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Watch | What Are the Poll Issues and Political Trends Influencing the Bihar Elections?

A team of The Wire's reporters covering the elections discuss what could influence the voting patterns in the state, where the first phase is underway today.

Muzaffarpur: The Wire‘s team of reporters who have been covering the lead up to the assembly elections in Bihar met at Muzaffarpur on Tuesday, a day ahead of the first phase of polling. While Manoj Singh came down to the city from the northern parts of the state, Ajoy Ashirwad reached the second biggest town in Bihar after reporting from south and central Bihar.

Manoj Singh said for the people of at least 22 districts of the state, facing the devastation caused by floods has become an annual phenomenon. He said that political parties make the construction of embankments in these regions their poll issues. But hundreds of villages between the embankments, he said, have been pushed into a state of ‘permanent waterlogging’. He then went on to say that migrant workers who had walked all the way from many of the country’s cities when the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed are all going back in search of work. He said none of the relief measures that the Nitish Kumar government promised was fulfilled. Later, he spoke about some of the stories he did for The Wire.

Umesh Kumar Ray said the various government schemes which are being advertised by the Nitish government have had only a limited impact. Corruption and bureaucratic insouciance have impeded their implementation, he said.

He cited the instance of the Garib Kalyan Yojana, announced by the Prime Minister to provide relief to the poor during the lockdown, being a total disaster in one of the villages of Khagaria. He said there were no beneficiaries even in that village almost seven months into the lockdown.

He also spoke about the problem of delay in payments for work under MNREGA in villages and explained how the programme remains a non-starter this year.

Ajoy Ashirwad spoke about the political trends in the state. He said that traditional caste-based political dynamics are likely to change as class issues are fuelling a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the chief minister.

He said the opposition alliance has been successful in making unemployment (which is at a whopping 46% in Bihar) and poor quality education facilities the biggest polls issues.

He also explained that different political narratives in the state are influenced by caste prejudices. While upper caste groups say that if the RJD comes to power, it would usher in a “jungle raj”, but this assertion has no takers among the backward communities, which respect Lalu Prasad Yadav’s politics of social justice. Although many among them have been voting for the BJP-led NDA, Lalu is not a hated figure among them, as is very much the case among formerly feudal upper castes.

He said while the NDA has relied mostly on RJD-bashing, the opposition has expanded its range of issues. The RJD has taken a leap from focussing solely on social justice to its slogan of ‘economic justice for all’. At the same time, the Left parties have expanded their politics of land struggle to contemporary issues like education, employment and social security for the poor.