The political contours in the Bihar election are now clear. On one side is the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of the Janata Dal (United) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a range of smaller forces, with Nitish Kumar as the chief ministerial face. On the other is the Grand Alliance of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and smaller Left parties. Then, there is the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) under Chirag Paswan — which is contesting against JD(U) and asking for support in the name of PM Narendra Modi. Despite strenuous denials by the BJP, the speculation that it encouraged the LJP refuses to fade away. And in small pockets of the state, a fourth force — of the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), in alliance with Bhaujan Samaj Party and a small regional force led by Upendra Kushwaha — will pose a challenge.
This may come across as a rather fragmented political landscape, especially since Bihar has been largely bipolar. But one way to understand the situation is focusing on broad social groups. The ticket distribution patterns of all the forces in play indicate that they are primarily guided by identity-based political mobilisation with two objectives — consolidating their own social base, and expanding this base by sending a signal to communities outside their respective traditional umbrella.
Take the BJP. It has given more tickets to upper castes than any other party, and reached out to extreme backward classes (EBCs); but it has also given a high number of tickets to Yadavs, hoping that it would be able to make a dent in the Yadav base. The one constituency conspicuously absent in the BJP’s outreach is Muslims. The JD(U) has focused on consolidating its EBC base, but also given tickets to Muslims — hoping that despite its alliance with the BJP, segments of the minority vote will still be loyal to Mr Kumar. Or take the RJD. Acutely conscious that its core base is Yadavs, it has given members of the community a high number of tickets — but it is also conscious that its inability to expand its base has limited its prospects, which is why it has given tickets to a large number of EBCs in a bid to create a broader Other Backward Classes (OBC) alliance with Muslims. The outcome of the Bihar election, thus, will depend on which party is most successfully able to retain its older social base and win over traditionally adverse social groups.