Bihar is not an ordinary land. It has been the stronghold of huge empires since ancient times, be it Maurya or the Gupta. It has also been the birthplace of people who dared to change the human history in an unimaginable manner. In this context, one is reminded of stalwarts born in the states like Lord Buddha, Lord Mahaveer, Chanakya, Aryabhatt, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Jaiprakash Narayan, Veer Kunwar Singh, BP Mandal and Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Unfortunately, Bihar had also been the first theatre for many distinct kinds of politics- politics of socialism through a revolution (post emergency era), politics of nepotism (where Lalu Prasad Yadav made his wife as CM after he was charged for multi crore fodder scam) and politics of goonda elements. All three kinds of politics were legitimised in the name of 'politics of social justice' which, in reality, was nothing but a mechanism for the oppression of certain so-called upper castes. So much so that these groups were forced to abandon their titles (reflecting their castes) and instead started using generic terms like Ranjan, Bharti and Kumar. Not only was this kind of politics detrimental to interest of upper castes, the Dalits, who stand at the bottom of the caste ladder, too faced the worst kind of atrocities like the Laxmanpur Bathe Massacre and the Bathani Tola massacre.
Under the regime of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Bihar became the hotbed of corruption, crime and misrule. Lalu took the state towards the path of backwardness and lawlessness where nothing remained safe- neither the property nor the humans. Anarchy and goondaism became the hallmark of his fifteen years (mis) rule. The situation was akin to what noted philosopher Thomas Hobbes describes about the 'state of nature' in his pioneering work Leviathan, where life was "nasty, brutish and short". Lalu's men were given both immunity and impunity to do anything and everything they wanted to do in the state. The consequences of these activities were disastrous and an entire generation grew up witnessing the atmosphere of fear and intimidation and was forced to migrate for their education, job, safety and well-being. The MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor helped in making Lalu as the CM of Bihar as this population became a strong vote bank for his party.
Also, there are several reports that highlight the fact that elections in the state were often rigged and polling booths captured by Lalu's men to seize power by hook or by crook! Several honest and upright officers who spoke against this institutionalised loot and thuggery had to pay heavily in the form of transfers, punishment postings and in the worst case- physical violence, murder, kidnapping of them or their family members. In fact, kidnapping and extortion became the only flourishing industry in Bihar under the Lalu era.
The end of Jungle-Raj and the rise of NDA
His regime was challenged by the coalition of BJP and JDU that was unique in nature but was strong enough to give him a run for his money. In a way it was a rainbow coalition that focussed on consolidating the non-MY votes in Bihar. While the BJP brought in upper caste and some Dalit votes, JDU managed the votes of non-yadav OBCs and some muslims. While JDU became the elder, BJP was satisfied in playing as second fiddle in this alliance.
Collectively they accomplished to do the impossible- dislodge Lalu from power in Bihar and Lalu's former aid, Nitish Kumar became the Chief Minister of Bihar for the first time in 2005. JDU has come a full circle with first breaking up with BJP in 2013, forming the government with Lalu’s RJD in 2015, breaking up with it and joining hands with the BJP again in 2017.
The NDA government in Bihar under the leadership of Nitish Kumar did very well in improving the law and order situation in Bihar by bringing in able officers and strengthening the rule of law in the state. He was ably assisted by his Deputy CM, BJP leader Sushil Modi. Since both of them had cut their first political teeth during the JP movement and therefore were grounded enough to understand the realities of Bihar. Infrastructure development was given a priority and several roads and bridges were constructed, the condition of schools and colleges were improved and focused was turned on industrial development.
