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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 41 New Delhi October 3, 2015

The Bihar Election Scenario

Saturday 3 October 2015, by Barun Das Gupta

To many observers of the Bihar election scenario, it would seem that the battle is really between two personalities—and voter appeal —of the performing Nitish Kumar and the promising-the-paradise Narendra Modi. This is underlined by the fact that the BJP has failed to name its chief ministerial candidate ahead of the polls. Pre-poll surveys indicate an over-whelming preference for Nitish as Chief Minister, with BJP’s Sushil Modi trailing far behind as a distant second. BJP’s propaganda is that as long as there was the BJP-JD(U) alliance in power, Bihar was fast making progress in every direction. As soon as Nitish broke the alliance and decided to go it alone, dark night descended on Bihar and its path to prosperity was suddenly blocked. How far this propaganda will succeed it is difficult to say because the Bihar people’s own experience is at variance with what the BJP wants them to believe.

Nitish has effectively punctured the propa-ganda balloon of Modi that he has given Bihar a ‘special package’ of Rs 1.25 lakh crore. Nitish has shown that the ‘package’ was in reality a ‘re-packaging’ of sanctioned and ongoing schemes. The other dominant theme of the BJP propaganda is that with Laloo Yadav in tandem with Nitish, Bihar will return to ‘jungle raj’ if the alliance wins the polls. This is patently absurd because Laloo is debarred from contesting the polls and he cannot be in government. He may be interested in promoting one or the other of his progeny who have just started cutting their teeth in politics but for now they are political non-entities. Moreover, experience is a stern teacher and Laloo must have taken his lessons from his past experiences. He is not likely to repeat them in future even if he some day comes to power.

But behind the talk of the development agenda, many things are happening. For one, the BJP has to contend with the chief ministerial ambitions of Kushwaha, Paswan and even Jitan Ram Manjhi. There were serious differences on the allocation of seats. Though the BJP has been able to impose its will on its junior partners, grievances remain. The decision of the CPI-M-led Left to fight the elections separately will have an adverse impact on the RJD-JD(U)-Congress alliance. The ever-unpredictable Mulayam Singh Yadav has also decided to jump into the election fray even though he does not have any base in Bihar. The same goes for Asaduddin who Owaisi has also thrown his hat into the ring. This totally upsets all the calculations of the Nitish-led mahagathbandhan which was sure of the solid support of the minority community. These minor players will indirectly help the BJP by dividing the anti-BJP votes. In a closely fought election the swing of even one or two per cent votes can bring about big changes in the number of seats won or lost by one party or the other.

But the BJP is taking no chances. Even before the Election Commission announced the poll schedule, volunteers of the RSS and its affiliated organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad descended on Bihar in hordes and started actively campaigning for the BJP. Money will flow like water in this election. Most of it will go undetected by the EC. Already several crores of ‘unaccounted’ money have been seized by the police. From a single vehicle, over Rs. 1.1 crore was recovered. This is only the tip of theiceberg. Foreign currencies, including those of Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia have been seized. Most of this money came via Nepal. Illicit liquor has also started flowing in large quantities. Then there are the illegal arms which go around in every election.

Caste has long been a dominant factor in Bihar elections. But how far caste still influences the younger generation of Biharis who have gone in for higher education and technical education and been exposed to the world outside Bihar will also be known from the electoral outcome. Some social scientists think that the new generation does no longer think in the stereotyped mode of thinking of their elders. All these are imponderable factors that will influence the results.

RAHUL GANDHI’S public meeting in Champaran on September 19 saw a huge turnout of people of rural Bihar. The sharp and pointed attack of Rahul against the Prime Minister has unnerved the BJP. It is no longer dismissing Rahul as a bachcha or baby in politics but is taking him seriously and turning all its guns on him. The Congress campaign, spearheaded by Rahul, that the Modi Government is a suit-boot-ki sarkar and is anti-farmer and pro-corporate, is having its effect.

Champaran is the district where, in 1917, Gandhiji started his first satyagraha movement against the British indigo planters who forced indentured farmers to cultivate indigo. There Rahul reminded his audience that M. K. Gandhi, the barrister, wore suit and boot. But when he decided to serve the people, he gave up his suit for the loincloth. And Modi, when he was a tea vendor, used to wear dhoti. But when he became Prime Minister he wore a Rs 15 lakh suit. It had a telling effect on the audience.

Behind the surface of all the propaganda of the BJP, in Bihar as well as elsewhere, a subtle war is going on for capturing the minds of the youth of India with the obscurantist and anti-science philosophy and world-view of the mother organisation, the RSS. How far has the RSS succeeded in winning over the modern Indian youth in the era of science and technology to its way of thinking? An agency report from Nagpur, the headquarters of the RSS, says that the youth there are not at all attracted by the RSS propaganda to supplant English and replace it with Hindi. They say they are not against Hindi but not at the cost of English. How many IITians or holders of bachelor and masters degrees in science will believe that thousands of years ago India had invented motor cars, aeroplanes and discovered the technique of plastic surgery?

The BJP-led alliance is not free from internal problems either. The Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha, the Lok Janashakti Party of Ram Vilas Pawan and the Hindustan Awami Morcha of Jitan Ramm Majhi are not happy with the number of seats allotted to them. The BJP has steamrolled them into accepting whatever it has agreed to give them but discontent simmers in the lower ranks of their parties. What they will actually do at the grassroots level at the time of voting is a matter of conjecture. If the NDA alliance does win the polls, the central leadership of the BJP will be hard put to resolve the claims of Sushil Modi and Chandradesh Prasad Thakur of the BJP, Kushwaha of the RLSP, Paswan of the LJP and Manjhi of the HAM for the chief ministership. If the BJP fails to get a majority on its own in the 243-member House, and has to depend on the support of its alliance partners and keep them satisfied, then resolving the CM question will become a headache for the BJP central leadership.

Nobody knows what the outcome of the polls will be. The thumb rule says that very high voting rate usually goes against the ruling party while a division in the ranks of the Opposition works in favour of the ruling party. A fair guess will be possible to be made after the polling percentage and trends in the first two or three phases are known. Till then the psephologists and political observers will prefer to keep their fingers crossed.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.