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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 48 New Delhi, November 21, 2015

Bihar Verdict Checked Intolerance and Defeated the Politics of Hate

Saturday 21 November 2015, by Ravindra Sharma

Historical Background of Bihar

Historically, Gautam Buddha was born in Bihar (in Lumbini, now in Nepal). The famous Indian thinker, Chanakya, was from Bihar and so was Aryabhatt. Between the 5th and 7th centuries, many eminent Chinese Buddhist scholars—such as Fa Xian, Xuanzang and Yi Jing—visited India and studied at the Nalanda University (in Bihar). During the Mughal empire, handicrafts, agriculture and architecture of Bihar prospered considerably and Sanskrit remained as popular as Urdu and Arabic.

The colonial plunder ruined Bihar’s agriculture and handcrafts creating a sharp division between the landlords and landless peasants. Bihar played a cardinal role in India’s freedom struggle. Gandhi had initiated the peasant movement from Champaran. The idea of swadeshi was whole-heartedly endorsed in Bihar and the indigo movement in Champaran had disturbed the colonial masters seriously. Moreover, in 1942, JP had escaped from Hazaribagh jail. Selecting a son of Bihar, Dr Rajendra Prasad, as the first President of independent India was a conscious political decision of Gandhi and Nehru.

Bihar was the first State to have questioned Nehru’s mirage of development. A noted member of the undivided Communist Party, Sarju Pandey, had won the election to Parliament from Gazipur in the Nehru era. The idea of non-Congressism, coined by Dr Lohia in the early 1960s, had immensely influenced Bihar. Bihar produced the stalwarts and veterans of the socialist movement, such as Karpoori Thakur and Ramanand Tiwari, drawing the attention of the backward castes and Dalits. Importantly, the first non-Congress government was set up in Bihar in 1967 frustrating the upper-caste Hindus. In 1974, JP mooted the idea of total revolution in Bihar and subsequently replaced the semi-dictator, Mrs Indira Gandhi, from power in 1977.

Bihar’s Cultural and Academic Contribution

Culturally and academically, between 1950-2015 Bihar produced a wonderful harvest of progressive writers, journalists, lyricists, directors of Hindi cinema and professors such as Hazariprasad Dwivedi (BHU), Ustad Bismillah Khan (flute player), Ramdhari Singh Dinkar (poet), Fanishawar Nath Renu (novelist), Rahi Masum Raza (novelist), Dashrath Manjhi (mountaineer), Prakash Jha (director), Udit Narayan Jha (singer), Professor Manager Pandey and Professor Bimal Prasad (JNU), Professor N.M. Pankaj (Nalanda University), Professor R.S. Sharma and Professor D.N. Jha (DU) and Baba Nagarjun (eminent poet).

Post-Emergency Scenario of Bihar

Significantly, in the post-Emergency era three main political formations started influencing the politics and society of Bihar. First, idealist socialists led by Kishan Pattnaik (Samata Sangathan). Second, radical Communists led by Vinod Mishra [CPI-ML (Liberation)]. And third, NGOS funded by Oxform and Ford Foundation. While the first formation failed miserably, the second succeeded to some extent in drawing the attention of students and landless peasants (in a few pockets). And the third fell into the trap of ‘money and contacts’. From the late 1980s to 1990s Bihar witnessed the politics of caste and class struggle. Belchi, Arval and Bihta were clear-cut reflections of caste and class struggle. Critically, during the heydays of caste and class struggle, the established Communist Parties remained mute spectators. With the protection of the state, feudal goons floated many organisations—such as Loric Sena, Ranvir Sena and Bhumi Sena etc.—unleashing a reign of terror against the radical peasant struggle. On the other hand, the remnants of the old Socialist Party prospered through the JP movement. Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan became full-fledged leaders of the backwards and Dalits disappointing the upper-caste segments of the Hindus. Out of the three, Laloo Yadav proved to be a maverick and skilled politician capturing the imagination of the backward castes and reducing the role of upper-caste landlords in Bihar.

Factually, with the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in the V.P. Singh era (1989), the battle between the forward and backward castes became acute and acrimonious in the Hindi heartland, particularly in Bihar, UP and Haryana. Advani, as a shrewd politician of RSS background, immediately sensed the significance of the politics of Mandal and initiated his rath yatra to establish the thesis of ‘cultural nationalism over social justice’. Laloo prevented Advani’s Hindu rath in Bihar as a Chief Minister proclaiming himself as the champion of secular India and social justice. The Congress, the so-called mentor of ‘secularism’ and ‘liberal nationalism’, had no option but to support the package of social justice in Bihar and subsequently in UP.

Laloo and Nitish’s 25-Year Rule: Empowerment of Backward Castes

Laloo Yadav became the Chief Minister in 1990 and ruled over Bihar for almost 15 years (1990-2005). For a short while Laloo also ruled through his wife, Rabri Devi. His friend-turned-foe, Nitish Kumar, organised a Kurmi Chetna rally in 1994 and floated the Samata party in 1995 and ruled for 10 years (2005-2015). Interestingly, while Laloo survived with the support of the Congress, Nitish managed the support of the NDA. One must not forget that Nitish, despite having alliance with the NDA, did not let Modi campaign in the 2005 and 2010 elections. The reason is obvious: while Modi represents the politics of the Brahmanical order (RSS), Nitish serves the social base of the OBCs, EBCs and Muslims.

