With the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (I.N.D.I.A.) stitching a reasonably effortless seat-sharing arrangement in Bihar, almost all states are poised to have a one-to-one contest with the Opposition bloc and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the principal contestants.

The BJP is mostly solitary, and has just a handful of small, insignificant allies in the so-called National Democratic Alliance (NDA), including an untrustworthy Janata Dal-United (JD-U) led by Nitish Kumar. The Congress will not contest in more than 255 seats, while the regional parties have got the larger number of seats in their own turf, thereby making the arrangement as smooth and consensual as it can be.

Indeed, the success of Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra 2, including in Bihar, which was basically an electoral mobilisation exercise with several street-corner meetings and big rallies, from Assam to Maharashtra, is an indicator that all is not hunky dory for the BJP this time. With the BJP badly hit by the massive multi-crore electoral bond scam, and the grand Ram Mandir hyperbole having failed on the ground, its ‘abki baar 400 paar’ slogan seems to be on a sticky wicket.

The latest surveys done by the BJP, reportedly show that news from Karnataka and Maharashtra, where it had won 66 of the total 76 seats in 2019, is not really exciting. Repeating this pattern is well-nigh impossible, even while the BJP has absolutely no presence in the rest of southern India.

So much so, even Jagan Mohan Reddy refused to go with BJP in Andhra Pradesh, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) has stayed away in Tamil Nadu, as have the Akalis in Punjab, while the uncanny BJP-Biju Janata Dal (BJD) alliance, whatever be the sudden and mysterious reasons behind it in the first instance, predictably, did not materialise. Even in Uttar Pradesh, observers believe, BJP will lose five to 10 seats from the 2019 post-Pulwama tally.

In faction-ridden Gujarat, Congress sources say, its alliance with AAP has a good chance in at least 10 Lok Sabha constituencies. A clean sweep in all these states is almost impossible for the BJP in the current circumstances, according to political observers.

A similar situation has clearly emerged in Bihar and Bengal with 40 and 42 parliamentary seats respectively, a big chunk of which might not add up to the dream-sequence of BJP’s coveted 400.

The huge success of Tejashwi Yadav’s mass connect through multiple big rallies across Bihar, soon after Rahul Gandhi’s yatra which he had also joined, took his opponents by surprise. The incredible response the yatra got was not even anticipated by the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leadership, and reminded of the heydays of Laloo Yadav’s mass, rustic charisma.

Indeed, the maha-rally which followed the yatra in Patna, and was joined by Opposition leaders, including the Left, had an ocean of supporters who had come to listen to them, and especially to Laloo Yadav. The RJD supremo, despite a long stint in prison and serious illness, has not lost his charm, nor his charisma. He, yet again, regaled the crowd, and made a spoofy tongue-in-cheek attack on Narendra Modi, which was simply adored by the crowd, and became viral on social media.

So stunned and stung was Modi by the attack, which became viral in Bihar and India, that he asked his Cabinet ministers to quickly post social media posts of how they are actually his ‘parivar’. He too declared that the nation is his parivar.

Consequently, as a counter and parallel narrative, the social media was flooded with posters, photos and videos of ‘Modi’s real Parivar’. The pics showed Modi's ‘close association’ with the likes of Brij Bhushan Singh, Nirav Modi, Adani, Vijay Mallaya, and a host of similar characters.

So much so, the police had to scamper across Connaught Place in Delhi to remove similar posters pasted all over! Clearly, the message had successfully reached its destination, where it hit the hardest, and all credit goes to Laloo Yadav!

Besides, the Gandhi Maidan maha-rallies in Patna have always had a great historical and political significance, which would usually mark a turning point in the nation’s big picture politics. Jayaprakash Narayan’s mass rally here led to the defeat of Indira Gandhi after the Emergency.

Laloo Yadav had also introduced the unique concept of ‘maha-raillas’, with a spin on the word, to push his social justice and ‘Mandal’ agenda aggressively, and to counter the ‘Kamandal’ of the Hindutva brigade, and he did it almost always successfully.

In Bihar, of the 40 seats, 26 have gone to RJD, nine to the Congress, three to the Communist Party of India Marxist–Leninist Liberation (CPI-ML) and one each to the Communist Party of India (CPI) and Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). Among other key constituencies, the RJD will contest Purnia, Aurangabad, Gaya, Patliputra, Buxar, Jehanabad, Darbhanga, Araria, Munger, Sitamarhi, Madhubani, Siwan, Vaishali, Hajipur, East Champaran, Madhepura, and Gopalganj.

The Congress has been given Kishanganj, Patna Sahib, Katihar, Samastipur, Sasaram, Muzaffarpur, West Champaran, Maharajganj and Bhagalpur. In the 2019 polls, the Congress had contested nine, winning the solitary Kishanganj seat. The BJP had won 39 of the 40 seats, in what was perceived as a post-Pulwama victory, as in UP and other states.

In the 2020 Assembly polls in the state, RJD became the largest party, but the Mahagathbandhan could not muster a majority. It missed the boat by a narrow margin because the Congress did very poorly.

