As indications grow that Bihar Assembly elections will be held on time, political parties have begun analysing the peculiarities of voting and campaigning in times of Covid-19, in particular the effect on voting percentages, even as a section of Opposition leaders claim that this could be to their benefit.
Leaders across political lines agreed said that elections in these times could see a drop in voting percentages if the fear of coronavirus persists.
On Tuesday, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Sushil Modi told The Indian Express that only 11 per cent of Bihar’s population is urbanised. While he that admitted there could be a dip in some urban pockets, , he added that there is “still at least two months time”.
Modi also said that the “panic” seen in the previous months is now dissipating gradually.
A senior RJD leader, however, said that according to the party’s reading, the RJD-led Opposition alliance is likely to be the beneficiary of any change in the voting pattern.
The RJD leader said: “We believe this (dip in voting percentage) will be of particular harm to the BJP. The fear of Covid is highest in urban areas, and among the rich and the affluent. Urban areas are where BJP is the strongest. The party claims to have the vote of upper-castes and Baniyas, communities that are by and large well to do. Many of these people may feel that it is too much of a risk to stand in queue with so many others to vote.”
According to this leader, there may not be sweeping changes, and there will be some effect on the creamy layer of other castes s well, “but in close seats it can be a big factor in our favour”.
A senior JD(U) leader, who is a state minister, acknowledged that this is “something we have to look at and consider”, but remained confident that the “weight of the caste arithmetic and the face of Nitish Kumar” make these conversations irrelevant.
“There are three big players in Bihar, and when two of them are together, it is almost impossible for any other government to be formed,” the JD(U) leader said. “Internally we are talking about these voting patterns, and we will have to consider them, but the alliance (NDA) also has the support of other sections: the SCs, EBC, and OBCs. If the wealthy BJP voter does not go to vote, will the healthy Yadav go to vote?”
In any case, the minister said, Bihar is slowly returning to normalcy, “and in two months the situation will be better”.
But a leader from Lok Janshakti Party, an NDA constituent that has been critical of Nitish, said anti-incumbency could also play a role in these voting patterns.
“Anti-incumbency doesn’t only mean voters shifting from one party to another. It also means voters not being enthusiastic to go out to vote for a particular side…(and) small shifts can affect close elections ,” the LJP leader said.