The announcement of the schedule for the Bihar Assembly elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic is a significant step towards restoration of the electoral process. The Election Commission announced the dates on the day protests against the new farm legislations were held in several states, with Bihar witnessing a tractor march by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD). The confrontation between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led Opposition during the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament has set the stage for a fierce contest in the poll arena.
The litmus test will lie in conducting the elections successfully in a state that has a predominantly rural setting in the backdrop of the return of migrant workers in large numbers and the annual feature of floods ravaging the countryside. At stake will be Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s political capital, tested by the health emergency and the impatience and recalcitrance of his allies and adversaries. The Bihar CM earlier drew flak for his flip-flops, joining hands with the BJP, then dumping it to form an alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s RJD, only to be back in the NDA fold. The BJP has made it clear that Nitish Kumar will be the NDA’s CM face, but if symbolism were to count in politics, he wouldn’t be found short, as he paid tributes to Raghuvansh Prasad Singh of the RJD on his demise and brought back Jitan Ram Manjhi to fend off the Paswans.
During the Covid-induced lockdown, Nitish Kumar came under fire as he refused to bring back Bihari students stranded in Kota (Rajasthan), citing the strict MHA guidelines, even as BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh sent buses for its residents. His policy on prohibition is now being criticised as other states tap into revenue from liquor sales. Being held under exceptional circumstances, the battle for the ballot promises to be a challenging and exciting affair in Bihar.