A thirst for change, the fear that Lalu Yadav's return will push Bihar to the bad old days of "jungle raj" and the realisation that electing a government opposed to the Centre may result in a Delhi-like impasse are driving a large section of voters voting in the first phase of the Assembly elections, to look beyond Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The Sunday Guardian visited several constituencies in Begusarai and Samastipur districts that will go to the polls in the first phase on 12 October, to discover a general appreciation for Kumar as an
administrator, especially in areas such as roads and law and order. But at the same time there was immense apprehension that his alliance with Lalu Prasad Yadav would doom the state for good. Shambhu Prasad of Morwa in Samastipur district voiced this fear when he said, "Nitish-babu has done good work. But we want that process to continue, which will not be possible in the company of Lalu Yadav. Therefore, it is necessary to vote for the BJP-led alliance. Humko unse koi problem nahi hai, lekin wo Lalu Yadav ki god mein ja ke baith gaye hain (he is now sitting in Lalu's lap)."
There is also a strong feeling that Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav have got 25 years between the two of them to rule Bihar and it is time to give the BJP a chance. "Is baar Bihar mein Modi sarkar aana chahiye," was the common refrain in this belt. Some people also pointed out that since the Centre was ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, there is a need to vote for a "similar combination" in Bihar to facilitate development work, as otherwise there may arise a situation like Delhi where the state government is wasting its energy fighting the Centre.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a major draw for voters in this region. They think that he is doing a good job. The fact that the BJP has not declared its chief ministerial candidate held little significance for the voters, most of whom said whoever the candidate was would be under the control of Narendra Modi and that's all that mattered. However, there are Modi critics too. "He promised many things, but has not fulfilled them. Check the prices of onion and pulses. He also promised to deposit Rs 15 lakh in our bank accounts. Where is the money? Nitish Kumar has done a lot and we will again vote for the Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance of Nitish, Lalu and Congress)," said Ramchandra Yadav, a farmer at Samastipur.
Nitish Kumar's "Modi has insulted Bihar's DNA" campaign is a complete non-issue in this belt.
The forward castes and the Extremely Backward Castes (EBCs), in particular, are extremely apprehensive of Lalu Yadav returning to the centre stage of Bihar politics. The chorus is that voting for Nitish will mean voting for Lalu.
"We voted for Nitish Kumar to end Lalu's jungle raj and he succeeded in putting an end to it, but this time he joined hands with him. Lalu Yadav will push the state back to those days of anarchy and lawlessness when he was ruling," said Mangal, who runs a dhaba at Bachwara in Begusarai district.
But Nitish Kumar's JDU is putting up a brave front. "We have a solid voter support of Yadavs, Muslim and OBCs. You should not forget the fact that the JDU, RJD and Congress together got 44% votes in the last Lok Sabha elections, whereas the BJP alliance got only 39%. At the time, we contested separately and lost. This time we are together. The caste arithmetic is in our favour and we have a charismatic leader like Nitish Kumar," said Ranbir Nandan, a Member of the Legislative Council with the JDU.
RJD leader Ramchandra Purve asserted, "There was no jungle raj in Bihar. It's all BJP's dushprachar (propaganda). Under Lalu Yadav's rule, people from the weaker sections got their voice. They started talking about their rights. Therefore, those opposed to these people started terming the rule as jungle raj. We will ensure inclusive development if we come to power."
State BJP vice president Sanjay Mayukh said that caste equations were being demolished in Bihar, as was evident during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections: "They are living the past. The state has moved away from caste politics. Had it not been so, casteist forces would not have been defeated so badly in the LS elections. The BJP, under Narendra Modi, has set development as its agenda. The people of Bihar know that development under Nitish-Lalu is not possible and therefore will vote for us."
However, a political observer pointed out that the BJP too was quite adept at playing the caste card. "If the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance has the arithmetic, the NDA has the chemistry. The NDA has Narendra Modi who has developed a good chemistry with the people. Just wait for a few more of his rallies and there will be a vast difference. The BJP may not have fulfilled all its promises made last year, but it has established itself as a party which is pro-development. It will consolidate the lead it has got in the last few days and the NDA will win by a good margin," he said.
According to Sanjay Mayukh, the BJP, in the last few years, has expanded its social base to counter the social engineering of Nitish and Lalu. "Besides the upper case votes, we now have a good chunk of votes from OBCs and Dalits. The alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan (a Dalit), Jitan Ram Manjhi (a Mahadalit) and Upendra Kushwaha has helped us in expanding our social base. Moreover, we have also made a dent in the Yadav votes by giving tickets to a large number of Yadav candidates. The party has also given prominence to EBC leaders such as Prem Kumar, Renu Devi and Rambadan Rai," he said.