The politics of the Bihar-Verdict

No matter who wins, Bihar would be a loser. Social justice faces a roll-back .’Secular’ politics exposed. Governance a non-issue
This is what thinker-politician Yogendra Yadav had tweeted on September 9.

He, like many others, was not for the Bharatiya Janata Party but was unhappy with Janata Dal (United) leader Nitish Kumar for having forged an alliance with Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and the Congress. That the move robbed Nitish Kumar and, in turn, Bihar of the possibility of an alternative politics, was – and still is – the view of many like him.

Yogendra Yadav repeated it after the results were out. He represents a view point which treats elections as processes through which people choose their administrators, which is ready to give Nitish Kumar another chance but wants Lalu Prasad and the Congress to disappear from the political scene.

Socialist mantras

It is not a new view. Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist leader, thought that a new politics could not emerge without making Congress irrelevant. To eliminate the Congress in, Lohia and his political heirs were ready to embrace the Jan Sangh, then the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh. History tells us that it is this coalition of the socialists with the Jan Sangh that was responsible for strengthening the RSS and weakening the socialist movement.

Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad, who are both products of the anti-Emergency movement, still claim to be followers of Ram Manohar Lohia. Of the two, Nitish Kumar practiced the Lohia style politics of courting the RSS to wipe out the Congress and held this view even in 2013 when he broke away with the BJP. He argued that it was important to have a large coalition against the Congress that was seen as inclusive. For this to happen, he wanted his ally of 18 years, the BJP not to give its leadership to Narendra Modi, an avowed anti-minority figure. It is worth recalling that Kumar had made it a condition in the previous assembly elections that he would not allow Modi to campaign in Bihar.

‘Development’ politics

The RSS and the BJP thought otherwise. They were proven right. They ran, under Modi’s leadership, one of the most divisive and deceptive campaigns for the Lok Sabha in 2014 and managed to create   a “Developmental Hindu” voter. Muslims were sent a very clear message: political decisions in India could be taken without their participation.

Everyone looked happy. After all, it was development that had won. It was a non-political development, pundits gleefully told us. But was not the same being said about Nitish Kumar for the last eight years? Why did the people of Bihar then choose the development of the Modi-fied BJP and reject Nitish? Remember, he was then fighting alone.

Nitish Kumar, who had relegated politics to the background in 18 years of his alliance with the BJP in the name of development, was rudely shaken. He had been persuaded by the myth created around his persona that development could in itself become an alternative politics. His resounding defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha at the hands of his old ally forced him to correct his “anti-politics” development.

Bringing politics back

Politics thus returned to the political discourse of Bihar. Early signs of it could be seen when the Congress – and one must say it here, a Congress-led by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi – persuaded and convinced Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad to sit together and talk elections. Congress had announced its support to Nitish after the departure of the BJP from the government in 2013. Lalu Prasad had also extended his support to the minority government of Nitish. It was their political judgment.

All this might have dismayed the eternal seekers of an alternative politics. For them, it was sad to see Nitish Kumar being forced to sit in the company of the bad boys of Indian politics. But he took this call.

Kumar was undoubtedly the developmental face of the alliance. But the company of Lalu Prasad and Congress made it a battle between secularism and majoritarianism.

‘Bunch of thoughts’

One has to read the speeches of Nitish Kumar to see how infrequently he uttered the much-maligned word secularism. But it was fascinating to see Lalu Yadav moving around with RSS leader MS Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts in his campaign.

In yet another first for Indian elections, a book and an ideology became an issue. Lalu read from it to his people and kept talking about the RSS. He trashed the idea of the BJP as an autonomous political party with a mind of its own. He kept repeating that it was the RSS that formed the world-view of the BJP. He explained to his audience, quoting from Golwalkar that it was Brahminical hegemony that formed the ideological base of communalism. The fight for social justice cannot be divorced from the fight for secularism. His rallies became the primary classes of Indian secularism. He was performing a Nehruvian duty, a long forgotten practice. It was only Nehru, even among his contemporary Congressmen, who used to warn the electorate about the dangers of majoritarianism in his election campaign.

