For a long period Bihar, the ancient heart of north India, was wracked by lawlessness and extreme poverty, but in recent years the state has seen a turnround under its reformist chief minister Nitish Kumar. The Bharatiya Janata party’s prime ministerial hopeful, Narendra Modi, hopes to win a chunk of Bihar’s 40 parliamentary seats by trying to appeal to the youth and even to Muslims, asking them to vote for development and change, but as in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh, voters in Bihar tend to rally behind candidates from their own caste and community.
The BJP’s last-minute tie-up with a regional low-caste leader, Ram Vilas Paswan should help broaden the BJP’s appeal beyond upper caste Hindu votes. Congress, practically non-existent in the state, has partnered Rashtriya Janata Dal, while Nitish Kumar is counting on the support of lower-caste voters as well as the state’s Muslims, who account for more than 16 per cent of the votes.
Worried about losing crucial Muslim votes, Mr Kumar parted ways with his long-time allies in the National Democratic Alliance when the BJP named Mr Modi for prime minister last year. Mr Kumar has been selling his Bihar model of growth as a more viable economic model for India than Mr Modi’s. But can he beat the anti-incumbency swings that characterise most Indian elections and keep his prime ministerial ambitions alive?