In the hotly contested Bihar polls, 614 nominations out of a total of 4,463 were rejected by electoral officers, and not a single one of them came from either the ruling alliance or the parties leading the opposition. Election officials rejected the nominations of many first-time candidates, including those from activist backgrounds or from marginalised communities. Activists told me these rejections were based on very flimsy grounds, and that electoral officers were hostile to grassroot candidates but helpful to those from parties that have been in power. On 26 October, two days before the state went to polls, many first-time candidates I approached told me they had lost hope in the credibility of the election process.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Janata Dal (United), as well as the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress, have all previously promised and failed to address unemployment, rural distress. They have also failed to properly implement welfare schemes. As a result, several grassroot leaders, many from activist backgrounds, hoped to contest the election. Many stood as independents, and some had the backing of two newly established political parties, the New Bharat Mission and the Plurals Party. The NBM is a grassroot party founded by Ashok Priyadarshi and Pankaj, both land-reform activists. Two of the party’s ten nominees, including Priyadarshi, were rejected over small errors that election help desks could have corrected and rectified themselves. An Election Commission guideline titled, “Checklist for Returning Officers,” available on their website says that returning officers need “to be liberal in overlooking minor technical or clerical errors.”
The Plurals Party was founded this year and fielded several candidates who are local activists from marginalised communities. The Plurals Party has the largest number of rejected nominations in this election. “On the flimsiest grounds, election officers across Bihar rejected the nomination of 38 candidates from the total 184 candidates we fielded,” Anupam Suman, the party’s general secretary, told me. Among the Plurals candidates whose nominations were rejected are Manikant Yadav and Sushma Hembram.
Yadav is an activist who had previously served as the headman of Bahraich panchayat in northern Bihar. The Plurals Party had given Yadav a ticket for the Haya Ghat constituency. “The returning officer had told me a day before the nomination deadline that my nomination form and affidavits were perfectly filled,” Yadav told me. “However, on 21 October, the deadline, even before my nomination rejection order was issued to me, I was told my nomination rejection is finalised because one column was not properly filled. My nomination rejection was clearly unfair.” When I contacted VN Chaudhry, the Haya Ghat returning officer, to ask about Yadav’s nomination rejection, he said, “Don’t seek any clarification from me. Seek clarification from ECI.”
Hembram, an Adivasi activist who used to run self-help groups among her community, got the Plurals Party ticket to stand from the Katoria constituency, which is reserved for Scheduled Tribes. Suman told me that Ranjan K Chaudhry, the Katoria returning officer, had given Hembram a checklist of bank account details she had to file. “She produced the details on time before her nomination deadline, 11 am on 9 October,” Suman said. “But she was made to queue up to enter the office and they rejected her nomination saying she missed her deadline by entering the office at 11.01 am.” Suman said that the party was being selectively targeted. Chaudhry did not respond to multiple calls.