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 A particularly pee-yellow variant of this jaundiced view of the lower castes and classes was given (and mysteriously withdrawn later) by one Sonam who goes by the handle #Asyounotwish on Twitter: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?
Wife: Moving there?
Wife: Relatives fighting elections?
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?
- 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.
- op cit.