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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 44, New Delhi, October 17, 2020

Bihar Assembly Elections Likely to Throw a New Social Alliance | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 17 October 2020

by Arun Srivastava

This time the electoral battle line is blurred. It lacks clarity. Though the electioneering has started and the prominent leaders have already started holding public meetings, it is a grey haze that blurs the electoral scene. What is significant is this scene has not been created by the people of Bihar, instead this has been portrayed by the over ambitious politicians of the state, especially the RJD leader Tejashvi Yadav and Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar.

Lack of clarity at some level reflects the non-existence rather absence of social and class stake. Nevertheless some experts feel that this situation will benefit Bihar in posterity, as it will to some extent blunt the caste line. The electoral process in Bihar has just begun and the process will take some time to acquire a shape. Though the leaders have been focussing on the works done by them, this has utterly failed to provide a clear dimension of the campaigning.

Borrowing the phrases from his BJP protégé Sushil Mody, the chief minister, Nitish Kumar too has started reading out the catchphrases of comparing his 15-year rule with that of Lalu Yadav. There is no denying the fact that Lalu has completely ruined the state; it was during his rule that Bihari entrepreneurs and businessmen deserted the state forever, criminals ruled the roost, abduction and extortion have acquired the character of industries, state witnessed massive migration of the labour force, women were so scared of their safety and security that they stopped coming out of their houses after sun set.. A large number of houses and buildings were forcibly occupied by the Yadav criminals enjoying the patronage of the two brother-in-laws of Lalu; Sadhu Yadav and Subhas Yadav. The middle-class syndrome haunted the state and its capital, Patna. Middle-class people fled Patna to Ranchi and Delhi.

But in contrast to this the extremely poor and OBC people were feeling emboldened and liberated. They were the emerging symbol of empowered people. Lalu became their messiah. For them the gangs of criminals were not at all a threat. They resembled like their liberators and emancipators. It was irony that these people did not expect any move for development or growth from Lalu. During his 15 year rule Bihar did not figure on the map of growth or development. The government could not spend the funds meant for development. But the poor remember this phase as the period of emancipation from the exploitation and torture of the upper caste people. The actions of Lalu did not follow the Marxist ideological line, but this even blunted the Marxist criticism of Lalu’s anti-people activities and policies.

Nitish compares his 15-year rule with Lalu’s fifteen-year stay in power. But the fact remains that Nitish’s failures are more pronounced and visible than Lalu’s. A product of the Mandal agitation Lalu had the primary task and responsibility to empower the Dalit, EBCs and OBCs; especially the class which was opposed to the upper castes and landlords. While Nitish backed by the middle class had come to power with the promise to provide a good governance. Addressing a rally in Jamui, Nitish said; “Everyone knows the fate of the state in the last 15 years. There was no development, no law and order in the state. In 2005 you gave us the opportunity to work for you. Till today, we have strived to work for you. Bihar is the first state to give 50 per cent reservation to women in Panchyati Raj institutions. We have worked for girls education too”.

He reminds the people of his endeavours to empower the women, especially the dalit and women of the extremely back ward cates. But there are few takers. Academics, intellectuals and even elite people ridicule his claim alleging that he had turned the women into commodity. During initial years of his rule the girls of course had started getting enrolled in the schools. But it lost spirit after some time. The school dress, bicycle and books meant for the girls helped the middlemen to become millionaires. His lack of concern for girls was also manifest in his reluctance to appoint teachers in the schools. Even though a large number of teachers post were lying vacant in the state, he preferred to hire the teachers on contract.

The worst casualty of his good governance was his promise of good governance. Bihar unprecedented manifold increase in cases of rape and killings of girls. The shelter homes for girls had acquired the character of dubious distinction of being the den of sex rackets. The are so well entrenched in the political life of Bihar that in this election wife of one of such operators, who is still in jail, has been fielded by Nitish as his party’s nominee.

Nitish Kumar intends to win over the women voters through his call: the whole Bihar is my family: he says some people only talk of family, Son-daughter, husband and wife. But for me the whole Bihar is my family. For higher education, financial assistance of Rs 25,000 will be given to unmarried women on passing the intermediate exam and Rs 50,000 to women on passing graduation. The participation of women will be increased based on reservation in regional administration such as police station, blocks, subdivision and district level offices. So that there should be equal participation of men and women everywhere.

He says "The government made many schemes for SC / ST class, minority society, backward society. They have been linked to the mainstream. We have launched the entrepreneurial scheme. Loans are being given to SC / ST sections. We worked for the education of girls, this time the number of girls was more than boys in the matriculation examination. Worked to bring the children who were deprived of school to school. Earlier, less than 1 lakh and 70 thousand girls used to go to school in the entire Bihar, now it has been more than 9 lakhs. We have controlled the fertility rate in Bihar and for this, we have educated people.”