Of the 70 generous seats given to it, it could win only 19. Shatrughan Sinha’s son and Sharad Yadav’s daughter, lacked mass connect and lost.

At that time, there was a widespread opinion, especially among CPI-ML supporters, that if more seats had been given to the radical Left party, with a huge base among the poorest of the poor, the alliance would have done much better.

Indeed, the Congress, with no or little base in most parts of the state, as in UP, dragged the alliance down in Bihar. Surely, even in the nine seats given to it this time, it is not really strong on the ground, and the party has to really slog hard to defeat the NDA alliance.

Significantly, for the first time, the CPI-ML has got three seats in the 2024 polls. It will contest Bhojpur (Ara), Nalanda and Karakat. This is also the terrain where it has led long and protracted struggles for the rights of the landless labourers, and other oppressed castes in the past.

In the contemporary scenario, they are the only remaining Left force in the state with a strong and committed base among the landless farmers, Dalits, OBCs and women, and their performance in the last assembly polls with 12 seats proved that.

The party has a long history, both underground, and since long as an overground progressive force, of protracted struggle and sacrifices against the ruthless landlords of Bihar, especially the armed upper caste private armies like the Ranveer Sena, backed tacitly by various regimes.

The party and its supporters, especially the Dalits, had to face a series of atrocities in the form of bloody massacres unleashed by the private armies in the past. Since then, it has only consolidated its base in many parts of Bihar.

Most of the CPI-ML candidates come from extremely humble backgrounds, some of them still using cycles, living in modest homes, like their leader in the assembly, Manoj Manzil, now put in jail by the current regime, along with 22 others.

Indeed, the rally organised by the Left and others in Delhi, on Sunday March 31, was not only in support of Hemant Soren and Arvind Kejriwal, currently imprisoned on what is widely believed to be ‘cooked-up charges with weak evidence’, but was also in solidarity with Manzil.

This proves, thereby, that his popularity, especially among the poor, will be politically and effectively used in the coming elections. Sunita Kejriwal, wife of the Delhi chief minister, and Kalpana Soren, wife of Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren also participated in the rally.

The RJD has done well in creating space for the CPI-ML because this cadre-based party will help them across many constituencies in the state. It will help in partially neutralising the Economically Backward Class (EBC) and Keori-Kurmi social base created by Nitish Kumar.

Besides, despite past differences with the RJD when it was ruling the state, this Left organization, with a strong students’ wing, All India Students' Association (AISA), has been consistent, flexible, and unwavering in its support for the alliance, and in its ground struggle against the fascists. It even went along with Nitish, despite his brazenly unethical track record.

Significantly, Dhananjay, the new president of Jawaharlal Nehru University student Union (JNUSU), a Dalit and cultural activist, hails from a humble home in southern Gaya. He too will certainly campaign in key constituencies, while people back home are eagerly waiting to welcome him.

The CPI will contest in Begusarai and the CPI-M the Khagaria seat. Both are spent forces in Bihar, as in Bengal. The CPI used to be a formidable force in many parts of Bihar in the post-independence era, and Begusarai, a Red bastion, used to be called the ‘Stalingrad of Bihar’ with red flags flying everywhere.

In the last Lok Sabha elections, former JNUSU president, Kanhaiya Kumar, fought a good fight against upper caste BJP heavyweight, Giriraj Singh. He lost by two lakh votes despite a fabulous campaign, especially among the young.

This time he has been denied a ticket by the Congress. There have been reports since long that Tejeshvi Yadav does not want the emergence of another local youth icon in Bihar, and is wary of Kanhaiya Kumar.

As for the Congress, apart from Katihar and Kishanganj, the Congress could not make a dent in the remaining seven seats it is now contesting during successive elections. For example, in Maharajganj, the Congress last won in 1984. In Muzzafarpur, the Congress won in 1984. The important Patna Sahib seat has voted for the BJP since 2009.

Significantly, Sandeep Saurabh, has been given the Nalanda seat. A former JNUSU general secretary from AISA, he is currently a popular MLA from this area, and has been exceedingly active on the ground, as well as on social media, through his term.

Rajaram Singh from Karakat constituency is a formidable kisan leader, a well-known MLA, and was a prominent face in the protracted farmers’ struggle.

Another candidate to watch for is CPI-ML’s Vinod Singh, contesting from Koderma in Jharkhand as an India alliance candidate. He has done his Bachelors’ in Sociology from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and is a very popular three-time MLA from Bagodar.

His constituency is famous because it was won by a highly respected communist, Mahendra Singh, earlier. He was murdered, and has become a legend in the area after his death.

As of now, Nitish Kumar’s credibility is at an all-time low, and he might be reaching the end of his highly opportunistic political career. Certainly, the NDA can’t win 39 seats yet again, and it is going to be a tough battle for them in the days to come. Bihar, a politically sharp and aware state, with a history of long struggles, surely, might spring a big surprise in the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.