Two big elections are taking place under the shadow of the raging coronavirus pandemic. The first phase of Bihar polls will be held tomorrow and the US votes on November 3, where incumbents Nitish Kumar and Donald Trump are seeking re-elections. Kumar is making a play for a fourth term and Trump his second and final shot at power.
But what are Bihar elections without Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad’s one liners? With Lalu behind the bars, an otherwise lackluster election campaign in Bihar came alive after actor Manoj Bajpayee's lockdown Bhojpuri rap, Mumbai Main Ka Ba, that went viral and was soon copied by campaign managers to woo voters.
Though pollsters have predicted a facile win for Nitish Kumar-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the chief minister was seen losing his cool multiple times at his rallies. Kumar’s unease is understandable since his party Janata Dal (United) has never won Bihar on its own and he has always depended on allies, unlike his other eastern counterparts such as Mamata Banerjee or Naveen Patnaik in West Bengal and Odisha, respectively.
Besides, two of his adversaries are leaving no stone unturned to hit out at him. Tejashwi Yadav (31) of the RJD, who is drawing huge crowds, and the upstart Chirag Paswan (37) of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) remain a thorn in Kumar’s flesh. Sushasan or good governance and prohibition may be a panacea for all social ills, but in the face of daunting 15-year anti-incumbency in Bihar, which is battling massive joblessness and economic reverses induced by the viral outbreak, Kumar has his task cut out. The nationwide lockdown, which was enforced to contain the contagion could not have come at a worse time for over a million migrant workers from Bihar who were forced to return home.
If women stood solidly behind Kumar and voted for him in great numbers after his promise of prohibition five years ago, easy availability of liquor in the black market, according to ground reports, has made the same women folks an angry lot, who may want to teach him an electoral lesson.
Lalu’s younger son Tejashwi, who once wanted to become a cricketer and warmed the benches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) team, Delhi Daredevils, is playing on the front foot and with a straight bat. Touring reporters are going gaga over Tejashwi’s well-attended rallies. Ground reports say, whether he pulls it off or not, Tejashwi has struck a big chord with Bihar’s youth who see him as an agent of hope and change. He appears to be ready for the challenge.
On some days, the Yadav scion is setting the agenda. For instance, soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promised free Covid-19 vaccine for all Bihar residents, Tejashwi matched the audacious claim with aplomb. He promised to provide 10 lakh jobs to the youth. The BJP went many notches above and promised 19 lakh jobs.
The coming of age of Chirag Paswan, the son of late Dalit leader and union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, is the other highlight of the low-key Bihar election. Chirag, once a Bollywood aspirant with one flop film, had broken away from the NDA in Bihar to challenge Kumar with his band of BJP rebels. From two seats to the LJP’s kitty won in 2015 assembly polls, Chirag hopes to dislodge Kumar with a confusing anti-Bihar CM, pro-Prime Minister Narendra Modi strategy. He has called himself a Hanuman to PM Modi while threatening to put Kumar in jail on corruption charges, if voted to power. Whether he goes on to become the kingmaker will depend on his party's showing on the election result day.
While the BJP has been insisting that Kumar would return as CM, many say much would depend on the results and Bihar could well turn out to be a Maharashtra, which saw the Shiv Sena dumping the BJP to claim the chief minister’s throne last year. The suspense over the poll outcome — whether Bihar election will go down to the wire or Kumar’s return a formality, as predicted by multiple opinion polls — will be known on November 10.
Talking of down to the wire, a phrase widely used in the American elections, Trump is not having the best of times though his characteristic bluster is still in place. Trump has said he wouldn’t accept the verdict and would challenge it, in case he lost the election. Trump, whose campaign was hit after he had tested Covid-19 positive, appears more angry and frustrated than confident.
In the US, where the virus has killed more than two lakh Americans, Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has seen his approval ratings fall behind his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Trump was in denial of the contagion for a long time and was underprepared to deal with the extraordinary healthcare emergency that has triggered an unmitigated disaster.
Besides mocking Biden at every given opportunity, Trump sprinted from one bungling to another. He dismissed the scientists as idiots, who warned him of caution and explained why masks were critical and called the much-respected infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci a “disaster” as more and more Americans continued to die from the infection. Trump did not shy away from branding the Black Lives Matter protests as “a symbol of hate”.
Also, his brazen push of Judge Amy Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court a week before the elections has many calling this a Republican conspiracy aimed at compromising affordable healthcare.
Trump did try to win back voter confidence by asking states to be ready to distribute Covid-19 vaccines by as early as November though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) disagreed with him. The New York Times expose of Trump’s tax evasion could deal a big blow to his re-election chances. Americans are touchy about tax evasion.
At one point, Trump allegedly called the American soldiers killed in action as “losers” and “suckers”, which he denied it later after facing a backlash. Also, he could not refrain from calling Indian air “filthy” during the third and final Presidential debate.
Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have successfully portrayed themselves as graceful, experienced and reasonable. Though India would like to see Harris, whose mother hailed from Chennai, as an American vice-president, much will depend how Americans will vote on November 3 in a world that has taken a right turn.
Who had thought Trump would defeat a formidable Hillary Clinton and win the 2016 race to White House? So, let’s get ready for a close contest this time as well. Celebrated author and columnist Thomas Friedman told CNN-News18 in a recent interview that the Trump supporters “hate the people who hate Trump more than they care about Trump.”
Now, as we wait for the result day of both elections, it’s certainly not ‘Election Main Ka Ba‘’ for Trump and Kumar. There is a lot at stake for both.
And one thing is as clear as daylight. The untimely death of talented Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput is not an election issue in Bihar.