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Mainstream, Vol. XLIX No 6 , January 29, 2011

Thoughts on Bihar Assembly Elections 2010

Monday 31 January 2011, by Syed Shahabuddin

The massive victory of the JD(U)- BJP alliance in the recent Assembly elections in Bihar has been eulogised to the skies by the civil society and mass media and depicted as the beginning of new politics in Bihar, cooling the caste cauldron and changing the prevailing anarchy to order. It has been said that the people of Bihar have voted for the Nitish Kumar-led alliance because it generated a new hope and sense of pride among the people as well as an inspiration for the future. The analysts have also predicted that Bihar has turned away from casteism towards development.

Scale of Victory: No Landslide, No Wave

THE scale of victory is indeed massive the JD(U)-BJP alliance won 206 out of 243 seats, while its main rival the RJD-LJP alliance was reduced to 25. For the record it may be added that the Congress was reduced to four and the Left parties together to just one. The striking rate for the JD (U) and the BJP was of the order of 90 per cent. Indeed with just a few more seats the JD (U) would have obtained a majority of its own. This was a landslide victory but no objective observer on closer examination has seen any sign of a Nitish Kumar wave or a wave in favour of the alliance. If there was a wave, seven Ministers would not have lost. Nor nearly 30 sitting MLAs.

Caste Alive and Kicking

IF he looks deeper, he will come to the conclusion that the caste factor had remained fully in operation; all parties had selected their candidates for particular constituencies keeping their caste composition and their own hold on various caste groups in mind and differentiating between those caste groups which were in their favour, those which were hostile and those which were undecided. It is clear from the caste compositions of the Assembly and Council of Ministers that far from being dead, casteism is alive and kicking. Caste is thriving and will continue to determine the course of future politics in the state.

Victory—Gift of the FPP Electoral System

THE most important factor was the current electoral system itself. With only three per cent increase in votes compared to 2005, the JD(U)-BJP alliance secured 24 per cent increase in their seats (some won by small margins). Nitish Kumar thus owes his ‘landslide’ to the play of the irrational First-Past-the-Post electoral system in which one vote more or less, makes a difference. Had the proportional electoral system been in force, the alliance score of seats would have fallen from 213 to 105!

Development: Nothing Visible but Roads

AS for development, one sees much improvement in roads. It is said that 23,000 kms of road have been added within the last five years. This includes the rural roads which have increased connectivity among villages and panchayats, the State highways which connect districts and the National Highways which are in good shape. However, one does not notice even foundations being laid for new factories or industrial units. The State has signed many more than 300 MOUs but no investment has yet taken place. In the last five years, not one additional megawatt of electricity generation capacity has been installed. Shortage of power remains the biggest handicap for Bihar’s industrial development. The universities and colleges are universally in a bad shape and one sees few new primary or secondary schools being built. Nitish Kumar refrained from introducing the Common School System to which he was committed in order to keep the education mafia on his side. The district hospitals have shown little improvement and only a few new heath centres have been established.

The result is that promising students from Bihar continue to migrate to other States. In the same manner labour migration continues unchecked because no additional avenues of employment have been generated. Even the MGNREP has not been fully implemented.

On the social side, Bihar remains at the bottom with no improvement in per capita power consumption or infant or maternity mortality or level of poverty (43 per cent BPL). The level of corruption in government officers in day-to-day dealings has not gone down but is reported to have gone up, perhaps in keeping with inflation! Indeed people take it for granted; they only complain when money changes hands but the files do not move. Even the flood control measures during the last five years, on which enormous amounts were spent, have not been successful and the embankments, which were strengthened or built, have not served to stop the fury of the floods but to line the pockets of the officers, engineers and contractors whose nexus continues undisturbed. It has been alleged that even Central funds which came to Bihar under various schemes have not been fully or purposively utilised.

Law and Order: In Safer Bihar, Mahabalis Still Adorn Assembly

AS for the law and order situation, it is claimed that 50,000 criminals have been successfully prosecuted and sentenced. But at the same time one is surprised to note that the Mahabalis (musclemen) figure substantially in the new Assembly, 72 are visible on the Treasury Benches. Many known musclemen were no doubt defeated. But equally many musclemen were elected as they had their hold on their constituencies and could not be refused ticket. Yet one must admit that today in Bihar, people feel safer and that is the main reason why the turnout of women in the election was very high, higher than men.

Victory due to Social Engineering

WHEN the caste factor has not been eliminated, when there is no visible development except in roads, how does one explain Nitish Kumar’s ‘landslide’ and indeed historic victory? My analysis sees the election results as a personal victory for Nitish Kumar and the result of his deftly crafting a new pattern of caste alignments.

