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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 51 New Delhi December 12, 2015

Bihar Election Results: Time to Introspect!

Sunday 13 December 2015

by Sudhanshu Tripathi

The stunning victory of the “Mahagathbandhan” in Bihar has left the main Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA, shell-shocked, which will have to review its strategy that failed to convince the electorate. Indeed, it is high time to ponder as to what can be the fate of democracy in India and how can the country present itself in the comity of nations as a modern, liberal and progressive society as well as polity.

Although the results of Bihar Assembly elections are not far from the expectations, yet the thumping victory of the “Mahagathbandhan” or Grand Alliance has, obviously, left the main Opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), shell- shocked, which will have to seriously review its strategy that failed to convince the electorate. As were seen in many parliamentary and Assembly elections in the recent past, these contests were fought over national and State-level issues respectively.

Whereas the last parliamentary election uprooted the Congress-I party led by the twice sitting Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, due to his failure to tame the issue of corruption that acquired grave dimensions in the entire country, and also because of failure to provide responsive and accountable governance. The recently-held Assembly election in Jammu and Kashmir too manifested the failure of the State Government of Chief Minister Omar Abdulla in handling the serious flood crisis in the State, just preceding the election. Similarly, the Assembly election in Delhi, held a few months ago, remained untouched by the supposedly ongoing Modi wave because local issues like prevailing corruption and irresponsible governance over availability of potable water, electricity, commodities in fair price shops, rising prices of essential items, poor health and sanitation conditions, spurt in crimes, particularly against females, and insecurity etc. in the State reigned supreme. Obviously, national issues dominate at the national level and local issues at the State level and these differ from State to State.

In India, one of the most important local issues is that of the archaic caste alliance which still determines the election results in many States. The results of the Bihar Assembly elections clearly show these two trends of caste alliance and good governance. In fact, the Grand Alliance of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress-I, that is, Laloo-Nitish-Sonia defeated the BJP by a decisive majority and broke the myth of the invincible leadership of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, obviously due to the strong prevalence of local issues in Bihar, particularly the caste issue. That is, the local leaders like Laloo Yadav and Nitish Kumar can still thrive on the caste factor and good administration along with development respectively. Unfortunately, the caste factor still rules the roost in today’s India and it has, obviously, divided the Indian society between two groups—forward and backward. Even the defeated BJP and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which could have won easily by harping on Modi’s ‘development for all agenda with employment and social-security’, also acknowledged, as reported by The Hindu (November 9, 2015), that “the core social combination of the grand alliance in caste terms was higher, and this led to the huge victory. Caste has trumped the development slogan.” Further, the caste factor has very much sharpened and widened the social division in the country which has already resulted in several cases of heinous and macabre caste and communal violence and such other unfortunate incidents and this is still going on—the latest being the Dadri lynching in NOIDA (UP).

Whereas the forward segment of society is represented by the BJP, the backward one is associated with the leaders of the backward community, this time the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. While good governance and accountability are, undoubtedly, the core issues to reckon with in a democracy, winning on the sole caste factor is certainly a retrograde step. Indeed, Bihar presents a curious example of the co-existence of these paradoxical issues and almost the same is the situation in most of the States in the country. In fact, the country has still to undergo a kind of ideological revolution which may change the age-old mind-set of the Indian society and may push them to come out of the prevailing paradox.

In this agonising scenario, it is high time to ponder as to what can be the fate of democracy in India and how can the country present itself in the comity of nations as a modern, liberal and progressive society as well as polity. Also, what socio-economic and institutional provisions should be evolved and strengthened as a rule that may ensure a healthy and vibrant democracy in the country not only as a political system but also as a social, economic and cultural way of life.

Dr Sudhanshu Tripathi is an Associate Professor, Political Science, MDPG College, Pratapgarh (UP).