Nitish tolerated Modi until 2013, but when the RSS selected Modi as the candidate for PM Nitish deserted the NDA. Alas, while one feels that something is deeply wrong in the evolution of the Hindu society, one must accept the fact that caste is a harsh reality of India. Critically, the Indian Communists have not succeeded yet in preparing a blueprint of Indianised Marxism. Mao did this in China and Lenin succeeded in the former Soviet Union. As time and scope does not allow us to discuss the complicated issue of caste and class, let us concede that caste-dominated Bihar suffered a serious setback in Laloo and Nitish’s 25-year rule. Yet the two checked the cultural nationalism of the RSS. Objectively, Laloo and Nitish are comfortable allies or natural partners in caste-dominated Bihar.

In Bihar, while the OBCs are 51 per cent, Dalits 16 per cent and Muslims 17 per cent, the upper class percentage is only 15 per cent. While the RJD-JD(U) combine kept the upper-caste segments of Bihar at bay for 25 years, in 2014 a grand Hindu coalition rejuvenated them hoping to capture the socio-economic power of Bihar. The BJP in 2015, under the leadership of Modi and Amit Shah and also with the guidance of the RSS, tried to do so but in vain. With the package of social justice Nitish and Laloo enjoyed power, prestige and glory. However, a Dalit leader, Ram Vilas Paswan, is still dreaming of the day when he would rule Bihar. Ram Vilas Paswan, a leader of 16 per cent Dalits, enjoyed power with the UPA and NDA as well at the Centre but failed to become the Mayawati of Bihar. Sushil Modi, a leader of upper-caste Hindus, and Paswan, a representative of Dalits, have never been comfortable with each other in Bihar. Politically, the emergence of Manjhi in the recent past disturbed Sushil Modi more than Nitish and Laloo. During the distribution of seats Manjhi and Paswan were harshly treated by Amit Shah. The deductive logic leads us to conclude that Paswan plus Manjhi plus Sushil Modi are the unnatural allies in Bihar.

Current Scenario

In the last 25 years, Bihar witnessed five State elections. The empowerment of backward castes and emergence of Dalit consciousness have been so powerful that not even one upper-caste leader became the Chief Minister of Bihar in this period. In 2010, largely four alliances were made: first, the BJP plus JD(U) (NDA), second, the RJD plus LJSP, third the UPA (INC), and fourth the Left Front. In 2013, keeping in mind the elections of 2015, Nitish broke the alliance with the NDA. Nitish, a chequered political leader rooted in Bihar, was probably aware of the fact that the elections of 2015 will be Nitish versus Modi. As the elections came closer, the old Socialists (polluted) clubbed together and formed the Janata Parivar under the guidance of Mulayam Singh making the BJP insecure. The RSS tightened the grip on the BJP and eventually the bugle of grand Hindu coalition was sounded. However, the rooted Nitish and Laloo took the challenge of the RSS seriously.

Modi and Amit Shah addressed almost hundred rallies in Bihar ignoring and sidelining the local leadership of the State. On the other hand, the grand alliance declared Nitish as the leader and Laloo as the king-maker. During the elections while Laloo sharply attacked the politics of the RSS, Nitish behaved as a sophisticated leader. Interestingly, the Congress concentrated on the vote-bank of the Dalits. Throughout the campaign the BJP and RSS used religious symbol/language/culture to polarise the society of Bihar but in vain. Analytically, the issues of beef ban and anti-reservation, anti-Pakistan speeches were not appreciated. Moreover, the DNA of Bihar (Modi’s statement) and slogan of jungle raj backfired. Manjhi and Paswan’s Dalit card and the Third Front, headed by the SP supremo, also failed to check the popularity of social justice. Dissidents such as R.K. Singh, Shatrughan Sinha and Arun Shourie’s statements also contributed to the ignominious defeat of the BJP. The elections of 2015 further debated the Gujarat model versus Bihar model. Voters of Bihar voted to save Bihari asmita as well. Nitish successfully sold his model of development, such as construction of roads, security, education for girls and electrification of Bihar. Sadly, both alliances used unparliamentary languages. However, the debates on TV channels were quite lively and educative. The electronic media made the election more interesting. As for the print media, interviews of leaders of both alliances were frequently published in newspapers and periodicals.

Curiously, Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were also heard in Bihar and the Indian Communists (CPI, CPI-M and CPI-ML) too campaigned for their candidates with dedication but without any significant success. Owasi’s party, the AIMIM, failed to draw the attention of the Muslim voters in Seemanchal.

Muslim voters of Bihar largely voted for the RJD and JD(U) outrightly rejecting the politics of hate. The CMs of West Bengal and Delhi appealed to the Bihar electorate to vote against the BJP and veterans, scholars, writers, scientists and film stars returned their awards against the growing intolerance during the tenure of Modi at the Centre. Moreover, the honourable Indian President issued statements repeatedly suggesting not to encourage the politics of hate and reject it with contempt.

On the whole, the Bihar elections conveyed a powerful political message throughout the country to the effect that pluralism of the Indian civilisation cannot be sacrificed at any cost, and the thesis of cultural nationalism is unacceptable to liberal and democratic India. Lastly, the BJP’s ignominious defeat in Delhi and Bihar may carry a significant message for the RSS and BJP. Let us see how the so-called charismatic Modi and Amit Shah perform in the forthcoming Assembly elections in West Bengal, UP, Punjab, Assam and Kerala.

Prof Ravindra Sharma is an eminent scholar of Chinese. He also follows the developments of South Asia. He has published extensively on politics, history, literature and international relations. Currently, he is a Senior Associate Professor at the Doon University, Dehradun. He may be contacted at radical_sharma@yahoo.com