Nitish Kumar retained the support of the high castes by dropping the Bataidari Bill at the last minute or by not implementing other major elements of the Bandyopadhyay Report on Land Reform. Nitish Kumar correctly calculated that it he goes for land reform, he would drive the votes of high castes (who own most agricultural land) towards the Congress. He consolidated his core support base of Kurmi-Koeri alliance.

Nitish Kumar successfully broke the MY alliance built by Laloo Yadav and to a large extent separated the Muslims from Laloo. He patronised the non-Ashraf Muslims and sent two leaders, Ejaj Ali and Ali Anwar, one by one, to the Rajya Sabha. He divided the SCs by introducing the concept of Mahadalits, keeping out only the Dusadhs, who formed the main social base for Paswan and thus marginalised him, and gave them 20 per cent reservation in the Panchayti Raj Institutions. The Mahadalits consist of nearly 90 extremely backward classes (EBCs), all tiny groups (including Muslim Dalits), who together constitute, along with the Hindu SCs, nearly 75 per cent of the Backward Classes (minus the Yadavs, Koeris and Kurmis). This massive feat in social engineering enlarged the base for the JD(U)-BJP and was the primary factor behind his remarkable success.

Also, as a matter of social strategy Nitish Kumar introduced 50 per cent reservation for women in panchayats. This brought out the womenfolk into the public arena. Schoolgirls in higher classes were all supplied with cycles. This impressed the outsiders visiting Bihar. For the first time, apart from good roads, they saw girls cycling around in large numbers in rural areas. Both these factors had a real influence on the pattern of female voting.

Muslims Systematically Wooed

THE second factor was the strategy he adopted from his first day in power in 2005, to woo the Muslims and secure their maximum support. He reopened the Bhagalpur Massacre cases and prosecuted the known leaders who had been untouched by Laloo. He secured from the Centre compensation for those killed on parity with the Delhi Massacre level. He wrote-off the loans to the affected bunkers. There was no communal violence during his regime.. He took up the construction of the boundary walls of graveyards in all Muslim areas throughout the State; this made a visible impact and served as publicity hoardings. Without improving the place of Urdu in the school curriculum, he filled up thousands of vacant posts of ‘Urdu unit’ teachers. He revived the old scheme of exclusive Muslim hostels and built them in many towns. There was not much improvement in the Waqf administration but at least he broke the tradition of nomination and constituted a regular Waqf Board in place of the appointed authorities. He gave land for the proposed AMU Centre in Kishanganj; he opened Talimi Markaz in several places for promoting adult education and introduced the Hunar scheme for training Muslim girls.

The Muslims did not mind his obvious political game and his alliance with the BJP as they were happy with the special attention paid to them. They were also influenced by overall improvement in the social environment of the State. It has been estimated that the JD(U)-BJP alliance received nearly 30 per cent of Muslim votes while the Muslim vote for the RJD shrunk to 25 per cent and for the Congress to about 15-20 per cent. This included votes for BJP candidates rationalised by Muslims as votes for Nitish Kumar so that he returns as the Chief Minister. This is the highest figure of Muslim vote for a BJP alliance. Though the BJP had fielded only one Muslim candidate, four won from Muslim majority constituencies. His alliance did not gave due number of tickets to Muslim candidates, that was because the BJP took one-third seats.

The Urdu media was as well treated as the Hindi and national media Thus he exercised full control over the Muslim mind. No wonder they glossed over his blank and dark spots; he had only two Muslim Ministers in 2005, one of whom had resigned and accused the Chief Minister of supporting the corrupt bureaucracy. Few Muslims were appointed as High Court judges; very few Muslims were inducted in the State Public Service Commission and other official Commissions or autonomous Boards. Hardly any new schools were opened in Muslim concentration areas. Nor were the victims of other communal riots like Sitamarhi, apart from Bhagalpur, compensated. His government was frankly not in a position to support the demand of Muslim reservation openly and he kept quiet on the implementation of the Mishra Report. He did not open his mouth on the indefensible verdict of the Special Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the Babri Masjid. Nitish Kumar maintained indifference to the Hindutva agenda such as uniform civil code, Article 370 etc. He kept the BJP leaders, including Modi and Advani, from entering his turf. He dramatically returned a donation from Modi for flood relief in Bihar.

As a political strategist Nitish Kumar took full advantage not only of the disenchantment of the Muslims but of the political mistakes committed by his opponents. The dynastic politics promoted by Laloo Prasad and Paswan contrasted with the spotless record of Nitish Kumar in this respect.

