As the number of total Coronavirus cases in India has surged past 50 lakh, making it the second worst affected country in the world, the Election Commission team has returned from initial inspections in Bihar, and are likely to announce the dates of the state election any day. The Election Commission has announced fresh guidelines for holding elections. With revised instructions of mandatory temperature checks, masks, gloves, caps on the number of voters in each polling booth, the state of Bihar is gearing up to vote in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 state elections in Bihar will be historic and it remains to be seen whether, despite EC guidelines, voters will feel comfortable enough to turn out to exercise their franchise as Coronavirus cases in Bihar continue to rise. As we are weeks away from the elections, in our first article in this series we have a look at the political history of Bihar over the years, including the rise of two regional satraps on the national stage: Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.
Since the 1990s, politics in Bihar has been dominated by regional political parties, namely the Janata Dal (United), and Rashtriya Janata Dal. There was a huge shift in Bihari politics in the 1980s, with a rise of the OBC castes such as Yadav, Kurmi and Koeri replacing those belonging to the upper castes in politics. This culminated in the victory of Lalu Prasad Yadav, a student leader from Patna University, as the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990.
1990-1995: LALU STORMS TO POWER
The Janata Dal, a new party swept the elections to win the highest number of seats and vote share, winning 122 seats and 25.61 per cent respectively, in the 1990 elections. Lalu Prasad Yadav became the Chief Minister of Bihar, defeating Ram Sundar Das, a former chief minister from the Janata Party by a slender margin.
To win the election, Lalu relied on the OBC vote and Muslim vote in Bihar, which had traditionally supported the Congress. He successfully won the OBC vote by championing a ‘social justice’ platform which promised to give jobs to the OBC castes (particularly the Yadavs). This issue became fraught particularly with Lalu’s support for the Mandal commission which outlines specific reservations for the OBC castes. Lalu successfully positioned himself as a leader for the lower castes in a state where politics for the longest time had been dominated by those in the upper class, led by the Indian National Congress. The INC had been in power in Bihar for a long time and in the 1990 election lost a mammoth 125 seats.
Lalu further positioned himself to appease Muslim voters, who had again been formerly supportive of the INC. Using the Bhagalpur Hindu-Muslim riots, which led to the death of over 1000 people, as a core issue, Lalu made the case that the INC did not serve the interests of Muslims and that he instead would be their true leader. In fact, this began to be known as the “MY” (Muslim Yadav) factor of the base of Lalu Yadav’s support in Bihar.
After coming to power, Lalu focused on his social justice project, aiming to give dignity to those from the backward castes even although his policies did not bring massive development to the state. He enacted several populist measures such as bringing ‘savarna’ schools to Dalit hamlets, restraining riots and violence against backward minorities. During his time, Lalu created narratives of defeating the upper caste as a leader of the lower castes which cemented his place within the lower castes who regarded him as a hero.
1995-2000: LALU LOSES HIS POWER TO THE FODDER SCAM
The 1995 election saw Lalu come back to power with the Janata Dal increasing its seat count to 147 and its vote share to 28%. However, this was soon followed by a raid on government offices in January 1996, which revealed a Rs 950-crore embezzlement scam. Now known as the fodder scam, the documents showed that under the Lalu government, large-scale state funds had been given to non-existent companies to buy animal feed. What started as a low-level embezzlement scheme soon started to turn towards high-level politicians and bureaucrats, eventually reaching Lalu himself. In June 1997, the CBI filed charges against Lalu who claimed to be innocent. He faced pressure from the Janata party to resign as Chief Minister, however, he instead decided to leave the Janata Party and form his own party called the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).
However, due to the growing pressure on him, he resigned as Chief Minister in June 1997, only to have his wife, Rabri Devi become the Chief Minister. She won the vote of confidence in the legislature and became the Chief Minister of Bihar. Through his wife, Lalu continued to influence Bihar politics, although he was sidelined with the growing investigation.
2000-2005: LALU LOSES POWER
In the 2000 election, facing great opposition, the new RJD party won a reduced 124 seats, however, had a greater vote share of 28.34%. The result was enough for the RJD to come back into power, with Rabri Devi continuing as Chief Minister. The number of seats in Bihar was also reduced to 243 in 2000. However, the election of Rabri Devi as Chief Minister followed a period of absolute chaos in Bihar with constant violent skirmishes taking place in society. The upper castes who had been neglected by the Lalu and Rabri governments became frustrated and generated resentment against the lower castes.