It was not a side-show, not merely a comic interlude to the otherwise tense electoral drama of Bihar. It annoyed Modi so much that he had to acknowledge the debate and ask why was Lalu talking about a 70-year-old book. It was, after all, written by a non-BJP man. “If that is the case, why do you not disown it?” Lalu asked him and his party. “Burn it, burn it, if you can”, he dared them in his own rustic style.

One must say that the secular aggression of Lalu Prasad and the Congress Party rattled the BJP and their developmental guise slipped. They started making, what we call, “mistakes”.

It was courageous of Rahul Gandhi to have talked about the Dadri killing because the mother and the son had been warned by the seasoned Congressmen that  it might show them as being pro-Muslim which would alienate Hindus from their party. But they took the risk.

Caste in the campaign

It was not merely the statement of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat calling for a review of reservations in government jobs and educational institutions for people from marginal communities that helped Lalu to talk caste. Let us go back to 2013. Just after the BJP-JD(U) alliance broke, Sushil Modi issued a statement that it was the BJP that would give India its first extremely backward caste prime minister. Modi and the BJP used the caste card to the hilt. It did help Modi and his party in the 2014 elections. This hijacking of the social justice platform by the RSS also made persons like Nitish sit up and take note.

It was important to talk caste in the campaign. To show that it was a category that cut across religions. And here too, Modi was trapped. When he said that Lalu and Nitish were conspiring to snatch away reservations from the Scheduled Castes and Extremely Backward Classes and give it to Muslims, he stood thoroughly exposed. The political mind of Bihar could easily catch the lie, for it remembers the Pasmanda Mahaj, a political movement led by Muslims, a unique Bihari intervention in the discussion on reservation or social justice. It argues that caste is a social phenomenon which is not unique to Hindu religion. You find it in Indian Islam and Christianity too, it argues, and that is why the Dalits of these religions should also get state-protection. The people of Bihar who have debated it for the last two decades were amused by the crude attempt by the prime minister of the country to terrorise the Hindu Dalits and backward classes.

Let us not reduce this electoral victory to  a mandate by the people of Bihar for Nitish Kumar’s “developmental platform”. It will do us good to go back to the press meet of the victorious Lalu and Nitish on the weekend. Lalu Prasad thanked the poor, the extremely backward,the backward, the minorities and the poor and progressive sections of the forward castes for this victory. This careful disaggregation of the politically neutral or universal category of Biharis by a person who is treated as a joker by the sophisticated urban lot is again a reminder that there are divisions in the Bihari or Indian society, there are conflicting interests, there is a fight for resources, and there are different ideas about organisation of a collective life.  You cannot but choose your side. And that becomes your politics.

( First published by SCROLL on 12 Nov., 2015)

6 thoughts on “The politics of the Bihar-Verdict”

  1. What about Lalu’s conviction? It doesn’t even matter that Lalu is the first disqualified leader to contest elections and his family IT Returns are about 150 CR. If he would have ruled Bihar even half-properly when he was in power. Bihar would not have seen an election like this.

    You also like leaders who delegate power. Lalu did it to Rabri, Nitish to Manjhi, Sonia to Manmohan.

    It look like you social elites are fighting your own personal battles in the various corridors of Delhi. The proof of this is – you people either tweet, write blogs, write in selected Newspapers or create forums with audience from within your community.

  2. Yogendra Yadav opinion on Bihar elections should be viewed as a comment on the whole system rather than the particular case of Bihar.
    It is true that the elrctions shows victory of democratic forces over fundementalism. The new government is welcome. But, past experience shows that the excitement will be short-lived. Soon, differences crop up the ruling parties start mudslinging over each other, corruption starts creeping in, irregularities of all sorts engulf the new government in short span of time. In short, the people will be back to square one!
    Thus, when there is no system of checks and balances when people loose the power after elections, politicians rule the roost till they fall on their own. Here, the peoples power is necessary. Right to recall and right to participate in law-making as well as law-enforcement enables people to control politics and the system.
    Yadav’s anguish is a valid one. In the Centre, the party in control has less than one-third of peoples support (according to stastics of a newspaper) and still, it is governing the autocratic way. This needs to be corrected. A form of system reflecting peoples wishes and the parties they approve of, must rule the country. There should be a form of proportional representation.
    Yadav opinion should read ‘whichever pary comes to power India will loose’…

  3. Harish: adding to the list of leaders who delegate power: Bhagwat to Modi. In the case of the RSS-BJP this is systematic and hardwired, not contingent.

