Bihar election poll counting
Election officials wearing masks carry out counting of votes for Bihar Assembly polls results, at a counting centre in Patna on Tuesday, November 10, 2020. Image Credit: ANI

Patna: The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance appears set to return to power with a “simple majority” in Bihar with the ruling alliance establishing a lead in majority of seats out of the state’s total 243 seats.

The NDA went to polls under the leadership of chief minister Nitish Kumar, who is also the president of the Janata Dal United (JD-U). Bihar is the first Indian state to go to the polls during COVID-19.

Available trends suggest the NDA was leading in over 129 seats — close to the required figure of 122 to form the government in the state, whereas the five-party Grand Alliance headed by Tejashwi Yadav was ahead on 110 seats. The Grand Alliance comprises of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and Left parties.

What is more significant is that the BJP is heading to be the single largest party in the state assembly by establishing leads over 75 seats—up by 22 seats compared to last elections, whereas the JD-U put up a dismal performance. Election Commission information said the JD-U had won two seats and was leading over 41 others—a loss of 28 seats compared to the last 2015 assembly elections.

Nitish Kumar chief minister?

It is not clear if Nitish Kumar will accept the post of chief minister as his party has fewer seats than the BJP. The BJP leadership has announced that Kumar would be the chief minister even if the JD-U has fewer seats.

In the 90’s, the BJP had performed spectacularly well in the state elections and was the main opposition party in the state assembly, but in later years, it lost its status after it entered into an alliance with the JD-U. Till 2000, BJP’s number in the state assembly was more than the JD-U — BJP had won 67 seats against JD-U’s 21 in 2000 assembly polls. But in the past 15 years, the scenario was reversed and the BJP became JD-U’s junior partner after Nitish Kumar became the chief of Bihar in November 2005.

Against all expectations and exit poll result, the Grand Alliance, however, did not perform well although Tejashwi Yadav had invested all his energy and addressed a record number of election rallies. He had made unemployment and migration the key poll issues in the elections but the people did not appear to lend their full support, if the available trends are any indication. “We are still not disappointed since there are around 50-60 seats where the rival party candidates are leading by slender margins. So, the scene may get reversed when the total votes are counted,” state RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari said.

This election was also an acid test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Although on the surface the popularity of Bihar chief minister Kumar was on test, in reality it was the prestige of Prime Minister Narendra Modi which was at stake in this election since his party had not won elections in any major states in the past years. The challenges before Modi could be underlined from the fact that the PM himself addressed as many as 12 rallies in various pockets of Bihar during which he launched scathing attacks on the previous RJD government.

The BJP wanted to win Bihar at any cost to boost its image, and in order to win the politically significant state the Prime Minister initiated a number of steps to woo the voters. This included the launch of Rs5,000 billion-worth Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyan to boost employment and livelihood opportunities for migrant workers returning to villages in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak, promising free COVID-19 vaccines to the people of Bihar if voted to power, start of farmer special trains between Mumbai and Bihar and approval of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Darbhanga.

Results to be announced late Tuesday

The Election Commission has said that the final results for the 243-member Bihar Assembly seats are expected to come late on Tuesday tonight.

The poll panel said significant ground was yet to be covered as only 10 million of the total 40.1 million votes had been counted after more than five hours.

“Earlier, there used to be 25-26 rounds of counting, but this time it went up to around 35 rounds at 38 locations. At some assembly constituencies, the rounds differ. The counting will continue till late night as the number of polling booths has also increased to 1.06 lakh compared to 65,000 in 2015, and accordingly increased EVMs,” said Deputy Election Commissioner Chandra Bhushan.

Bhushan said there has been 63 per cent increase in the number of polling booths this year in view of the COVID-19 requirements and that the counting was taking place at 55 locations. “Due to the coronavirus, polling officers at each polling booth has been limited to 1,000-1500.”

The counting process so far from all across Bihar has been free of glitches, Bhushan said.