While the people are angry at the tremendous rise in corruption, Nitish is least bothered of this development. A visit to the state secretariat would unravel the truth and mechanism of corruption, how it works. Recently at a rally Nitish claimed achievements in the law and order sector, education sector, and environment sector. "Some of our achievements have also made noise globally. We have highlighted the environmental achievements in the state at the United Nations. Where you want to take the state ahead depends on you. We can either move ahead or go back 15 years".

There is no denying the fact that Nitish has lost most of his political ground and image of being a competent administrator. He has also conceded much ground in his alliance with Narendra Modi’s BJP. Though Nitish is the public face of NDA in Bihar, Modi and Amit Shah have eclipsed his stature by covertly favouring the LJP of late Ram Vilas Paswan. Technically LJP is not the part of the NDA in Bihar, it continues to be a partner at the national level. In fact this contrast in the stand of Modi-Shah combine has simply eroded the peoples’ trust in Nitish. They feel that Modi has been playing a dubious game with Nitish. This stand of BJP leadership is also being interpreted as the distrust of Modi and Shah in Nitish’s leadership of carrying through the NDA. If Nitish fails to perform well, they will not hesitate in dumping him and forming a BJP government with LJP support.

This year’s election is significant for yet another reason, it will witness a social and political alliance at the ground level. So far the alliances were imposed from top, but this time the people of different castes, but based on class line, are coming together. The initiative has been taken by the migrant labourers who fled to Bihar in the wake of pandemic, after Modi announced lockdown. These labourers cutting across the caste line have decided to vote out Nitish.

These labourers have taken the initiative to organise and mobilise the rural voters to rally behind the forces opposed to Nitish. What is interesting to watch is the EBC castes on which Nitish for support are also not too inclined to favour him. The miseries the labourers of these castes had to suffer while fleeing from cities had turned them disillusioned. Of course, the EBC people who are associated with the agricultural activities are inclined towards Nitish, but how far they will succeed in ensuring his victory is not clear yet. Moreover, their population is not big enough and they are spread out in all the constituencies.

Election 2020 is being keenly watched. It is India’s first mass polls in the shadow of the pandemic. India’s third most populous state, it was home to 10.4 crore people in the 2011 Census. This election, about 7.29 crore will be eligible to vote — more than the populations of countries like the UK, France or Italy. It also lags behind most of India on many social indicators, causing its youth to seek out jobs and hence carry their imprint across the country. Since the lockdown, many have returned. In 2015, Bihar had dealt blows to Modi.

Apprehensions are being expressed that the NDA will resort to some mechanism to ensure that the poor labourers are refrained from exercising their franchise. In 2015 Bihar had witnessed its highest-ever voter turnout at 57 per cent. The opposition parties are scared that a low turnout will boost the prospect of NDA. Two questions are making the round in the political circle: Could a low turnout be a further disadvantage for the Opposition, given the BJP’s committed cadre? Or will there be more of a dip in urban voting, where the BJP is strong? In the existing situation the major challenge before the opposition is to exploit his pole vaults since 2014; resignation as CM after the JD(U)’s Lok Sabha rout in 2014, switch to Lalu to form an unlikely Mahagathbandhan, and an even more unlikely turnaround to embrace the BJP in 2017 and stay in power. The opposition leaders are sure that if the voters are provided with the right atmosphere and environment to cast their vote then, in that case, the defeat of NDA is certain.

Nitish also nurses the view that Tejashwi’s lack of administrative experience will go in his favour. governance plank. Lalu, who remains in jail, can’t lend the charisma that earlier helped overlook that. But this factor may not have a major bearing as Tejashvi was Deputy chief minister under him and currently he is the leader of opposition.

Muslims who had earlier stood by Nitish may not like to extend their support to him. Feeling alienated and deprived under the Modi government, victims of legislation like the CAA and plans for an NRC, wary after the Delhi riots, and disappointed by Ayodhya verdicts, the Muslims in Bihar may opt for grand alliance or someone else. Already AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has announced plans to contest across Bihar. The AIMIM has tied up with the RLSP, BSP and former RJD MP Devendra Prasad Yadav’s Samajwadi Janata Dal (Democratic).

Meanwhile, the claim of BJP national president J P Nadda that Bihar’s development was only possible under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the next state government would be formed under leadership of JD(U) chief Nitish Kumar is facing acute ridicule in the state. People are citing the example of misrule of Nitish. They even remind that in the wake of earlier elections the theory of double engine was floated which has proved to be utter flop.

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