  4. Well argued piece by Apoorvanand. And, I cannot but agree enough that the attack on secularism by the Hindutva gang needs to be taken back to them. Lalu did it with his attack on Golwalkar (also read, VHP, RSS and Bajrang Dal). Two, additional points though on this:

    One, secularism for India cannot take the form that is peddled in the west – a hypocritical separation of state and religion (even though the US president takes is oath on the Bible, the dollar always trusts god, and god is always supposed to save America!). We our Indian version of secularism – sarva dharma samanvyaya where the state respects, protects and celebrates important events of ALL religions that matter in the nation – namely, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, tribal values where our tribal folks reside in large numbers and Hinduism.

    Two, we have now to take back Hinduism from the RSS, VHP and BJP. They cannot be the only image of Hinduism because theirs is the distorted and Brahminical version. The Brahminical / Vedantic version DOES NOT REPRESENT HINDUISM, EVEN IN ANY RESTRICTED SENSE.


    Our own view of Hinduism is taken from our colonial masters. Our colonial masters learnt about Hinduism from the then Hindu elites (also read, upper caste Hindus), who obviously fed their white masters lock stock and barrel with Vedic and Upanishadic versions (the only version that they were aware of). The British picked them up and gave our land the image of spiritualism and snake charmers (which satisfied their egos and justified their “civilizational mission”) and, from a practical standpoint, served to enslave the minds of their Indian ‘slaves’.

    Since colonial times we too believe that that is what India is about and has to offer to the world. As a result we forget to ask simple questions:
    a) How did we Indians come up with non-rusting irons / steel and other high quality metals – copper, brass, bronze and high quality steel (known as Damask Steel in European markets)? While practicing only meditation and spiritualism?
    b) How did our weavers prepare high-quality muslin that could compete even with Manchester mills after the industrial revolution got Britain going?

    Just the above examples suffice to propose that such advancements could have come about through diligent empiricism – a concept antithetical to Advaita and Vedantic philosophy (also read, Brahminical worldview).

    Clearly, then there were other philosophies and sciences being practiced (antithetical to Advaita, Vedantic / Upanishadic world view). Of these,
    – Samkhya was thoroughly “digested” into the Vedantic world view – i.e., a la post Samkhya-karika;
    – The Buddhist Madhyamak (Sunya-vada) was already getting incorporated successfully into the Vedantic philosophy – a few centuries before Bakhtiar Khilji raised Nalanda to the ground.

    The antithetical ones that could not be digested or incorporated into Advaita / Vedantic world view were:
    1) Lokayata (or Carvaka);
    2) Nyaya Vaisesika; and
    3) Paramanu-vada

    Not able to reconcile with these latter the Vedantic philosophy launched vicious attacks on them.

    These latter were the backbone of Indian empiricism and advancement of Indian science and technology (before we were swallowed up by the Bakhtiar Khiljis and the whites). [A footnote here: I do not equate Bakhtiar Khilji with the great Akbar. Khilji represented intolerance while Akbar represented tolerance and inclusiveness, notwithstanding the usual expansionism attached with kings and kingdoms.]

    Non-Sangh view of Hinduism are more appropriate. More appropriate for giving Indian Philosophy that has the highest potential to justifiably raise India’s image in the world, that will prove to be extremely inclusive and, most important of all, raise Indian’s self-perception with the vast majority of Indians (who have dared to reject the communal, beef-politics of the Sangh).

  5. Bahut khoob, Apoorva hai. Yeh hui na baat? Ab phirse mauka aya samne lane ka gareeb-gurbon ki baat, unki raaj. Aur kitni bar dikhaigi bharat ki janta bina hathiyar ka shreni-sangram? Lalu Prasad laal salam.

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