Fishing in the Troubled Waters of Bihar
The voters of Bihar are currently on a roll, taking pride in being accorded by the nationalist forces a break to emerge at last from the shadows and constricted contours of regional politics to take their rightful place in the national politics. They are also enthralled at the prospects of aligning the State’s political destiny with the engine of development that appeared on the national scene last year and has since been chugging on in its inexorable march to the country’s ultimate goal of emerging as the ‘Vishwa Guru’
With the crucial assembly elections in Bihar scheduled to take place in October-November, a large section of people are looking forward to a change of guard and hoping for a positive and refreshing change to sweep across the state in the coming years. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at the first Parivartan rally in Muzaffarpur on July 25 sounded BJP’s bugle call for the transformation of Bihar from an under-rated actor, waiting in the wings, into a lead character on the centre-stage in the dramatic political events about to pan out shortly. After that, he addressed three more Parivartan Rallies—in Gaya on August 9, in Arrah and Saharasa on August 18 and in Bhagalpur on September 1.
Breaking the Mould
Meanwhile, the voters of Bihar are currently on a roll, taking pride in being accorded by the nationalist forces a break to emerge at last from the shadows and constricted contours of regional politics to take their rightful place in the national politics. They are also enthralled at the prospects of aligning the State’s political destiny with the engine of development that appeared on the national scene last year and has since been chugging on in its inexorable march to the country’s ultimate goal of emerging as the ‘Vishwa Guru’.
Bihar has never lagged behind in playing its part in the process of shaping or moulding of the country’s destiny right from the pre-independence days. Nor is it likely to do so this time around either. For the State and the people of Bihar, the elections due later this year provide a windfall opportunity to sever their connection with the State’s dubious past of caste and communal politics and usher in a brave new world of mainstream politics and pan-Indian model.
Of particular importance in the course of the developments leading to the present stage was Prime Minister Modi’s landmark announcement of a stupendous special package of Rs.1.25 lakh crore for the State, which he said had been “yearning for development and progress”. The package, which covers a wide range of development sectors such as roads, highways, petroleum refineries, gas, airports, rural electrification, education, health, farmers’ welfare, digitalisation of Bihar, etc, is expected to change the economic landscape of the State tremendously.
One would, therefore, have thought that the package would be whole-heartedly welcomed by the entire spectrum of political parties and stakeholders in the State’s development and progress. But that is not what transpired! While the Centre’s special package is bound to act as a catalyst for the accelerated growth of the State’s economy and the people of Bihar would undoubtedly be the beneficiaries, Modi’s political rivals feel outwitted and threatened and are bitter over the introduction of a “game changer” by the Prime Minister. Not surprisingly, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar gave vent to his disappointment and sense of helplessness when he reacted by lashing out at Narendra Modi for “bidding” for Bihar. He exhibited his characteristic braggadocio when he called the special package a trumped-up one and threatened to expose the “real truth” behind the package soon. It was indeed a splendid display of a remarkably narrow mindset that would not allow the regional politician to rise above the usual antics of a mere powerbroker!
Being neither a sop nor a mere promise, the package was a windfall offer of a badly needed economic assistance by the Centre on an unprecedented scale. It was a wonderful opportunity for the State to shore a much-needed breakthrough up the alley of its beleaguered economy. However, the occasion turned out to be yet another case in point, which proves that it takes as large a heart to appreciate a real crackerjack of an act of goodwill as the one that conceives and delivers it. And again, notwithstanding how the people of the State feel about the economic benefits expected to accrue, thanks to the special package, the politicians of the back alleys of Bihar are hardly likely to grow out of the caste and communal mould that has kept the State tied to the shackles of laggardness in the first place. And yet, Nitish Kumar has been demanding special category status for the State to place its economy, which is in tatters, on an even keel.
Casteism and Communalism
It is a matter of abiding shame and embarrassment that political battles have traditionally been fought in Bihar, as in several other Indian States, on the lines of casteist or communal politics. It would appear by implication that those politicians who had vote bank politics for strategy had the only aim of winning polls on the unquestioning support of an entire community or caste whose narrow interests they were espousing on the basis of sops, freebies and populist schemes, with absolutely no concern about the development and progress of the State as a whole. For the self-serving practitioners of the fine art of vote bank politics in Bihar, the forthcoming elections present yet another opportunity to hone their skills and put them to good use for the purpose of perpetuating their hold on the levers of power in the State.
A Hidden Factor Gujarat Biharis May TurnThe Table In Bihar Election
As the battle line is now drawn for historic Bihar assembly election, Bihari Diaspora in Gujarat, especially in Surat–the diamond & textile hub of India,–has emerged as a new spotlight destination for election managers for two main contenders, the BJP-led NDA and JD(U)-RJD-Congress combine. As a matter of fact, in the last general election, BJP first made the experiment of mobilising the power of migrants, to spread it tentacle in crucial states like UP & Bihar. A large number of migrants who left their home state decades ago in search of livelihood, became entrepreneurs over the years & respected back home as someone achieved fortune and becme rich in their parlance as these migrants built good houses and contribute immensely to various socio- community celebrations in their native villages where life is still poverty stricken.