Rabri Devi as Chief Minister was not able to deal with the violence and the situation continued to get worse. Termed ‘jungle raj’ this era of lawlessness in Bihar put the entire state into a state of complete chaos. There were daily reports of doctors, businessmen and women being kidnapped in broad daylight for ransom. Mohammad Shahabuddin, a mafia head and a close aide of Lalu, ran a strong network of gangsters and later contested from Siwan. Other crimes in the state were also at an all-time high with expensive goods such as cars raided and stolen constantly. This made investors particularly scared of investing in the state and setting up businesses, which hurt the state economically.
One of the major causes of violence was the lack of development in Bihar. Bihar under Lalu and Rabri Devi’s rule had failed to grow unlike the rest of the nation and this poor development had made people increasingly frustrated and turned towards violence to secure scarce resources. A further rise in crime under the leadership of Rabri Devi led to a further decline in development in the state. The state became a hotbed for corruption, poverty and violence. Voters themselves became disaffected.
2005-2010: RISE OF NITISH KUMAR
In the 2005 election in February, despite facing enormous opposition, the new RJD party won the highest number of seats and vote share, however, it was unable to secure a majority, forcing another election in October. The October election saw the tide turn against the RJD, with the Janata Dal (United) coming to power. The JDU won 88 seats compared to the RJD’s 54. However, the RJD still secured a higher vote share (23.45% to 29.46%). During these elections, for the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also made inroads into Bihar, getting 55 seats, more than the RJD. Nitish Kumar, leader of the JDU, allied with the BJP and with the support of the two largest parties in the legislature is appointed as Chief Minister of Bihar.
Nitish Kumar was able to win the elections by positioning himself strongly against Lalu, advocating for interests of the other backward castes besides the Yadavs and for the forward castes. Moreover, he promised to remove the ‘identity’ politics that Lalu had brought and cemented in Bihar and replace it with a politics of development. After coming into power, Nitish Kumar worked towards removing the sense of lawlessness that prevailed in Bihar. The development strategy that Kumar pursued did also bear fruit with Bihar’s growth often outpacing that of other states in India, something that had mostly failed to happen in previous years. Moreover, his anti-violence measures were successful with figures from the National Crime Records Bureau data showing a reduction in crime in Bihar.
2010-2015: NITISH KUMAR CONTINUES
The JDU came into the 2010 elections as favourites and came out with the highest number of seats (115) collecting 22.58% of the vote. However, the JDU faced competition from the BJP which continued its rise in Bihar and secured 91 seats. The JDU’s win in 2010 can be attributed to a great development-caste strategy. Nitish Kumar while continuing to promote the development strategy, ensured he had support from different caste groups as well, which ensured a landslide victory for the JDU-BJP coalition.
During his second tenure, Nitish Kumar continued to pursue his development policies, with Bihar growing at over 10%, beating several other states and the national average in terms of growth. In fact, Developmental Economist Jean Dreze pointed out that the Bihar government was able to combat corruption effectively as well, with leakages from public investment coming down to 25% from over 75% in the Lalu days. This helped reduce poverty in the state, and the overall condition of health infrastructure and education improved significantly. Kumar’s policies such as giving bicycles to young girls, allowing them to get to school proved to be highly successful.
While on the policy front, Kumar continued to do well, there emerged a rift in the BJP-JDU alliance in 2013, when Nitish Kumar did not support Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Minister in the 2014 elections. This wrecked the BJP and JDU’s 17-year alliance. Consequently, the BJP and JDU alliance severed and when the JDU was swept by the BJP in the Bihar Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar resigned as CM, with Jitan Ram Manjhi being sworn in. The BJP did conduct a floor test in 2014. However, the JDU by then had gotten the support of the RJD and through their support was able to continue to remain in power in Bihar.
