Guest post by MAYANK LABH
The recent “Toppers” scam in Bihar has served as a breeding ground to denigrate Biharis for their alleged corruption and backwardness. This is not the first time that Bihari bashing has surfaced as a favourite pastime of the self-indulgent elites of India. In fact, it is a continuous process with its periodic shifts. Ironically, the people who abuse people for the belief that India has gone intolerant and the people who denigrate Bihar constitute largely the same set of people reflecting the illusory, self-satisfying belief of Indian superiority and the unsuitability, other-worldliness of Bihar to suit that image of India.
Most of the trending stereotypes about Bihar, thanks to social media, seek to gain its legitimacy under the cloak of backwardness in Bihar. What is missing in the entire brouhaha and the mockery of Biharis is an attempt to delve into the processes that operate beneath the backward nature of Bihar.
One of the stark reasons, which the article would focus upon, for the alleged backwardness is that Biharis have failed to forge a concrete sub-national identity which can infuse a sense of provincial ownership over the region. It is no surprise then that elites of Bihar often hate to be termed as Biharis and, in fact, actively take part in Bihar bashing. They even go to the extent of denying their roots and to vindicate that they come up with different kind of explanations and excuses to distance themselves from the ignominy of being a Bihari. They cower down to the societal pressures of conformity so that they can live a relatively comfortable though pride-less personal life. They use English or for that matter, Hindi – both hegemonic languages – to show their progressive nature. It is an index of the lack of sub-national identity that neither of the official languages of the state, Hindi or Urdu, is the mother-tongue of a single major population group. This is despite the fact that there were languages like Maithili, which had their own literary heritage – and this leads to isolation and disillusionment to the people who do not share the language of Hindi.
With the possible exception of the partition of Bihar from Bengal, there had never been a proper state-centric movement which had cut across class and caste. Even the partition movement had a limited social base. There are only two identities that rule the roost in Bihar: Caste and the national identity. While the caste remained the social anchor in the state, pan-Indian nationalistic hysteria also has had considerable influence on Bihar.
Bihar, for its obsession with national politics, has forsaken its own interest. People conversant with history are well too aware about how Bihar has been used as an experimental laboratory to test various kinds of political experiments, which would subsequently be carried out at the national level. It won’t be far-fetched to say that the burden of carrying Indian nationalism was upon Bihar’s shoulders and, in the process, the agenda for its own regional development withered away. The exertion of hegemony by indigenous capitalist class during the Indian National Movement had aimed to brush aside any sub-nationalist aspirations in which it was quite successful particularly in states like Bihar. The close relationship between western capitalists and politicians from Bihar, in the name of nationalism, prevented the emergence of local bourgeoisie class who could, in a true sense, think of the welfare and development of the state.
What did Bihar get in return for its loyalty/obsession towards the nation, except oppression and exclusion? The legacy of oppression and exclusion starts from the Permanent Settlement and it is well too known that it had its worst impact on the eastern regions including Bihar. If that is not enough, it got the discriminatory treatment by the Central Government not only during the colonial period but also after independence when it comes to budgetary allocation. It must not be forgotten that Bihar was given the lowest priority in the budgetary allocation by the Central Administration which led to the failure of institutional arrangement of governance in Bihar. The extent of discrimination was such it cannot be justified by any nominal notion of equitable justice. These practices of exclusion and discrimination continued unabated and the initial differences got further reinforced and even magnified after independence. There was neither an attempt made to alter the oppressive property relations in the society nor were basic steps taken to correct the injustices committed by the colonial government on Bihar.
In the narration of the tragedy of Bihar, one cannot forget to mention the villain called “freight equalization policy” (1948-1991) of the Centre which led to a large scale deindustrialisation of the entire Gangetic belt. Thanks to the Gujarati- Bombay industrial lobby and their Delhi patrons, the cost-disabilities of these developed states were subsidised by the mineral-rich states like Bihar under this scheme which left no incentive for industries to invest in the latter states. Even after this policy was repealed, bias towards this industrial conglomeration continued and is continuing to this date and again no policies were introduced to correct the exclusionary practices committed by the state.
These sets of policies heavily tilted the gravity of economic and political development towards southern and western states of India who through their sub-nationalist assertions were able to establish their political and economic hegemony. The problem with Bihar was that it was not able to transcend from consolidating “social identity” to “sub-national” identity. The regime of Lalu Prasad Yadav, for its vote bank, continuously mobilized confrontation between the oppressed class and historically oppressive elites. The upper-caste was disillusioned with the social movement for justice in Bihar by backward classes due to its plebeian character. There was no attempt to consolidate the social movement into a sub-national movement with a developmental agenda.
But one can see that in Southern India, a transformation had occurred from the anti-Brahmanism movement to sub-nationalistic movements which incorporated even the Brahmins in its fold. The two political parties, in Tamilnadu, competed with each other to promote Tamil identity and in that process come up with innovative and effective policies for the social and economic well-being of Tamils. Similarly, the development of Kerala can also be explained from the perspective of its sub-nationalism. It is also pertinent to contrast the situations of UP and Rajasthan. Initially, U.P. was doing better than Rajasthan in social indicators but it was eventually outrun by Rajasthan. Where does the difference lie? The difference lies in the fact that UP has had a fragmented sub-national identity but Rajasthan eventually developed its regional identity based on language and common customs which played an instrumental role in the development of the state.
So, one cannot afford to remain large-hearted with this ungrateful nation. It’s time to ask for the dues and at the same time fulfil the obligations which one owes to his/her motherland. It is necessary that people from Bihar should cultivate a strong sense of belonging which can enable more politically involved citizenry who can demand from the nation the things it deserves. It’s time for not to deny the roots but to assert the roots. It’s time for the people from Bihar to reclaim the glory of their ancient past and, in the process, of reclaiming themselves.
Mayank Labh is at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad.