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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

The Bihar Election

Friday 31 December 2010, by Shree Shankar Sharan

To many of us from Bihar, the election verdict has come as no great surprise. That is the way Bihar is. It carries its baggage of poverty and deprivation patiently or in petty squabbles but once it has discovered the signs of leadership that can change their lives by the evidence of past performance, it pours its heart to them. This time it was Nitish Kumar in whom they found a leader both with vision and guts and the people of Bihar broke all barriers of caste, of high and low, that has tarnished the image of the State, apart from poverty, illiteracy and backwardness, even minority paranoia and showered their votes on him most generously.

This is not the first time it has happened in Bihar. Bihar has been in the forefront of the battle for honour and justice. In ancient history it raised the banner of rebellion against Brahmanical ritualism and caste-ridden social differentiation by converting to caste-free and and a more rational and ethical religion or code of conduct. It is another matter that the forces of reaction and the power of Hindu mythology beat it back.

Interestingly, it was Bihar’s high level of spiritual discourse that attracted Lord Buddha to it rather than any holy city that taught conformity rather than questioning. There were already, before Buddha landed, eight schools of thought in Magadh that believed in and propagated atheism. Free thinking is not a trait that disappears or dies easily and resurfaces again and again as the future has shown.

At a time when the country, specially the developed part of it, seemed caught in the cesspool of sleaze in a vast sheath stretching from Andhra to Tamil Nadu to Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana and and of course UP, the Bihar elections have conveyed to our disheartened and dejected country an altogether different message that all is not lost, that there is still reason to hope, that there are still leaders in this country in parts who have come up the hard way, who can still give it a clean and forward looking government and can still receive from the people a just reward for honest service rendered. An equally important message is that the people of this country can still sift the grain from the chaff, the fake from the real and defy hunger to muster their enthusiastic support in huge numbers to a leader who can firmly stay above the petty, the mundane and the dishonest.

BIHAR should lift the prevailing gloom from the country that from time to time envelops it both domestically and abroad, restore confidence in the efficacy of democracy to cope with the poverty and inequity of a traditional society, and force a peaceful change through the ballot rather than the bullet. The spreading Naxalite penetration of Bihar has been effectively rebuffed by the recent election verdict which probably is its most significant gain.

The other significant gain has been in the mobilisation of the extremely poor and socially backward classes to stand up to the more established leadership of the OBCs to which the credit went to start the social revolution in Bihar and north India but which lost its way in the politics of caste and ignored the interests of the poorest of the OBCs. The incumbent party in power, both by the suitable policy of reservation in favour of the extremely backward and sub-categorisation of the OBCs into the poorest and the less poor in grassroot institutions and by inventing new development programmes for the former, gave a class twist to the strategy of caste politics and reconciled caste politics with the strategy of class based politics. To this extent it has lent greater clarity and refinement to modern day politics which should not ignore class struggle but also accommodate within it the hierarchy of castes. To promote the poorest and the lowest castes over the more privileged OBCs and the upper castes has taken the social revolution a step forward and a step closer towards socialism.

Indeed Bihar has traditionally been as explosive and prone to revolutionary changes from time to time as it is passive generally. It happened from 4th century BC to 7th century AD when it repudiated the caste-ridden Sanatan dharma to a caste-free Buddhism, a more rational and ethical religion. It is another matter that it got beaten by the power of Hindu mythology, caste and all, and external and internal aggression.

Once again after sinking into oblivion after the Magadh and Gupta dynasties and alien rule and the burning down of the world famous Nalanda University by Bakhtiar Khilji, Bihar woke up to give a fight and a fright at the popular level to the British in 1857 led by the 80-year-old Babu Kuer Singh and Peer Ali along with the sepoys of Lucknow, Kanpur and the Rani of Jhansi and Tatya Tope.

Again it arose to launch the first Satyagraha against indigo farming under Mahatma Gandhi in Champaran; this electrified the country and raised the Mahatma to his unique stature of a non-violent warrior the British had no answer for. It started the first kisan movement under Swami Sahajanand Saraswati who later became a Communist and spearheaded the demand for abolition of zamindari.

The ‘Quit India’ movement was fought in Bihar with exceptional bravery and threw up a leader, a socialist and a legend like Jayaprakash Narayan.

In 1974 JP launched his famous movement called Total Revolution which changed the mindset of Bihar, mobilised the youth in a cleaning of the country, corruption, casteism and all, and unseated Mrs Gandhi from p;ower at the Centre and most of the States. That put the dreams of dictatorial power, born of the Emergency, to an end and strengthened the roots of democray for the future.

Nitish Kumar’s victory for a second term with such élan is a tribute not just to him but to the people of Bihar who begin with trust in a new leader but can abandon him just as decisively if he fails them.

The JP movement and Lohia’s powerful ideas produced a new generation of young leaders some of whom abided by their mentors but some did not. The people have sifted the fake from the real and rejected a purely social agenda of OBCs without an equally important economic, legal, educational and health agenda. Nitish Kumar has pushed development, which is caste-neutral, and other projects that uplift the poorest of the poor by subcategorisation of the OBCs, and provide extra benefits to the pooorest on the lines of his mentor Karpoori Thakur. Besides, he has expanded social justice by gender justice through 50 per cent reservation for women in all grassroot posts and by providing five lakh bicycles to school-going girls as a trend-setter. It has changed the mental landscape of women dramatically. No wonder 54 per cent of the votes cast for Nitish has been by women.

Caste-neutral benefits have been conferred in the restoration of law and order which has made Bihar liveable and investment in the State attractive. Bihar needs power and encouragement to agro industries, for example, petrol from sugarcane by the Centre both as a source of raw material and a huge market. The Centre should also take a hand in upgrading its health and higher education programmes and give up its discriminatory policies as during the Kosi floods, denying it a rehabilitation programme for 25 lakhs of affected people. Similarly projects for power generation in the pipeline in Barh, Colgong, Kanti, Barauni and Nabinagar should be speeded up and new ones added by allowing coal linkages.

A point has been made of the narrow difference in the total number of votes polled by the NDA and RJD combine. This is not new and ruling parties have often won by a minority of total votes. It is a feature of the first-past-the-poll mode of election. Only a change-over to a proportional representation system under a fully literate electorate can make a difference.

But the CM should be mindful that he has a close rival and the pace of development should never slacken.

Shree Shankar Sharan is the Convener, Lok Paksh, Patna/Delhi.

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