The Bihar election campaign has almost heated up and the voters have formed their opinion about the formation they may like to vote to constitute a new assembly. The choice before them is between Nitish Kumar led JDU, RJD, Congress alliance and the NDA with BJP, LJP and HAM as its partners.
Nitish Kumar is seeking mandate to continue the work done so far. He is doing this, this time in alliance with its new partners the RJD and the Congress.
On the other hand the NDA is selling dreams to change face of Bihar and promising economic development and rapid growth. Both the NDA and the Grand Alliance have neatly packaged their manifestos and have communicated them to the people very well.
It is now for the voters to choose the better of the two formations and give a clear mandate to rule the state for next five years.
The overriding factor for the voters is the returns they may get individually or collectively as a group, for voting any one of the political formation. Their choice becomes narrower when their identity becomes more important to them in getting the benefits in return of their votes. It is in such case the caste factor override their individual preferences.
In such context, the Grand Alliance has 35 percent vote intact, while NDA can boasts of 23 percent of caste votes.
The Grand Alliance has 17 percent Muslim vote, 14 percent Yadavs and 4 per cent Kurmi vote and together has 35 percent of votes.
If the election is going to be decided on 40 to 45 percent of votes, then the Grand Alliance may need only 5 to 10 percent more vote to for a comfortable victory. The question is will these calculations translate into a reality? This is very unpredictable call at this moment.
On the other hand, the NDA has 23 percent of the forward caste votes in their kitty. The breakup is; Bhumihar 3 percent, Brahmin 5 percent, Rajputs 6 percent, Kayasth 1 percent, totaling 15 percent.
Added to this is 5 percent vote of Paswan and 2.8 percent vote of Manjhi, totaling 8 percent and make up 23 percent votes for the NDA.
In such case the NDA has to work on to get another 23 percent votes to finish as the largest formation in the state.
If media reports and poll surveys is to be believed this can happen with the help of Economically Backward Castes (EBCs) and Mahadalits.
The EBCs includes Kushwahas 6 per cent, Kories 8 percent and Telies 3.2 percent roughly constitute 17 percent and media and poll survey is predicting them to be voting for NDA.
However, in past the voting pattern of these 17 percent has swung either way and no political formations can claim to have them as their pocket borough.
In the EBC category, there is remaining 13 percent of votes that are hidden, as they are prominent castes, and their voting pattern is unknown. They hold the triumph card and their decisive vote in favor of a particular formation can change the course of the election.
As far as Mahadalits are concerned the NDA can get 5 percent vote of Paswan community due to Ram Vilas Paswan and 2.8 per cent votes of Manjhis, due to Jatin Ram Manjhi in their alliance, but the other 8 percent of the SCs vote is still open. Neither the NDA nor the Grand Alliance can claim them to be in their pocket.
So in the final calculation of the caste categories, the NDA has head start of 23 percent and the grand alliance has 35 percent.
If the 17 percent votes of the EBCs, Kushwahas 6 per cent, Kories 8 percent and Telies 3.2 percent adds up to the NDA’s 23 percent, they are at the strike range of 40 percent.
It is the 13 percent votes of the EBC and 8 percent votes of the Mahadalits that is important for both the Grand Alliance and the NDA a they hold the key to their victories. The two together make 21 percent votes.
If this 21 percent gets added into NDA side, it gives them an unusable lead of 61 percent. On the contrary, if the grand alliance is favored by this 21 percent, they may end up with 56 percent. .
This hard arithmetic makes sense on paper but will it translate into reality depends on the voting pattern the electorates. Here many factors come into play and the arithmetical calculations may not fall on expected lines.
After all individual preferences too have a role in electoral choices and may prevail over the herd sentiments of caste and religion. No one can claim to have anyone’s votes taken for granted in a secret ballot democracy.
According to the latest pre-poll survey by Zee News and survey agency 'Janta Ka Mood' the NDA alliance is predicted to get 54.8% and the Grand Alliance likely to get 40.2%, while others will get six per cent of votes. The survey has predicted landslide victory for the BJP-led NDA winning 162 seats and the JDU-RJD-Congress combine set to win only 51 seats.
According to another pre-poll survey conducted by CNN-IBN and Axis, the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance is predicated to have a big victory. The ‘Grand Alliance’, is to win 129-145 seats with a 46% vote-share and the BJP-led NDA, ending up with just 87-103 seats with 38% vote-share.
The two pre-poll surveys are quite contrary to each other and if to be believed then according to one, the NDA is going to have a cakewalk, and other the Grand Alliance will have a comfortable victory.
The fact remains that during the electoral campaign nothing spectacular has happened that can change the outcome of the elections. The vote bank of each formation remains intact.
The NDA is hoping a rebellion in the caste matrix and expect the voters may prefer them just like they did in the Lok Sabha election of 2014.
On the contrary, the Grand Alliance are grounded on their traditional vote banks and are firm that if the caste categories vote on their expected lines, they may not have any problem in achieving victory.
Though, nothing final can be said till the outcome of the election results are known, it is certain that none of the political formation is assured of their outright victory.
The electoral result may largely depend on the turn out of the voters on the polling day and their choice exercised for a particular formation. This comes with many riders and remains unpredictable.
At the moment it would safe to say that it will be a tightrope walk for both the political formation to reach the summit and the theory of cakewalk has to be taken with a pinch of a salt.
So whether it will be a cakewalk or tightrope walk can only be known when the counting of votes is over on November 8 in Bihar.
[Writer is a senior Journalist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]