Elections

Unemployment, Jobs vs Nationalism: INDIA, NDA Locked In Ideological Tussle For Bihar's Youth Vote

The political landscape in Bihar has undergone a significant transformation since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with major realignments and shifting allegiances among the key players

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Labours preparing campaigning vans of Bihar Chief Minister and JDU national president Nitish Kumar for Lok Sabha elections 2024 Photo: Getty Images
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Introduction

A high-pitched battle awaits as we inch closer to the 2024 Lok Sabha election scheduled to be held in seven phases from April 19 to June 1. The last five years, BJP-led National Democratic Alliance's second term, saw a series of civil protests, political cross-firings and constitutional debates. At Outlook, we are closely tracking the developments and bringing to you exclusive stories, ground reports and in-depth analysis of the state-wise electoral scenario, focusing on regional parties, their journeys in recent years and how it will play out at a national level.

Today, we are looking at Bihar which has witnessed a significant transformation in the run-up to the polls. Nitish Kumar, who recently swore in as CM for the ninth time, someway or other shows the ideological fragility of political parties. His continuous shift from one camp to the other, is what the scholars call 'absence of ideology'. Kumar's latest exit from INDIA and Pashupati Paras's difference with the NDA made Bihar a political hotbed. As the state goes to polls in all seven phases, here are the major parties and key factors that will play a crucial role in the coming days.

Bihar is all set for the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections with NDA on one side and INDIA Bloc on the other. The Elections in 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar will be held in seven phases starting from April 19 to June 1. So far, NDA has announced their seat sharing plan but the opposition is yet to announce theirs. Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has also decided to contest the elections from 11 seats.

Nitish Kumar, once referred to as 'Sushasan Babu' (Mr. Good Governance), was an unmatched political force in the state, benefiting from his image as a capable administrator and his alliance with the BJP, which leveraged Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity. 

However, the political dynamics in Bihar have undergone a seismic shift since then. In a turn of events, Nitish Kumar, once a staunch critic of the BJP and a vocal advocate for opposition unity, has rejoined the NDA coalition, marking his fifth ideological U-turn. This move has garnered significant criticism, with the opposition dubbing him 'Paltu Ram' (a turncoat), tarnishing his reputation.

The political landscape in Bihar has undergone a significant transformation since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, with major realignments and shifting allegiances among the key players. In the 2019 elections, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), comprising the BJP, JD(U), and other smaller parties, emerged victorious, securing an impressive 39 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar. This resounding victory was attributed to several factors, including the wave of nationalism following the Pulwama terror attack, which resonated deeply with the electorate in Bihar.

The upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha elections present a different political landscape in the state. The BJP has emerged as the principal political force, contesting 17 seats, while the JD(U) has taken a back seat, contesting 16 seats. This arrangement suggests a power shift within the NDA, with the BJP asserting its dominance and the JD(U) playing a subordinate role.

Furthermore, the departure of Pashupati Kumar Paras from the NDA and the formation of his separate Rashtriya Lok Janshakti Party have added complexity to the alliance dynamics. Paras's dissent represents a potential challenge to the NDA's cohesion and electoral strategy in Bihar.

Mohammed Ali Ashraf Fatmi, a former Union Minister and the general secretary of the Janata Dal (United), also tendered his resignation from the party on March 19, citing the need to uphold his "moral values". Fatmi's resignation comes amidst the shifting political dynamics in Bihar. Reports suggest that Fatmi is likely to rejoin the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), with the aspiration of contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Another JD(U) leader and MLA from Rupauli, Bima Bharti also resigned from the party to join RJD. She also indicated her willingness to contest Lok Sabha Elections if her new party permits.

While the NDA remains confident in its ability to leverage the state's apparatus, with 78 BJP MLAs and two Deputy Chief Ministers, the JD(U)'s frequent shifts in allegiance and its perceived status as a junior partner to the BJP may alienate its dedicated voter base. This could complicate the NDA's electoral prospects, particularly in the 16 seats allocated to the JD(U).

On the other hand, the opposition alliance, led by the RJD and supported by the Congress and other parties, aims to capitalise on the perceived disillusionment with Nitish Kumar's ideological inconsistency. RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav's emphasis on issues such as unemployment and government job provision, coupled with his role in the caste census and efforts to enhance OBC reservations, have contributed to an improved public image, potentially broadening the party's appeal beyond its traditional Muslim-Yadav base.

The departure of Paras from the NDA is seen as a positive development for the opposition alliance, as it could favourably impact the caste arithmetic in their favour. However, the opposition faces the daunting challenge of countering the NDA's momentum and presenting a united front, a task complicated by Nitish Kumar's defection to the BJP-led coalition.

Tejashwi Yadav's ability to captivate the youth and middle-class voters across caste lines will be crucial in posing a real challenge to the NDA. This moment could be a turning point for him, akin to Akhilesh Yadav's emergence as a potent political force in Uttar Pradesh in 2012.

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While the NDA maintains an advantage due to its control over the state's apparatus and the BJP's organisational strength, the opposition alliance has an opportunity to capitalise on the perceived disillusionment with Nitish Kumar's frequent ideological shifts and the ongoing issues of unemployment and development.

The 2024 Lok Sabha elections in Bihar will be a litmus test for both the NDA and the INDIA alliance. The NDA will seek to replicate its 2019 success, leveraging the BJP's dominance and the perceived benefits of Nitish Kumar's policies. Conversely, the INDIA alliance will endeavour to present a united front, appealing to a broader social base and capitalising on the perceived disenchantment with the NDA's governance.

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