Conventional wisdom tells that a bigger voting percentage is always a bad sign for the ruling party. If the polling percentage is low, it works to the disadvantage of the opposition. When people are displeased with the government they will vote with their feet at the booths. The only problem with this piece of wisdom is that it a load of rubbish. Voter behaviour is always unpredictable and there’s no definitive evidence to substantiate the connection between the turnout and result.
Bihar witnessed 57 percent voter footfall in the first phase. It’s a record. At the height of Narendra Modi wave in the 2014 general elections, the turnout was marginally lower at 56.6 percent. While it tells us that voters are not indifferent to the process of elections, extrapolating from it that it indicates a victory for either the BJP-led NDA or the Nitish Kumar-led grand alliance is not tenable. Particularly since both sides are evenly matched in all aspects, right from leadership to the caste mathematics and the intensity of outreach through aggressive campaigning.
Women outnumber male voters by a significant margin – 59.4 percent to 54.5 percent. This is not surprising given that has been the trend in the last two state polls. What’s interesting though is the scale of their participation. Both Nitish Kumar and the BJP have been trying to cultivate women as a caste-neutral constituency for sometime now. The former had the first-mover advantage among women by launching a number of schemes and policy decisions meant specifically for them. The 50 percent reservation for women in contractual teachers’ jobs and 50 percent representation in lower panchayati raj bodies are among the many steps initiated over the last decade.
To neutralize this, the BJP has promised schemes of its own for women. But it started with a disadvantage. It was a part of the government till mid-2013, hence was party to all pro-women decisions taken by Nitish. But the latter has managed to claim all the credit for himself. At this point, the BJP seems to have to bridged the gap to a large extent. According to surveys, Narendra Modi was as popular among women as Nitish among this section of the electorate before the commencement of the elections.
So, both sides are evenly matched here too. However, in a state which is overwhelmingly caste-conscious – pundits may berate it as medieval mindset but social equality is still a dominant concern in Bihar and there’s no way you can separate it from the politics of the day – the idea of caste neutrality of women voters maybe a little overstretched and overstated. The elections will still be about caste to a big extent.
It’s a good sign that more and more women are participating in the democratic process, but let’s not link it to the victory prospect of one alliance or the other.
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Updated Date: Oct 13, 2015 11:29:25 IST