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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 31 New Delhi July 25, 2015

Bihar Elections 2015

Sunday 26 July 2015, by Badri Raina

Most political observers and commentators seem to agree that the coming elections to the Assembly in Bihar will not only be important but perhaps definitive in suggestging the shape of mainstream political life in India till the next General Election in 2019.

To put the matter baldly, if the Bharatiya Janata Party were to score a victory in Bihar, it might be on course to take the all-important Uttar Pradesh as well. This for two reasons: one, the party would have proved that the arithmetic of any secular conglomeration set up to thwart its march had proved inadequate to the BJP’s hold among the voters; and, two, that the “hulabaloo” that has been underway with regard to allegations of corruption and sundry wrong-doing against its Central and State Ministers had been set aside by the hoi polloi as of no real substance or account. Remembering that nothing washes the sins of an indian politician as decisively clean as victory at the hustings—even if an overwhelming majority of voters have voted against the same; the first-past-the-post representational system, however an undemocratic travesty, makes such conclusions legitimate. That would further advance the BJP’s trumpeted claim that the indian voter is not to be deflected now from her longing for majoritarian assertions and urbanite forms of “development” (not that these are visible yet). The Party could go to town propagating that its “nationalism” rather than any lesser local considerations had won the day for it.

Indeed, the just concluded elections from the local authorities to the Legislative Council in Bihar where the Party jumped from five to thirteen despite a declared Front among the JD (U), the RJD, and the Congress who managed just eleven altoghether cannot but have boosted the BJP’s self-projections several notches, even in the knowledge that the Front, as per report, actually did not gel, the votes of the RJD not having been transferred to the JD(U) candidates. For now, a useful perceptual and propagandist tool has come its way, even if these elections actually had little popular traction.

For all those who wish the Bharatiya Janata Party to go on from victory to victory, all this is excellent news. But those others—a two- third majority if put together—who are sceptical of the course the Republic might take if Rightwing, Hindutva politics carries on from strength to strength, combining market-fundamentalism with a religious one, may want to see some selfless political consolidation on the other side.

Which is where the catch is. Although, post-the CPI-M Party Congress, its leadership has spoken of the need for “Left and Democratic” unity, it does not seem, as of now, that the Left forces—who have more than an inconsiderable base in parts of Bihar—are inclined at all to join up with the Janata-Congress Front. The fact that most of the stakes in the Left constituency in Bihar are with the CPI and the CPI-ML rather than with the CPI-M complicates the situation. If Left unity is to precede Left and Democratic unity, then the CPI-M may well feel obliged, willy nilly, to go with a Left grouping in Bihar than with the Janata-Congress tie-up. It is notable that both the CPI-M and the CPI desisted from attending the Iftar get-together hosted by Sonia Gandhi just the other day.

On these issues, of course, the debate within the Left is a continuing one. There are those who have not given up the prospect that sooner than later the Indian voter will have seen through the repetitively tiresome betrayals by the Centrist parties and will turn to the Left in a big way, perhaps yielding to it a full electoral mandate. These are sections who resent the Congress more than even the Rightwing for occupying a political space which they feel rightfully belongs to them, since they do not attach much credibility either to the secularism or the socialism of the Indian National Congress. That this impulse from a doctrinal purity does not seem to get effectively communicated to the hoi polloi yet remains a heartburn, especially since it is the doctrinal purity of the Rightwing which seems to have far greater penetration. Sections of the Left do, on the other hand, feel that the nature of India’s diverse polity and the antecedent history of the practice of class-based democracy are perhaps now decisive obstcles to the probability of a Leftist take-over of the state all on its own; and that this expectation, if not pursuit—since there is very little the Left has been doing to make such expectations viable—may now not only be somewhat Utopian in nature but one important cause of the strengthening of the fascistic Rightwing in India. It would indeed be a great event if this dilemma within the Left were to see a democratic resolution in the coming Bihar elections, meeting the increasingly Leftward shift among the mainstream secular Centrist formations. It is laudable, for instance, that the Indian National Congress should have brought itself to play junior partner to the Janata combine in Bihar—a realistic political acknowledgement, and one worthy of emulation. Arguably, it is hardly sufficient to bemoan the undermining of the “Idea of India” by forces that clearly mean to subvert and dethrone the same in favour of a majoritarian state but fail to make altruistic political adjustment based on a “concrete analysis of concrete conditions”. This wouild of course entail putting a teleological praxis on the backburner in favour of an existential one.

