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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 46, New Delhi, October 31, 2020

Bihar politics turning to uncharted path | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 24 October 2020, by Arun Srivastava


by Arun Srivastava

Many things are happening for the first time in Bihar. This was for the first time the Unuion Finance Minister openly offered free coronavirus vaccination for all in the form of bribe to the voters of Bihar, it is also for the first time in the electoral political history of Bihar that election manifestos or “Sankalp Patra” of political parties have become topics of discussion and discourses in the social circle. The discussion is not confined to the living rooms of the rich or middle class, these have succeeded in attracting the attention of the villagers.

Narendra Modi led the BJP government is under Constitutional obligation to make available coronavirus vaccine to the people of India. But the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman violating the electoral decorum promised to offer “free coronavirus vaccination for all" if the people of the state voted the BJP to the power. This is the most disgraceful offer. It is beyond comprehension how could a central minister make such a statement?

This statement is not only controversial but it also violates the basic ethics of elections and amounts to offering bribe. Instead of paying in cash Sitharaman was promising to pay in the form of medicine. It was the shameful attempt to use the vaccine for the political agenda. In fact Sitharaman also tried to fool the voters by saying; "As soon as a COVID-19 vaccine is available for production at a mass scale, every person in Bihar will get free vaccination. This is the first promise mentioned in our poll manifesto.” It is not yet certain when the vaccine will be produced on mass scale, but she was making promises!!

The Aap Admi Party’s tweet correctly sought to know; "Indians who didn’t vote BJP will not get free Covid vaccine?" Of course Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet was more candid: "Tum mujhe vote do main tumhe vaccine doonga(Give me votes, I will give you vaccine)... what appalling cynicism! Will the Election Commission rap her and her shameless government on the knuckles?"

Though some BJP leaders tried to clarify the situation, but they added more to the confusion. They could not explain whether the BJP will pay for the medicine or the new government will foot the bill. Nevertheless this statement coming from Sitharaman makes it abundantly clear that the leadership have conceded the defeat and it was their one desperate attempt to win over the trust of the people.

The most talked about agenda this time has been the promise of the BJP to provide 19 lakh jobs. After RJD Leader Tejashwi Yadav promised to provide 10 lakh jobs in the state in the very first cabinet meet, the BJP promptly came out with the assurance to simply counter him. BJP’s undertaking came out just the day after Nitish Kumar questioned Tejashwi about his promise to provide 10 lakh jobs saying how he could possibly raise the money to pay for 10 lakh jobs.

Usually ahead of the elections the political discussions revolve around the caste equations and formation of new political equations. In rural Bihar the scene is usually more arithmetical in nature. The villagers in their leisure time discuss about which ghetto is going to vote for whom. Usually their calculations prove to be correct. Being at the ground level they know the issues and also the local personalities who will prove to be decisive factors.

But this time the caste factor has been replaced by the development and the growth. This change in dynamics of discussion primarily owes to the presence of the labourers and daily wage earners in the villages. The miseries they had to suffer while fleeing cities and downs have made them conscious of their social role.

If the local people are to be believed coming together of RJD and the left forces has completely changed the political dimension. The RJD has Yadav caste base. But the fact is 60 per cent of the Yadavs are poor having weak purchasing power. In the case of the left, especially the CPI(ML), the labourers and proletariats are their base. Obviously in their case they do not have put much effort to build or shape a caste based politics. In recent times the Congress has also acquired the image of being sympathetic to the cause of poor.

But the case is not the same with the BJP and NDA. The upper caste support base of BJP views Nitish Kumar and his support base with suspicion. The upper caste has been supporting Nitish due to the BJP factor. In this election the political scenario has changed. The rebellion by Chirag Paswan has turned the upper caste people sceptical of the moves of Nitish.

Meanwhile the scepticism that BJP eventually may rally behind Chirag for forming the government has created more uncertainty in the NDA. The BJP leadership nurses the view that the party would not lose much in the existing scenario. The worst sufferer would be Nitish. Otherwise too the election battle is being projected as a direct fifth between the grand alliance and Nitish.

Though Tejashvi is attracting massive crowd and response, it at some level reflects the disenchantment of the people with Nitish. It is mnot going to affect the BJP to that extent as is expected. In certain areas the upper caste voters may shift their loyalties to the Congress. Obviously in this background while caste permutation and combination has got wider implication for the NDA. The grand alliance is working on the plan to reach out to the people and ensure that they cast their votes.

The elecorates have made up their mind was also clearly manifest in peoples’ response to yesterday’s meeting of Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. Modi who was accompanied by Nitish could not make much impact. He was even guarded in defending Nitish, who has already under severe criticism. Since Bihar sends huge youths to the army, Modi raised the issue of China’s presence in Ladhak. But he failed to evoke a response he usually manages to receive. On the contrary Rahul’s jibes on Modi for allowing China to occupy Indian territory received tumultuous response.

