The exit polls have been unable to agree on the outcome of the assembly elections in Bihar, and on the eve of counting, both the NDA and the Grand Alliance predicted clear majorities for themselves. Counting of votes in one of the most significant, and bitterly contested, elections of recent times begins at 8 am on Sunday. Outlines of the outcome are expected to emerge by mid-morning.
At a press conference on Saturday, RJD chief Lalu Prasad reiterated his claim that the Mahagathbandhan would win 190 of the 243 seats, while BJP legislature party leader and former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi said the NDA would get not less than 140 seats in a “very close fight”.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar remained closeted at his 7 Circular Road residence, where only his close aides such as Water Resources Minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary and JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP RCP Singh had access. The CM was understood to have disposed of all pending official work by Thursday evening.
The results of the election could either provide the BJP with reasons to believe that the embarrassment in Delhi earlier this year was only a blip on the radar and strengthen Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah further — or, they could pave the way for Nitish to emerge as the nucleus of anti-Modi and anti-BJP politics at the national level.
A victory for the Grand Alliance would not only mean a return to power for Nitish, but also a resurgence for Lalu, who has been rendered almost politically irrevelant over the last two elections to the Lok Sabha and Bihar assembly.
If the NDA wins, the BJP will move decisively out of Nitish’s shadow in Bihar, signalling the biggest change in the state’s politics in a quarter century. It will cement a coalition of groups at the extreme ends of the caste and social spectrum, and also lift the BJP’s parters, Ram Vilas Paswan, Jitan Ram Manjhi and Upendra Kushwaha.
Lalu, however, refused to entertain the possibility of an NDA victory. “The BJP is engaged in a psychological war with us, by trying to show that the battle is even. But what we have gathered from field suggets that we are winning 190 seats. Some exit polls did not give us as many seats because of pressure (from the central government),” he said. “The PM is more a pracharak than a PM,” Lalu said.
The RJD chief, who met a few journalists in the courtyard of his bungalow at 10 Circular Road, and even had a chaatwala called inside the gates, however, declined to entertain party workers and cadres. A few RJD leaders who managed to sneak past the security guards were shooed away. When two partymen who had come with a wedding invite bent to touch his feet, Lalu withdrew them abruptly, and asked the men to go to his office instead.
Second-rung RJD leaders, discussing the prospects of Lalu’s sons from Mahua and Raghopur, said they had got “positive feedback”, even though some concern was expressed about the BJP “having been able to divide Yadav votes”.
Said an RJD leader: “Though everyone is confident of victory, there is very little margin for error in a tight battle.” Lalu has instructed his party workers to stay alert during the counting, and to not leave the venue until the last round of counting is over.
HAM (S) leader and former chief minister Manjhi said he would be at his village Mahkar in Gaya on Sunday. LJP leader Paswan and RLSP leader Kushwaha said exit polls that had predicted a “poor performance” for them would be proved wrong.
A total of 14,580 officials will be involved in the counting exercise to decide the fate of 3,450 candidates locked in 62,780 electronic voting machines.