Upcoming elections reflect changing dynamics of Bihar
The upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar (probably in October) will be keenly watched by spectators from all parts of India. It will pose challenge to our conventional wisdom. This would be the first election after an unprecedented lockdown that was imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and its impact is for sure to be felt in the elections. Other than the tradition issues of caste, religion and development, the plight of migrant labours is to became a major election issue. At present there are two major coalitions, the NDA and the MGB (Maha Gath Bandhan) and a number of players who do not have a fix place and therefore can gravitate to either of the coalition or can form their own ‘third front’. The NDA at present constitutes of the BJP, JDU and LJP, while it is not averse to adding more alliance partners. However, although the issue of leadership of this alliance has been settled, at least as of now with the BJP declaring JDU leader Nitish Kumar as the CM candidate, the muscle flexing over seat sharing continues between the three partners. Still, the alliance is placed in far better position than the MGB in terms of partners as well as the leadership of the alliance. In the absence of Lalu, his own party RJD looks like a divided house. The elder son and former health minister of Bihar, Tej Pratap Yadav does not hold very good equation with his younger brother and former deputy CM Tejaswi Yadav. The smaller parties of the coalition- Former CM Manji’s HAM and Former Union Minister Upendra Kushwaha’s RLSP are said to be not very happy about the leadership of Tejaswi Yadav and speculations are ripe that some may either gravitate towards the NDA or may form third front.
Two special people need to be mentioned in this discussion. The first is former JNUSU President and CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar and the second is an election strategist. Both young leaders have been obtaining much limelight and media attention as a ‘fresh breeze of air in Bihari politics’. They have been desperately making attempts to portray themselves as an ‘alternative to the existing politics’ in Bihar.
However, although they may be young but they do not necessarily get connected with the youth of Bihar who feels more comfortable with a Modi or Nitish Kumar at the helm of the affairs. Moreover, in a state like Bihar where caste plays an important role in elections, both of them do not fit very well in the caste-dynamics of Bihar. Both PK (Prashant Kishor) and KK (Kanhaiya Kumar) belong to the so-called upper/forward caste. While PK is a Brahmin, KK belongs to the Bhumihar community. These two communities have stood solidly behind PM Modi and the BJP, as successive elections have shown and do not see any reason to abandon it. Also, the Muslims and Yadav, considered to be voting en-block against the BJP and JDU, would not want to take risk of wasting their vote by voting for a newcomer in politics and would instead stick to their traditional party- RJD, Congress and NCP. Therefore, chances for them looks bleak as of now.
What Bihar needs?
All this does not mean that Bihar is running wonders. Bihar still has one of the worst rankings in Human Development Index (HDI), investment, ease of doing business etc. The infrastructure remains dilapidated and heavy industries are largely absent. People have to move out of the state for jobs- both blue collar and white collar. The educational system in the state needs urgent revamp from top to bottom. Along with it, the social problems like female infanticide, dowry death, crime against women, caste-based violence still cover large portion of the newspaper regularly. There can be no doubt about the fact that Bihari youth have immense potential, but in the absence of proper platform and mechanism to harness this potential, the demographic dividend can also turn out to become demographic disaster. State needs to focus on bringing investment, creating infrastructure and providing skills to the youth so as to make them employable. Bihari youth have been gaining laurels by their sheer talent and hard work in all sectors, be it in engineering, management, medical, arts and cinema, especially in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad etc. But its time that they also get similar opportunities in Patna, Bhagalpur, Darbhanga and Gaya too. For this to happen, the politics of the state has to be restructured from the core itself. Existing model of politics must be made to undergo substantial change. Although caste would remain as the primary factor in the state elections, yet a debate has to been brough in about the jobs, industry and employment of the youth, both skilled and unskilled. Social media hashtags like #IndustryInBihar are being run by youth, but it needs to be substantiated on the ground too. Although Nitish Kumar has worked very hard in ending the ‘jungle raj’ and improving the law and order of the state, yet his efforts fall little short when it comes to making state industry-friendly and investment-friendly.
The newly launching youth leaders too do not offer much hope in reality as their ‘new’ politics still revolves around ‘old’ cognitive identity-based politics and what they offer is old wine in the new bottle- the obsolete socialist model where the state unnecessarily controls everything. This very model did not allow industries to flourish and kept the youth jobless, who, for better economic prospects, migrated to other fairly industrialised states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Many of them have come back to Bihar due to the lockdown and therefore will pose a new challenge for the state to provide them with work. The migrant labour, if not taken care by the incumbent government, can cause heavy damage to the ruling establishment. Therefore, the state needs to bring in mountainous changes in its political thinking and functioning to prevent any political casualty. Rest assured, this election would have reaching impact on the Indian politics.
(Ravi Ranjan is a media consultant, author and works closely with government agencies. Views expressed here are author's personal and not of India TV's)