In the Assembly the high castes, namely, the Brahmins, the Bhumihars and the Rajputs, who together form 13 per cent of the population, have 25 per cent of seats, while even the three forward OBCs, who form 20 per cent, have 17 per cent; the EBCs, who form 30 per cent, have 8.5 per cent and the Muslims, who form 18 per cent, have only eight per cent. In the Council of Ministers, caste distribution is more lopsided with the full domination of the high caste and forward OBCs.

Divided Muslims

IN the event, 19 Muslims were elected to the Assembly with only seven from the JD(U) and one from the BJP; two Muslims were appointed Ministers.

Muslims missed a great opportunity in the 2010 elections. Voter analysis shows that in more than 30 seats the Muslim candidates were runners-up. It is obvious that these were Muslim concentration seats and had Muslims voted unitedly for one agreed candidate, they would have tilted the balance in their favour and reached their due representation of 40 seats, or even exceeded it, in the Assembly. Muslims failed primarily because of the triangular contest among the JD(U)-BJP, RJD-LJP and Congress. Secondly, the antipathy between the Ashraf and the non-Ashraf deliberately fanned by the JD(U) and some other political parties divided their votes. The third factor was that the Muslim turnout was at least five per cent lower than the State average. Perhaps the turnout of Muslim women voters was still lower, though the women turnout, on the whole, was surprising: five per cent higher than men.

What Happened?

DURING 2005-10 the BJP was hardly visible. Tactically it had withdrawn from public view. Also the Deputy Chief Minister (who was also the Finance Minister) and BJP leader Sushil Modi, who was as influential as wise, was responsive to Muslim needs and did not oppose State expenditure for gaining Muslim support.

The general conjecture was that Nitish was building up his own social base among the EBCs, SCs and Muslims and if he felt strong enough he may part company with the BJP to contest the elections on his own. Nitish Kumar could have emulated Navin Patnaik of Orrisa but he has always been a realist. He realised that he could not win Bihar without the BJP’s support because his party had no cadre and it was the RSS cadre of the BJP which worked for him at the ground level. Riding pillion behind the JD(U), the BJP itself raised its strength in the Assembly in 2010 and surprisingly captured nearly all SC seats and even one Muslim seat, as stated above. Now the BJP is likely to become more influential in Bihar but one should bear in mind that Nitish Kumar can always secure some support of the Opposition to form a government without BJP support.

What lies Ahead?

BUT there is one good reason why Nitish Kumar will not be inclined to play a Navin Patnaik. He sees no future for himself in the UPA while he is already being acclaimed as a future NDA Prime Minister. There is no point, therefore, in his alienating the BJP and refusing them their due.

It is said that having laid the foundation, Nitish Kumar will now embark upon power generation and industrialisation and may even change the strategy of flood control. Bihar will also try to secure the ‘special State’ status, by playing up its common boundary with Nepal and Bangladesh, lack of mineral resources and recurrent floods and thus get more Central funds for development.

All observers agree that neither Laloo Prasad nor Paswan nor the Congress have any prospects in Bihar in the near future. The elections of 2010 have injected not only hope but pride and self-respect among Biharis, particularly those who work outside Bihar even in foreign countries. If Nitish Kumar is able to translate this psychology and feed it by linking it to the past glories of Bihar, and achieve concrete results, he will indeed open a new chapter.

Muslims on the Crossroad

THROUGHOUT the country the Muslim community, after the Bihar elections of 2010, stands on a crossroad. In its eyes today there is nothing to choose between the Congress and BJP. So should it continue to treat the BJP as untouchable and persist with its classical approach of supporting the Congress blindly, whosoever its candidate and whatever its performance on its past promises and assurances, whatever the number and quality of Muslim candidates it fields against the BJP?

Apart from the Congress, other self-declared secular parties which were in the field with winnable Muslim candidates were so far considered as ‘in’ but not the BJP. In the era of coalition both national parties are bound to go for alliances. The Muslim view has been that they cannot support the BJP or an alliance in which BJP is the dominant partner. Can the Muslim community differentiate between a BJP-dominated alliance and one in which it is the junior partner, as it was in Bihar? Further, should it see whether the policies and progress of the alliance have an anti-Muslim character and whether the RSS exercises ideological control?

These are not theoretical questions; the time has come for the Muslim community to redefine its electoral strategy under the present system.

The author, a former member of the IFS, served as the Indian ambassador in several countries; he is also an erstwhile MP. Currently he is the President, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.

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