Then there are those parties whose existence and whose fortunes are limited to just a State or two (some naughty people think the Left also pretty much belongs in that company). For example, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar is one such party. However, it may be ideologically a chip of the same block from whence the Janata Dal (United) has come, the two parties remain contenders for a common ideological turf with differing caste constituencies. This cannot but cause heartburn among sibling leader and follower. It may seem to the RJD that Nitish Kumar has been having it too good on either side—first with the BJP, and now as the chief ministerial candidate endorsed by the Congress party as well. And not without reason—after all, it was the Laloo Prasad Yadav Government that had arrested L.K. Advani as his infamous Rath Yatra entered Bihar—Lalooji may be thinking that, when all is said and done, his claim to be the autentic adversary to communal majoritarianiasm is undisputed and ahead of that of Nitish Kumar who, after all, ran the government in collaboration with the BJP (and who in fact had not resigned from the Vajpayee Cabinet at the time of the Gujarat carnage of 2002). Were the BJP to win Bihar, not Nitish and the JD(U) but Laloo and the RJD would jump into prominence as the next most significant political formation. And, yet, it remains an incontrovertible fact that nobody would like to see the BJP routed in Bihar more than Lalooji whose commitment to figtht majoritarian communalism has remained inspirational. However hurting the thought that his troubles with the law rule him out of contention, it need not be doubted that he will do all he can to bolster the Janata-Congress Front in the coming days. Which is not to say that Laloo ji may take for granted the readiness of his cadres and mass base to shift to the JD(U) candidates, especially as the elections to the Legislative Council have shown.

So, wheels within wheels there are to the situation in Bihar, and no one as deft at exploiting the chinks as an Amt Shah who, would you think, has already rolled out an appropriation of the Opposition’s central asset—its legitimate and proven claim to the history of social justice since 1989. And does anyone think that Shah does not know that Charan Singh and Deve Gowda were the first OBC Prime Ministers of India? Think again: as this writer has suggested in a previous article (“Party with a Difference”, Mainstream, July 4, 2015), no political formation comes close to the BJP where it is a question of playing ducks and drakes with fact, or fillibustering facts out of existence in full public view. Recall that L.K. Advani had launched his 1990 Hindutva Rath Yatra directly to challenge the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations which threatened to fracture the so-called homogeneity of the majority Hindu community, and that the Party’s cadres had led violent street protests against the idea of reservations as a tool of advancing the social and educational future of the backward classes in consonance with the provisions of the Constitution. Or that the ruling dispensation of the day should on the one hand tom tom Modiji’s OBC status and on the other be unwilling to make public the results of the countrywide caste survey which was orderd by the previous government, because of the unlovely realities it may reveal, leading to further impetus to “caste-based” politics and further rebuff to the monochromatic claims of Hindutva. Nor is it such a secret that within the NDA and the BJP itself in Bihar there are sharp internal contradictions and claims based on social identity, and, its bravado notwith-standing, the BJP duo of Modi and Shah will need to walk that minefield with care. Nor is it likely that in Bihar, a recourse to an overarching politics of communal polarisation will yield the sort of dividends for the BJP as it did in the last parliamentary elections from Uttar Pradesh. Yet, who is to say that if the battle of turfs and purities in the secular camp persist, such “nationalistic” polarisation may not find a prospect that now seems limited in Bihar.

 And never to forget that such uncomplicated “nationalism” of the Rightwing is the favourite child of the moneybags and those who would be moneybags. As well as of those who seek a more comprehensive form of cleansing and purity—namely, a mono-cultural polity and a state wedded to serve that culture alone.

So, quite simply, if the top thirty per cent unite and the bottom seventy divide, you know who would rule the roast, given our first-past-the-post democratic system.

Our consolation may be in this: that in India the loser is often as self-righteously truiumphant unto herself as is the winner. We are, after all, a nation full of Panditry that can rationalise all sorts of circumstance.

The author, who taught English literature at the University of Delhi for over four decades and is now retired, is a prominent writer and poet. A well-known commentator on politics, culture and society, he wrote the much acclaimed Dickens and the Dialectic of Growth. His latest book, The Underside of Things—India and the World: A Citizen’s Miscellany, 2006-2011, came out in August 2012.