Addressing a rally in Dehri-on Sone (Sasaram), Modi tried to raise the issue of rule of jungle raj but it could not enthuse the people to respond in a positive manner. He urged the people not to allow the return of the people who have a history of making Bihar ‘Bimaru’. “The people who once ruled Bihar are again looking at the developing state with their greedy eyes. But, Bihar must not forget who pushed them backward, that was the time when there was worsening law and order situation and corruption in the state.” Even the BJP leaders confess that the people looked at his suggestion in the backdrop of Nitish’s rule. ‘BIMARU’ is an acronym for Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, which was first used to refer to their poor economic conditions.

This is a widely known fact that criminals dictate politics in Bihar. This time too they entered into the election fray in large numbers. But what is most surprising is the BJP leaders, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, could not muster courage to refuse them tickets. Like other parties, they too nominated them. Incidentally both the leaders have been blaming the Congress and RJD of patronising criminals. In fact the Bihar BJP has launched an offensive against RJD chief Lalu Yadav for protecting criminals. Among major political parties, the RJD has fielded largest number of candidates (22) with serious criminal cases against them, followed by LJP (20), BJP (13), JDU (10) and Congress (9).

The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) scrutinised declarations made by 1,064 out of 1,066 candidates contesting in the first phase of Bihar elections to find that almost a quarter (23%) of them face serious criminal cases including murder, attempt to murder and rape. Significantly none of the political parties have clarified the reasons for nominating them. It is worth mentioning that to check criminalisation of politics, the Supreme Court in its order of February 13, 2020 has made it mandatory for candidates to publicise their criminal antecedents aside from declaring it in poll affidavits.

The averseness of the political parties in furnishing this information makes it clear that they have no interest in reforming the electoral system and the democracy will continue to suffer at the hands of lawbreakers who become lawmakers.

The desperation to win the election is writ large on the head of the BJP leadership. The CPI(ML) Liberation joined the mainstream politics and accepted the parliamentary politics nearly four decade back. But the BJP leadership are unaware of this change. Hey are still paranoid with the revolutionary past of the party. For them the CPI(ML) still continues to indulge in violence and armed struggle. They have been resorting to the tactics of terrorising the voters to vote against the RJD and CPI(ML). The BJP is trying to scare the people against the RJD-Left-INC Mahagathbandhan and, especially, the presence of the CPI(ML) in the alliance.

This clearly underlines that the BJP has no answer to the questions that are put to them by the people of state. BJP has been using all these irrelevant issues to confuse the voters. Ironically the BJP leadership has been conveniently forgetting the fact that the people of Bihar have reasons to fear the BJP for all that it is doing in neighbouring UP, where Yogi government is caught in the quagmire of collapse of the rule of law.

Their opposition to CPI(ML) is simply a façade to create panic amongst the Dalits from manifesting their protest. The BJP is afraid of the poor and the oppressed finding a voice. The BJP just cannot accept the fact that the poor are participant in the battle for change. The BJP leadership is unable to accept that the Dalits and poor have come together in defence of democracy and the Constitution and are determined to punish the betrayers of the 2015 mandate.

The CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar is correct in his evaluation; Bihar elections are not going to be one-sided and the biggest challenge before the Left and progressive forces in Bihar has been to stop the communal agenda of the BJP.

Undoubtedly the major task before the grand alliance, especially the left forces, has been to expose the communal designs of the BJP-RSS and ensure their defeat. The BJP would desperately strive to replicate in Bihar what it successfully did in Uttar Pradesh. In UP, it formed a government with the SP and BSP alternatively and the situation today is that it has a full-fledged government there. In Bihar it may drop Nitish and share power with Chirag Paswan. The left would have to on alert.

Meanwhile some bizarre incident had happened in the state at an election rally being addressed by Nitish. The audience at the meeting instead of raising slogan in his favour chanted Lalu Zindabad. At this he lost his cool. A visibly rattled Nitish tried to admonish the gathering; “What are you saying? Raise your hands and explain why you are speaking nonsense here. Don’t create a ruckus here. If you don’t want to vote (for me), then don’t.”

Suddenly the flood gate for new jobs have opened in the state. The BJP has promised three lakh jobs to teachers within the first year, five lakh jobs in the IT sector for which it has promised to build a ’next generation IT hub’. The party has also promised one lakh jobs in the medical sector and 10 lakh jobs in the agriculture sector. Thirty lakh pucca houses by 2022 and making one crore women financially independent by extending Rs 50,000 crore in micro finance institutions, are some of the other major poll promises made by the BJP.

On Wednesday, Sushil Modi had expressed disbelief with Tejashwi Yadav’s 10 lakh government job promise, a poll sop that has been getting a lot of traction in the state. In a media statement, Modi said the salaries and payments of the current government employees amount to ₹ 52,734 crore and adding another 10 lakh employees will push the amount up to ₹ 1.11 lakh crore.

"If the opposition spends this much on salary, how will they meet the expenses on pension, students’ scholarship, cycle, uniforms, mid-day meal, farmers’ subsidy, infrastructure and electricity?" he questioned. The current state budget, he pointed out, amounts only to 2,11,761 crore. It would not leave room for repayment of loans or even interest, he said.

Not just Sushil Modi, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has also lashed out at Tejashwi over the job promise. "Where will you get the money to pay the salaries? From the same scam for which you are in jail? Or will you print fake money?" Nitish had asked in a recent poll rally in Gopalgunj.

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