2015-2020: THE MAHAGATHBANDHAN
For the 2015 election, a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance was announced between the RJD, INC and JDU, who would contest the BJP in the Bihar elections with Nitish Kumar as the proposed CM candidate. The alliance was very successful winning 178 seats of 243. However, the BJP had the highest vote share with 24.42% which gave it only 53 seats. The election saw Nitish Kumar coming back to power as the CM of Bihar. Subsequently, in April 2016, Kumar also declared Bihar a dry State while imposing total prohibition on the sale and consumption of liquor, securing him great favorability with women.
However, in 2017 internal divisions caused Nitish Kumar to lead the JDU out of the alliance and instead ally with the BJP to secure power in Bihar. The reason behind this split was the internal division within the alliance with Lalu continuing to wield power and new corruption charges being levied against Lalu and the RJD. Seeing the RJD as a sinking ship, Kumar decided to flip sides and join hands with friend-turned-foe BJP, a move which came about in 14 hours, and ensured Kumar continued to be the CM of Bihar.
However, despite being popular in the state, Kumar faces opposition going into the 2020 elections, with the alliance between the BJP and JDU being fragile. The political landscape remains unpredictable as voters in the state are preparing to vote in the first elections to be held in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. In next week’s column we will breakdown the caste-wise voting dynamics in the state and the changes in voting patterns and party loyalties.
With inputs from Devang Laddha, Meher Manga and Arpita Wadhwa
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How did Indian-Americans vote?
While exit polling data is not available for Indian-American voting patterns for the 2020 election, as per the Indian American Attitudes Survey (IAAS)—conducted between September 1 and September 20, 2020 (which surveyed a nationally representative online survey of Indian American citizens) 72% of registered Indian American voters had planned to vote for Biden and 22% had planned to vote for Trump. Although it is estimated that Indian Americans comprise 1% of all registered voters in the United States, in the run up to the 2020 elections, we saw both parties attempting to woo Indian American voters. While Biden’s campaign issued a manifesto aimed at Indian American voters, Trump’s campaign released an online campaign containing images of Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi together at a rally in Houston in 2019. Experts also said they think a part of the Indian-American vote bank which usually goes to Donald Trump swung to democrats due to their choice of an Indian-American running mate.
The survey also revealed that Indian Americans do not think Indo-American relations are one of the most important factors affecting their voting choice. National issues of importance such as healthcare and economy are the most important issues influencing their vote. When looking at the demographics breakdown of the survey we observe that overall Indians of all religious faiths said they would vote for Biden to Trump. However, it is interesting to note that 82% of Indian Muslims said they would support Biden as compared to only 67% of Indian Hindus and 49% Indian Christians. Additionally, dissimilar to the national trend, there is almost no gender gap in the support for Trump and Biden amongst American Indians. 69% of women and 68% of men said they would support Biden, while 19% of women and 24% of men said they would vote for Trump.
How did different demographics vote?
The Presidential Election saw a huge voter turnout in decades even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to plague the country. The voter turnout rate (estimated) was around 66.4%, the highest since 1990 and much higher than that recorded in 2016 (60.1%). In fact, Biden received more than 75 million votes, which are higher than any other candidate in US electoral history. There was a huge surge in youth voter turnout of around 10% in the country.
As per the Exit Polls conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC), we will explore the changes in support for the Republican and Democratic party in 2020 as compared to 2016. When examining the support for both candidates by race, we observe that while Trump still had the support of 49% of white men, this was considerably lesser than in 2016. Trump’s base of core voters is white men (without college degrees), and while he won the group again, it was by a much smaller margin.
It should also be noted that many experts suggest that the reason Biden was unable to perform better than the President in several states is that he underperformed when compared to 2016 Democratic candidate, Hilary Clinton among voters of colour. While Biden was able to win their support, it was by smaller margins than Clinton.
How did the swing states vote?
Swing or battleground states in the United States election refer to highly competitive states which historically “swing” between voting for different political parties in presidential elections. Out of the 50 states in the US, 38 vote consistently for the same party (2000-2016). In the United States unlike other countries where governments are elected on a basis of popular votes, a system called the electoral college is used. The electoral college is a body of delegates from each US state, and when any American casts a vote, they are actually voting for who their state will vote for. Perhaps the most important thing to note about the electoral college is that the candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all the electoral votes of the state. Due to the electoral college system present in the United States, states are the most important jurisdictional unit in voting.
The electoral college nearly always operates with a winner-takes-all system, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all of that state’s electoral votes.
