Do the Biharis Matter? An Outline of the Delhi Elections

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Do the Biharis (along with other Purvanchalis) really matter in the Delhi Elections to be held on 8 February 2020? Can they tip the electoral balance? What will be the overall result? Here is a brief outline of the electoral scene.

According to one estimate, the Purvanchalis (settlers mainly from Bihar and East UP) in Delhi constitute one-third of the electorate. Their vote could influence the results in at least 20 to 25 out of the total 70 Assembly seats in the 2020 election. They voted en bloc for the Congress party’s Sheila Dikshit helping her gain three Chief Ministerial terms (1998 through 2008). As a fallout of the Anna Hazare movement, however, in 2015, the electoral equation changed.

Then, a third of the Delhi electorate is a combination of the Punjabi-Baniya-upper castes that has by and large been a traditional support base to the BJP.

Understanding the significance of the joint weight of the Purvanchalis and the Punjabi-Baniya-upper caste combination, the BJP made a series of strategic moves. It designated Manoj Tiwari, a Lok Sabha member with the Bhojpuri singing and acting background, the president of its Delhi unit. It also put its NDA partners from Bihar -- the Janata Dal (United) of Nitish Kumar and the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan -- into the Delhi election fray. Together, the three parties representing the whole of the Bihari society should boost the electoral prospects of the BJP. The current Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath has also been campaigning hard among the Purvanchalis. As a counter to this political configuration, the Congress party drafted Lalu Yadav’s son and their party, Rashtriya Janata Dal.

Further, 10 to12 percent voters belong to the Scheduled Castes who were at one time beholden to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by the former U.P. Chief Minister, Mayawati. They could influence the result in at least 15 assembly constituencies. According to the election noise, they could be up for the grab by any one of the leading political groups.

Similarly, there are an estimated 12 per cent Muslims among the Delhi electorate who could tip the balance in as many as 10 plus assembly constituencies. With the issues of the Citizens Amendment Act (CAA) and National Registry of Citizenship (NRC) debate getting mixed into the electoral competition, the Muslims will possibly vote for any candidate close to defeating the BJP. Traditionally, they have voted for the Congress party. In order to attract their support, the AAP proclaimed their late opposition to the CAA and NRC.

A significant five to eight percent Jat voters and four to six percent Gujjar voters also matter in the Delhi elections. They normally vote for the candidates and not necessarily for a political party. As the saying goes, “they don't cast votes; rather, they vote caste!” However, along with the Sikhs, Jats and Gujjars had overwhelmingly voted for the AAP in 2015. That may not necessarily happen this time around since the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has an electoral alliance with the BJP and some influential caste leaders from the Jat and the Gujjar communities have been pressed into campaign by all the parties.

Election studies are interesting because electoral politics always throw surprises. Prognosis and predictions may turn out to be right or wrong. However, in Delhi politics this time around, what appears to be certain that like 2015 Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP shouldn’t be getting 54 percent of the votes, bagging 67 out of 70 seats in the assembly. It was a different time when, riding on the crest of the anti-corruption Anna movement, Kejriwal had substantially cut into the Congress and the BSP support. The two parties respectively yielded as much as 26 and 14 percent of their votes to the AAP.

In that pro-Kejriwal momentum, the BJP was the only party that had by and large retained its traditional support base. Claiming 32 percent of the total votes polled, the BJP had nevertheless lost 4.5 percent votes to the AAP. That made a surprising swing in the results.

Let’s watch what a difference the Purvanchalis make to the Delhi elections.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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