Polling for the last phase of the ongoing Bihar elections starts on November 5th. The last phase is being held across nine districts, spanning 57 constituencies where religion is likely to weigh in on the outcome in this region. Four of these 9 districts make up Seemanchal - Kishanganj, Purnia, Katihar and Araria. The average Muslim population in Bihar is 16.9% and these 4 districts have a Muslim population that is over two times the state Muslim population. (See table below)
If we were to look at the performance of BJP and the Grand Alliance across these nine districts in the 2014 general elections, BJP had a higher contested vote-share (as compared to either member of the Grand alliance) in only three districts while the other six districts had a winner who is now a member of the current grand alliance (RJD, JD(U), INC). In the Seemanchal region, Katihar which has a Muslim population of 48% and is the district with the second largest Muslim population percentage in the state, BJP’s contested vote-share (32%) was two times that of RJD (16%). A rather unlikely outcome one would think for a district that is predominantly Muslim.
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), led by Asaduddin Owaisi will be contesting from the Seemanchal region. In fact, BJP’s average vote-share in this region in 2014 was 4.7% lower than its average vote-share in the rest of the state. But with AIMIM now contesting from this Muslim stronghold, it may well steer the boat in a different direction.
Religion may be an important factor in this phase of the election, but the idea of development has been at core of the election campaign since the beginning. Considering 3 indicators of development at the district level -Urbanization, Literacy and Richness we created a URL Index to score districts based on how ‘developed’ they were. A higher URL Index indicates stronger development in that particular district relative to the rest of the state.
Among the nine districts that go to polls tomorrow, Saharsa has the highest URL Index, followed by Madhepura and Kishanganj. As per the 2014 election results, BJP did not win in any of these three districts. The average URL in the state is 1.81, and each of the three districts is in fact among the relatively more developed districts in the state (as per our Index). JD(U), Congress and RJD each won from Madhepura, Kishanganj and Saharsa respectively.
The three districts where BJP had the highest contested vote-share the 2014 elections are among bottom 7 districts in this URL ranking. What these results signify for BJP or the Grand alliance, we cannot say accurately but it sure puts into perspective the rhetoric under which this election is being fought. Of course one may argue that in the end it is the number of seats that the party wins that matter. Since assembly elections are fought at the Assembly constituency (AC) level and not the district level, one may even dismiss this analysis, which is an aggregation of electoral outcomes at the district level. Hence, we would like to state here that we are merely presenting facts and matching the narratives with data to highlight what numbers tell us about our numerous beliefs about how and for what people vote.
From the outcomes of the 2014 elections, in mere number of districts where the parties won, it seems advantage Grand alliance in this last phase. Previously we have seen, that the gap between the vote-shares of BJP and the combined vote-shares of the Grand alliance is narrowing and with Owaisi now contesting from this region, we can all but wait to see what the outcome turns out be!
1. Contested vote-share is defined as the votes polled by a party as a percentage of overall votes cast ONLY in those constituencies that had a candidate from that party contest and not any other candidate from its alliance partner. This methodology neutralizes effects of pre-poll alliances and its changes across elections.
2. URL Index is calculated as the sum of the Literacy, Urbanization and Richness rates in a district.