The final round of voting on Thursday, 5 November, will put the Congress to test, not just for itself but for the alliance as well. The stakes for the Congress are higher than they would appear, especially with all the spotlight and attention on Nitish and Lalu.
The last round covering the Seemanchal region has a large segment of people from the EBCs, OBC and the Muslim community and it is generally believed that the Grand Alliance has a greater advantage here than in any of the previous phases where voting has taken place in these elections.
After the 2014 General elections wipeout, Congress as a party has been struggling to stay relevant in national politics. It has been a declining force largely of its own making and for its inability to find a leadership that can lead and inspire the process of reinventing the party to take on 21st century challenges.
The problem with the Congress is that it is a victim of its own legacy, one where its identity is closely linked with the Gandhi family. After Indira Gandhi’s death, rather than begin a process of transition to build a second line of leadership that could form the core in coming years, the party went back to relying on the family, after a brief experiment with P.V. Narasimha Rao as the Prime Minister.
After being decimated in 2014 polls, the Congress once again had an opportunity to start all over again and bring in a young and non-Gandhi leader to head the party and build a core of young leaders that would be part the process of rebuilding the party in states, from the grass root level. But deep rooted old timers in the party have neither the confidence nor the ability to take a stand and therefore, the nation has to endure yet another Gandhi struggling to find acceptance, which the people are simply refusing to give.
In this backdrop, Congress hopes to contribute in ensuring that the Nitish-Lalu duo are able to form a government and the party remain relevant in some way in the state.
In 2010, the INC full of confidence in the aftermath of a resounding victory in the 2009 General elections, entered the poll fray in Bihar on its own and contesting all 243 seats. It completely failed to wake up and smell the coffee and ended up with just 4 seats. It could have rebuilt itself in Bihar but 2014 General elections killed any chances for the party in the state.
So what made Nitish Kumar join hands with a sinking party and what made him hand over 41 seats, at the cost of his own party which has a far better chance of winning?
Nitish Kumar has been candid enough to admit that he is willing to join hands with anyone to defeat the BJP, even if it’s his bitter rival Lalu Prasad or the fledging Congress. The question is, has he overplayed his options by placing his faith with the Congress in the last and crucial round, especially with INC contesting 12 out of the 24 crucial seats in Seemanchal.
If the four earlier rounds throw up a close contest, it could well be a decider in the fifth round but can a party that won just 4 seats in the previous election in 2010 pull out a rabbit in this one, when it hasn’t done anything of consequence in the state since 2010?
To make matters worse for the Congress is the recent panchayat poll results in U.P. where the party has taken a beating in its own ‘home’ turf of Amethi. The people at the grass root level in most states are surely and steadily giving up on Congress, so is Nitish Kumar’s gamble with the Congress going to make or break his break his career? We’ll know for sure on 8 November.
Voter turnout could make or break Mahagathbandhan’s chances in the last round
A lot has been said and written about Seemanchal’s population composition and the fact that it is likely to favour Mahagathbandhan. The region has a strong presence of EBCs, OBCs and Muslims. The events in the recent past like the Dadri killing, the beef controversy and the Faridabad killing of two Dalit children, have all had its deepest impact in this region and are likely to cause the fence sitters in respective communities mentioned, to swing decisively towards the Mahagathbandhan.
In the context of Muslim voters, with AIMIM announcing its participation in the elections, it was feared that the Muslim voter could get spilt and weaken the Mahagathbandhan and perhaps indirectly help the NDA. But feedback received thus far indicates that the party’s influence and impact is minimal and unlikely to make any significant impact on Mahagathbandhan’s chances. If at all, the Muslim voters are even more likely to go with the Mahagathbandhan, in the wake of recent controversies.
When the campaigning first began, BJP was in with a real chance of taking advantage of the anti-incumbency factor and there was a strong current of it prevailing amongst some sections. Team Amit Shah correctly read into the winds that seemed to give it more than a fair chance. But once campaigning began with a high decibel rallies led by Narendra Modi, BJP has since failed to capitalize on its early chance to swing the mood clearly in its favour. Subsequent and tragic events outside the state have had its impact, the extent of which will be tested in the fifth round.
However, too much attention has been drawn to the above factors, whereas, the biggest factor that will make or break Mahagathbandhan’s chances is voter turnout. The numbers speak for themselves. The last phase of polling covers 9 districts, which is the second largest in number, after the first round covering 10 districts. The number of seats being contested in this round is 57, the highest amongst all phases. The total elector population is 1.55 crore – around 23.18% of the total voters in the state, again the largest amongst all phases.
Therefore, any percentage increase in voter turnout could well offset any close contest disadvantage of the first two rounds, and swing the fate of the entire election in favour of the Mahagathbandhan.
It must be noted that traditionally, EBC and Muslim voters have come out to vote in large numbers and they also tend to vote in blocks, especially the Muslim voters. With recent events outside the state and the fact of a possibility of Mahagathbandhan losing, may well prompt a larger number of voters to step out and vote. If that happens, the last round could well turn out to be a nightmare for the NDA.