidate, they hope to not alienate any particular caste group. As with the 2014 elections, they would like to mobilize the Hindu vote across caste behind them. If the Grand Alliance’s ideal electoral scenario is for the vote to polarize along caste lines (upper castes vs. backwards castes), then the NDA’s ideal electoral scenario is for the vote to polarize along religious lines (Hindus vs. Muslims).

However, the strong influence of caste on Bihari politics means that the BJP will also be doing their own caste-based arithmetic. As they did in 2014, they will hope to bank the upper caste vote. Their alliance with the LJSP and HAM means that they hope these dalit-focused parties will consolidate the dalit vote, and their alliance with the RLSP means that they hope to take some Koeri votes from the JD(U). The awarding of many BJP tickets to Yadav candidates shows that the BJP will also make a serious bid for the votes of OBCs, cutting into Nitish’s and Lalu’s bases. A great deal of deliberation went into decisions about how many tickets were awarded to BJP candidates from different castes.

Narendra Modi is a very popular figure across India. He will be very involved in thiselection campaign. In August, before the official campaign began, he announced a gigantic development package of 1.25 lakh crore rupees (that’s 1.25 trillion rupees, or $19 billion) for Bihar. A charismatic campaigner, he will be addressing 20 election rallies inBihar throughout the campaign. This is an unprecedented level of involvement for a prime minister in a state campaign. Knowing that this will be a closely contested election, theBJP is trying to win every vote they can through Modi’s personal popularity.

The BJP will also use the mutual suspicions between Lalu’s and Nitish’s camps to their advantage, in the hopes that members of both will defect to their side. In speeches, Modi has repeatedly criticized Lalu and said that a victory for the Grand Alliance could bring a return to “jungle raj.” With such language, he is trying to undercut Nitish’s popularity and nullify his record of development by tying him to Lalu’s record of governance, perhaps in an attempt to win the votes of traditional JD(U) voters living in constituencies contested by the RJD. Such language is also likely targeted towards upper caste voters, who see the period of RJD governance between 1990 and 2005 as a dark period of Bihar’s history when they were marginalized.

  • So who’s going to win?

This is going to be a closely contested election. No pollster or forecaster is predicting a blowout victory for either the Grand Alliance or the NDA. Some of the projections that have been made by pollsters predict the NDA slightly edging out the grand alliance, while others have shown the grand alliance winning a majority. Some have projected neither alliance winning a majority of seats, which would open up the possibility of a different alliance or political party playing the role of kingmaker. It bears repeating again that vote share does not translate into seat share, so projecting the number of seats a party or alliance will win involves a fair amount of guesswork about how that party’s vote will be distributed across the state. Furthermore, many voters do not make up their minds until Election Day or the day before. As an observer, you should treat any pre-polls and seat projections especially with a healthy amount of skepticism, especially for a close election like this one.

In other words, you’ll have to stay tuned for when the results are finally announced on November 8. With an election this close and the stakes this high, it’s well worth your time to follow the electoral battle for Bihar.

*Thanks to Vibha Attri, Pranav Gupta, Jyoti Mishra, and Shreyas Sardesai for their reviews and comments.

Questions? Anything unclear or in need of further explanation? Please add any additional questions to the comments.