The BJP-led alliance has a sizeable four percentage point lead over the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) in the upcoming Bihar state election – a largely bipolar contest – according to an exclusive opinion poll for The Times of India.
Interestingly, there is this healthy lead for the challenger despite the survey showing respondents expressing a higher level of satisfaction with the performance of the state government led by Nitish Kumar than with the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Bihar assembly polls
The survey shows that 44% of those polled said they would vote for the NDA while 40% said they would back the JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine. Smaller parties and independents were backed by 10%, which left a small chunk of about 6% who were undecided on who they would vote for. The poll had a sample size of 2,046, out of which 80% were rural voters. The NDA had significantly higher support among female respondents as well as among the young (those aged between 20 and 30) while the Mahagathbandhan found stronger support among older voters aged between 46 and 60. The 30-45 year age group had a higher proportion of undecided voters, about one in 10, than other age groups.
Paradoxically, the same respondents voiced greater approval of the Nitish government’s performance than of Modi’s. About 63% said they were satisfied or very satisfied with the Nitish government against 58% for the Modi government. Even more significantly, the “very satisfied” responses were 24% in case of the state government against just 16% for the central government.
What then explains the greater support for the NDA than the Mahagathbandhan? Answers to other questions posed in the survey offer some pointers. One reason could be that the areas in which the state government’s performance is rated best are not the ones felt to be the most important priorities any longer while those in which it is judged to have done a relatively poor job are considered more important.
Asked about the Nitish government’s performance in various areas, the respondents felt it had done best in roads and electricity and worst in controlling the cost of living, providing healthcare and ensuring jobs and income growth.
These responses are buttressed by official data which shows that power availability in Bihar nearly doubled between 2005-06 and 2013-14 while its network of rural roads nearly trebled in the seven years ending in 2013-14. Official data also shows that inflation has indeed been a touch higher in Bihar than in several other major states in the last three years and that wage growth has slowed down.
The priorities of the new government, “cost of living”, jobs and income growth were rated the highest priorities while roads and power figured lower down. Of course, it is possible that the government’s success in areas like roads and power have made them relatively minor concerns while its failure on other fronts has raised the level of concern on them.
One other explanation for the apparent contradiction between a higher rating for the Nitish government and a higher support for the NDA could be that there are some (or even many) who are satisfied with the Nitish government’s performance but unhappy about the JD(U) aligning with long-time foe Lalu Prasad’s RJD. Whether or not that is the case is not something the data from this survey can answer.
The answer to a question on which – development or social justice – was more important also provided interesting insights into the complexities of Bihar politics. A little under half the respondents, 46% to be precise, said both were important, not one or the other. A slightly bigger chunk, 49%, made a choice between the two and among them 27% picked social justice while 22% said it was development.
In a state where “social justice” is often a euphemism for caste-based politics, that is an indicator that while there may be a yearning for ‘vikas’, it is not necessarily happening by overriding identity politics.