Yes, the Biharis chose Mud over the Lotus. Get Over It.

It is not difficult to imagine some of the reactions to the sweeping victory for the Grand Alliance in Bihar. All those who have spent a lifetime thinking of Bihar as the worst kind of social, economic and political cesspool in the country, all those who shudder at the sight of Lalu Prasad Yadav and amuse themselves with jokes about his rustic origins and his apparently appalling antics, all those who are charmed by the hologram charm of our current PM – all those have found the best kind of alibi to explain the result of November 8th. As Prem Panicker has noted on Twitter, the sum total of their reactions is – “Illiterate Biharis deserve this”. A particularly pee-yellow variant of this jaundiced view of the lower castes and classes was given (and mysteriously withdrawn later) by one Sonam who goes by the handle #Asyounotwish on Twitter:

Thank you Bihar for choosing mud over lotus. You deserve to stay rickshaw walas.

It’s perfect – for the thousands of Sonams out there, Lalu and Bihar are made for each other in a kind of self-limiting loop, and we can return to our economically dynamic, socially vibrant and thankfully un-Bihari Indian lives. Another joke that is doing the rounds:

Wife: Ever been to Bihar?

Husband: No

Wife: Moving there?

Husband: No

Wife: Relatives fighting elections?

Husband: No

Wife: Then give me the damn remote…

Of course, to many urban, upper-class Biharis and many urban, upper-class non-Biharis the mahagathbandhan avatar of Nitish Kumar, who was once their darling, is confounding, but even that can be quickly explained by the admittedly distressing fact that politics makes strange bedfellows. Even a usually impartial channel like CNN-IBN reportedly tweeted below a post-result photo of Lalu and Nitish sitting together,

Nitish is calm, collected, almost zen-like. Lalu behaves like the thug that he is. Such strange bedfellows.

I never tweet, but on the day I felt like it and tweeted,

Since the time of the Buddha Biharis have been saving India from itself.

In fact what I really wanted to say was that since the time of the Buddha, the Biharis have been saving India from Hinduism. If the trolls haven’t put a supari on my head already and simultaneously called up their friends in the ATS or crime branch, let me make an appeal. They should in fact focus on the fact that for one, my statement is demonstrably false. Of the three nouns (Buddha, Hinduism and India) in the statement, only one noun – Buddha – is based on observable historical fact. Neither the Thing called India nor the other Thing called Hinduism existed at the time of the Buddha. What did exist were several old and continuing rifts – amongst truths and faiths on the subcontinent, between priestly classes and commoners, between the genders, and between regions and power centres. It was this battle that the Vaishnava Puranas were responding to when they wrote that the Buddha was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu that came into existence “to seduce and delude the demons and devils.’ (footnote 1). It is the same battle between faiths that led Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, broadcasting from All India Radio on the occasion of the 2500th Mahaparinirvana-day of the Buddha, to describe Buddhism as “an offshoot of the more ancient faith of the Hindus, perhaps a schism or a heresy” (footnote 2). It is again the same tendency amongst those who need to defend Hinduism wholesale and to see any other faith on the subcontinent as heretical that led a family friend who came visiting recently to interrupt a wonderfully lively debate on Indian philosophical traditions, to say that the Buddhist concept of ahimsa was an inferior version of the Vedic-Upanishadic idea. Before I had time to recover, this gentleman added that this inferiority in ideas was what led Buddhism to vanish from ‘India’.

No, the point, dear bhakts, is not that Buddhism is superior to Hinduism (Buddhist extremists in Sri Lanka are clearly capable of doing to cultural minorities what Hindutva-wadis are doing in India), but that both are blanket categories that cover a vastly more interesting history of give-and-take, exchange and conflict between traditions in this massive corner of Asia. What seems to have remained, however, changing form and colour and being incredibly resilient, is the class bias of those who occupy a better place in the hierarchies that have risen and fallen. So to the UnBihari Untainteds of course the Biharis are lolling in their mud, being foolish enough to pass up a chance to wake up and smell like Lotuses. No concession whatsoever to the fact that Bihar has its own political history, its own political intelligence and its own political judgment. That a lack of formal education doesn’t need to spell a lack of political education. That while they are nobody’s fools, they took the choice as well as they were given. That it was not as the BJP is now saying, something as evacuated of other political considerations as the arithmetic of caste, but a complex judgment in which caste among other factors was chosen as both insurance and upward mobility for a locally thrashed out, still-evolving model of development. That for the average Bihari, rich in political interest and participation and poor in everything else, Modi’s Gujarat model of development meant nothing at all. Some Biharis may indeed be rickshaw walas. But what, dear Lotus-eater, are you?

  1. The reference is from Occasional Speeches and Writings (October 1952–February. 1959) by S. Radhakrishna, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1960, pp. 337–346, p. 323; also 2500 Years of Buddhism edited by P V. Bapat, Publications Division, Govt. of India, New Delhi, reprint 1959, Foreword, pp. v-xvi. Quoted in Brahmanism, Buddhism and Hinduism: An Essay on Their Origins and Interactions by Lal Mani Joshi, Buddhist Publication Society, 1960.
  2. op cit.

10 thoughts on “Yes, the Biharis chose Mud over the Lotus. Get Over It.”

  1. Yes you are right. Bihar has spoken. Delhi has spoken. Change. Confidence. And Calm is in the air. Everyone can breathe easily.