Because of this, swing states receive a lot of attention from political parties, candidates and political analysts as often they play the most important role in determining the result of an election.
In the 2016 election, Donald Trump secured his victory by winning 6 out of the 10 most competitive swing states. In 2020, as per most pollsters, the swing or battleground states were likely to be Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Out of these states, as per the Cook Political Report Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina would be the most important in determining who wins the 2020 presidential race.
With 15 electoral votes, the state of North Carolina was historically a Republican stronghold, however, over the years it has showcased a shift in voting patterns similar to national trends of polarization. While cities in the state swing Democratic, rural areas in the state tend to swing towards the Republicans. In 2016, Trump won the state by 3.7% while this time, he won the state with a much smaller margin of 1.4%. Biden secured 48.7% of the votes in the state.
In the state of Arizona in the past 72 years, only two Democrats have won, Bill Clinton in 1996 and Harry Truman in 1948. However, due to the increasing number of Hispanic voters in the state, it has become a battleground for parties. While in 2016, Trump won the state by 3.5% points, Biden won the historically Republican state by a razor-thin margin of 0.5% (11 electoral votes).
With 10 electoral college votes, the state of Wisconsin has usually been a democratic state (although with narrow margins at times). However, in 2016, Trump managed to flip the state, securing his victory by a narrow margin of 0.77% points. In 2020, the state sided with Biden and the democratic party, who secured his victory with a margin of 0.7%.
The state of Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes had voted for Democrats in six consecutive elections before Trump’s victory in 2016. Trump managed to flip the state in 2016, securing his victory with a margin of 0.7%, however, failed to win it again in 2020. Co-incidentally, Biden also secured this state in 2020 with a margin of 0.7%.
In 2016, Trump won the state of Michigan by a margin of mere 0.2% points, which was the narrowest margin of any state. With 16 electoral college votes, before 2016, the state voted Democratic in the past six elections. Biden won the state in 2020 with a 2.6% margin. With 29 electoral college votes, Florida is the swing state with not only the most electoral college votes but also the highest population. Out of the past 17 presidential elections, Florida has voted Republican in 12 elections. What is interesting to note is that since 1964 Florida has voted with the eventual winner of the presidential election in all elections except for 1992 (not including 2020). In 2016, Trump won the state with 0.2%, while in 2020 Biden secured the state with a margin of 2.7% points.
Biden swings Trump misses: A stable Washington around the corner?
On 7th November 2020, after winning the state of Pennsylvania, and thereby, the electoral college, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was elected as the 46th president of the United States. Biden won the election with 290 electoral votes (50.7% of the popular vote) while Donald Trump managed to get only 214 electoral votes (47.7% of the popular vote). Biden supporters across the country and the world celebrated his victory as well as the historic victory of Senator Kamala Harris of California, who will be the first woman to serve as vice president of the country. On the other hand, hundreds of supporters of Donald Trump have taken to the streets in key swing states as Trump claims the “election is far from over”.
Trump has refused to formally concede the election results and has filed lawsuits in various states, including Michigan, Georgia, Nevada with no success. Even as senior members of the Republican party have begun to distance themselves from Trump, he refuses to give a concession speech. Concession speeches are not a legal requirement in the United States, and Trump’s refusal to do so means nothing for the outcome of the elections, which has already been declared by election officials. As the Biden administration begins its transition into the White House, let us dive deep into the results of the 2020 elections in the United States and see what happened across states and demographics.
Source: Associated Press
Will Biden-Harris boost the dynamics of India-US ties?
Joe Biden is set to become the 46th United States President at the White House. His running mate Kamala Harris would become the first-ever woman, andone of colour, to become the Vice President of the United States. Donald Trump may have not conceded yet but the countries around the world are gearing up to understand what their terms of engagement would be when Joe Biden officially enters the Oval Office. New Delhi, in particular, would be looking to solidify its ties with the next US government as rising border tensions with China and the ever-present ‘Pakistan’ dilemma will twin up as major security threats in coming years.
Currently, India is seen as the US’s major strategic partner in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). China’s expansionist policies in the IOR and the US’ commitment towards upholding a ‘rules-based international order’ is bound to strengthen the Indo-US ties in the years to follow.
The other positives for India would include the possible relaxation of restrictions on the H1B and other job-based visa programmes. Also, with the coming of Biden, the US government is set to re-enter the Paris Climate Agreement. This would prove to be a boost for India’s measures to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels by enabling collaboration in environmental sustainability and technology transfer. More importantly, China will no longer need to fill up the vacuum left by the US (led by Trump) when they pulled out of the Paris deal. Although China is currently one of the biggest investors in sustainable technologies, their own production and consumption (further pushed by their population size) brings forth a requirement from other countries to build climate friendly policies. A country like the US can actually transition more easily because it has the capacity to handle that shift and the burden on partnering countries would be less.
Other highlights of Biden’s policy paper which was released during the campaign was that the United States would continue to co-operate with India on Terrorism, health and trade amongst other sectors. More importantly, the Biden administration is said to place importance on strengthening the Indo-US ties by pushing for India’s permanent membership bid at the UN Security Council (UNSC).
It is highly unlikely that all of the support would come for free. The Republican government of Donald Trump has time and again expressed its displeasure on China and Pakistan more openly than any previous governments. The Sino-Pak ties have in fact grown stronger during the Trump administration which has made the Trump government view India as a partner rather than a threat arising in the Asian order . With the entry of Joe Biden, this is bound to change. The Democrat government is more likely to leverage Pakistan vis-a-vis Taliban (in the Afghan Peace deal) by increasing cooperation and financial aid to pull them away from China. This would push India to try and gain a place at the ‘Peace Deal’ table as Afghanistan’s friend. However, the amount of geopolitical polarisation caused by the Trump administration will make it tough for Biden to immediately strike up a friendship with Pakistan and oust China.
India is a sovereign country and everybody is aware of the Modi-Trump bonhomie. In fact, Prime Minister Modi extended his hand for Trump during Trump’s re-election campaign. Trump was more vocal against China when border tensions grew and did not interfere much on India’s internal decisions. Biden’s campaign, on the other hand, included the fact that he would look into the Kashmir issue, the CAA, and the NRC. The Indian government may not like the US’ interference in sovereign decisions and it is likely that not seeing eye to eye in this regard is likely to dent Indo-US relations.
At this point, Biden’s stance on China and how it sees India is vague and the same goes for India. The positives and challenges for India are analysed based on Biden’s campaign points and the existing geopolitical scenario . No campaign rhetoric ever stays rigid as it is bound to change while in power. The growing geoeconomic convergence too will expand the spheres of cooperation between India and the US in areas such as cyber security, Artificial Intelligence, Defence, etc. As the US leapfrogs into stability, the Indo-US relationship is set to evolve into a much more stable one as well.
Challenges galore for LJP
Chirag faces several challenges. An important challenge to be noted here is the presence of Jitan Ram Manjhi, the leader of the Hindustani Awam Morcha (Secular) who broke away from the Opposition months before the Assembly polls and joined the Janata Dal (United) and became a part of the NDA. Following Chirag’s open criticism of the Nitish Kumar government and their failure to ensure development for Dalits across the state, Manjhi’s induction into the NDA was seen as a direct attempt by the NDA to create a Dalit front. Manjhi has directly attacked both the LJP and the Paswan leaders, and is seen by many as a new Dalit figurehead for the NDA. Given the submissive role of Manjhi in the NDA alliance, it could be said that he would prove to be a much more co-operative ally for the NDA. Looking back historically, Ram Vilas Paswan has always had a clear electoral strategy in place. However, Chirag’s decision to go against JD(U) in the state elections, while continuing to stay in the NDA at the Centre is likely to cause confusion for any voters. Such a political strategy could backfire in securing votes for the LJP as voters would be generally unclear about the post-poll scenario and which party the LJP would support. Although Chirag Paswan was elected President of the LJP in November 2019 and has had time on his hands to learn the inner workings of the party and consolidate his position inside the party, it still remains to be seen whether the JD(U) and Nitish Kumar consider him to be an challenging opponent. In the past few years despite a fall in the vote share, Ram Vilas Paswan’s crosscutting popularity and stature has sustained the party’s prominence in Bihar politics. After his demise, it is up to Chirag Paswan to carry forward his father’s legacy and create an ideal situation where the LJP will be considered as an electorally game changing ally.
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