    Now everything will be alright. Sanghis will get the message. They will immediately call a meeting. All Sadhu, Sadhvis will be arrested. The constitution of India will be upheld by all Lotus people.

    Modi will first meet Teesta Setalvad with a broom stick and in the spirit of Swacch bharat, he will beat himself to atone for his sins.Then he would walk bare-foot to Saki-naka police station and order the SHO to file an FIR implicating himself in Gujarat riots.

    Such will be the impact of Bihar elections. After the elections of Delhi.

    In Pune Bhagwat will don a dhoti because all chaddis have been shown their place in history. In US, UK, Australia, Canada all Modi Toadies will berate themselves and immediately start a jail-bahro andolan on a global scale to make penance for supporting a neo-fascist like Modi.

    The Mahagathbandhan has shaken, stirred and totally decimated the political ideology, and the political project of RSS which took 125 years to build. All RSS people will start to respect women and Dalit.

    Such is the impact of what happened in the land which has saved India before that RSS will infact will have its first woman sarsanghchalak in 2016.

    Yes. Modi. RSS. Intolerant, crazy mobs have been shown their place in India society by a big slap first in Delhi and with a firm kick planted in the back-side in Bihar.

    ….many, many thanks for such a brilliant analysis of Bihar elections. Your eye for detail and your grasp on deeper historical structures is just so nuanced and so evenly etched out….that it just blew my breath away…

    1. In the least, the opposite of what you so flatteringly describe, is somewhat contained. For some with poor sights from years of observing and activism, that is a positive change.

  2. Very aptly said ma’am! It is sad how formal knowledge propels people to conveniently debase the informed choice of those they do not agree with.
    But just on a lighter note, look at lalu. From procuring fodder and medicines for his vast herds of fictitious livestock to wrestling the single most vocal proponent of bovine rights, times have changed. But he will always share a special relationship with the Bovine ilk ;)

  3. Bihar has rejected all forms of hinduism right from brahminical vegetarianism to anti-Mandal rhetoric. They have chosen the best alternative available. Bihar people feserve accolades. Regrettably, none of the communist parties could make any impact. This shows their gross disconnect with the people. The mainstream communists are unable to mobilise people even in favourable conditions. This is a great opportunity to Nitish and Lallu combine to stay to-gether and thesrt communal forcesunitedly. Sense should prevail so as the communal ugly head never again raises its head.

  4. Piyush, you really read all that from my post? Either I’m a master of code writing or you’re a master of reading between the lines! You also have a wonderfully fertile imagination, for which I applaud you. This was not meant as a ringing endorsement of Lalu Prasad Yadav, but in fact an appeal to allow the Biharis their own political destiny and an attempt to expose the class prejudice behind an apparent argument about ‘development’.

    Is it not obvious that politics in a democracy like ours will at best be a deeply strategic enterprise for both voters and elected? That in the midst of some very bad choices, the most we can hope for is that at a particular time and place, people end up making the best possible choice. At a time historically when the march of a violent politics seemed unstoppable, when simply possessing the wrong kind of meat in one’s fridge can invite being bludgeoned by one’s own sewing machine, when the crores of money spent on publicity regarding development schemes has threatened to outstrip the money spent on actual development, when people seem to have forgotten in the glitz of international image-making the banal, unglamorous work of democracy, which is to demand real accountability from the government, and at a time when the ruling party is pampered enough by its constituents to say to the best writers, artists, social scientists that their dissent and demand for free expression is a fraudulent irrelevant stunt, at a time like this, one state in the country has remained immune to this juggernaut. That to me is commendable on its own merit.

    That brings me to Gayatri’s point, absolutely, I agree. There are criminal cases pending against Lalu, and unlike those who cry themselves hoarse about the so-called clean chit given to Modi, I am willing to bet that Lalu is guilty. I am only grateful that he is not a member of a once-banned organisation that holds morning training sessions across the country lecturing people on how stealing fodder is the highest patriotic duty of a citizen, and further that it would be best to steal that fodder from members of already marginalised minorities. My only hope is that his corruption will be corruption, not a slowly deepening fascism in which he no longer even needs to give the command like in those sci-fi movies, where the cadre on its own goes on periodic rampages.

    These are the choices Bihar was dealt. That is my only point.

  5. Sunaliniji,

    Bihar has given its verdict and we must respect it. We must also respect the verdict given by the people of India in May 2014 and not call it a stolen election as was described in your site here. Indians are paying a price for electing ModiGee in 2014 and Biharis must pay a price for electing Laloo.


    1. You know what Sabyasachi ji, I actually agree with you one hundred percent. The 2014 verdict was a popular mandate in favour of the BJP. But again, my point may have been lost in the seesaw of a two-party system and the political debate it generates – the point was about the classism of the commentators on Bihar. So, if, hypothetically, the left-secular commentators had said after U.P 2014, “it’s the illiterates of U.P and they deserve their communal government” I would have had exactly the same unkind words to say to them. Nowhere in our political horizon should this kind of mentality be sanctioned. Don’t you agree?

  6. Sunaliniji,

    Great analysis. I would anyday prefer Lalu over Nitish- in spite of his tainted image – because he was the person who empowered the lower castes – for the 1st time in Bihar. Which towering personalities like Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia or JP could not achieve.


    1. Upalji, absolutely nothing of course. I said it as simple statistical fact, and to highlight the absurdity of seeing an entire state as a belonging to a single profession, and further, of the obscenity of using that profession as alibi for something dirty and bad :)

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