When these migrants from Gujarat visits their homes and hearth, villagers usually congregate at village community places and listen from them the story of development and leadership style of the then CM Narendra Modi. They are amazed to know that there is no power cut in Gujarat, whereas in their village power come and go mercilessly, the story about transformation of Surat from dirtiest city to most cleaned city and conversation goes on about Shri Narendra Modi till late evening. Before last Lok Sabha election, BJP could tap this new hidden force and sent them to their native village in Bihar and UP in small groups as ambassador of Modi. This paid up with huge dividends, BJP unexpectedly did so well that it for the first time managed to get majority on its own. Amit Shah became overnight the hero and most-sought leader of BJP and became its national President. Though there might be other factors, but PM Modi and Amit Shah described this migrant factor as game changer.
It’s also a fact that maximum migration had taken place from the states like UP, Bihar and Odisha to Gujarat over past few decades. When in Mumbai and Delhi Biharis and eastern UPites were looked upon with indignity and were subjected to violent persecution, in labour starved Gujarat they have been welcomed with open arms. Surat Municipal Corporation runs schools in six different languages other than Gujarati and English. A number of SMC-owned Schools in Hindi, Odia, Marathi, Telugu, Sindhi and Urdu spread across Surat city is a testimony of respect to migrants. Therefore, migrants always feel as if they were at their home and their community leaders were also taking part in political activities being aligned to different political parties. BJP being in power for so many years attracted a large number of political activists from the migrant population and used them in the elections to local bodies as well as elections for state assembly and Lok Sabha from the state, though BJP is the only party to use this force in their home states in an organised manner. The effect of this factor is known to present BJP President Amit Shah who was the Prabhari for UP in the last Lok Sabha election, keeping this in mind Amit Shah made it a point to meet migrant leaders from Bihar separately in closed door during his maiden visit to Surat on May 25, 2015 after becoming BJP’s national President and shared his strategy for Bihar assembly election.
The local (Surat Navsari) MP C R Patil, who himself a second generation migrant from Maharastra, was made co-prabhari for Bihar election subsequently. CR Patil himself is beneficiary of migrant force. In his Surat-Navsari constituency, there are more than six lakh voters belonging to migrants (3 lakh UP + Bihar, two lakh Maharatrians and one lakh+ from Odisha) and he has emerged as most popular leader amongst migrant voters and BJP could rightly recognise his potentials for the forth-coming Bihar election.
The two-times-MP and master strategist CR Patil, after being assigned with the responsibility of Bihar election, has made a well-knit planning to capitalise his strength in Bihar poll and may become a second leader from Gujarat after Amit Shah to get national recognition.
Patil as joint convenor for Bihar elections is assigned the responsibility for supervising the electioneering process of eastern Bihar, and is living no stone unturned to prove his mettle. Biharis as a community in Gujarat particularly in Surat tend to live mostly in ghettos and wherever they live they produce community leaders in large number who are basically small-time entrepreneurs like labour contractors, petty textile traders, piece rated dyeing printing masters, painting and blasting vendors etc. Besides, when Bihar passed through the jungle raj phase during Lalu- Rabri’s tenure, many affluent traders from Marwari and Punjabi community and successful professionals like doctors, chartered accountants shifted their activities to Surat in early 90s and became very successful in their respective fields and established well-knit organisations in socio-cultural spheres. During Narendra Modi’s tenure as chief minister this section of opinion-makers aligned with the BJP and BJP retained its control over Surat Municipal Corporation from 1992 onwards breaking the long-standing hegemony of Congress over Surat.
In the last assembly election after delimitation, the number of assembly constituencies in Surat city increased from mere 4 to 12, all being represented by BJP and was added with one more Lok Sabha seat Navsari being consecutively held by C R Patil for last the two terms. In a nutshel migrant voters have played a vital role in BJP success story in Gujarat and the party has created a well-knit organisation under its very important party frontal organisation:”Bhasa Bhasi Cell” which was earlier headed by CR Patil himself as state convenor.
The recently held Bihar Samaj Sammelan in Surat is the testimony to the fact that how much BJP is banking on this migrant factor in Bihar election. The rally held with much pump and show was addressed and entertained by none other than the popular Bhojpuri-actor-turned politician and MP from Delhi Manoj Tiwari. The BJP national General Secretary, Saroj Pandey, the raiway minister of state Manoj Sinha and galaxy of BJP leaders from Bihar who are part of electioneering team rub shoulders with working class Biharis and urge them to visit their native villages in Bihar at least for 10 days and be at their polling boths on voting day to ensure BJP and its alliance partners’ candidates victory.
The starting of new bi-weekly trains from Surat to Danapur in Bihar which was flagged off on 22nd August by Manoj Sinha coinciding with Bihar Samaj Sammelan had received euphoric support from Gujarati Biharis and added flavour to the rally. When Sinha urged Biharis in Surat to board the new train, come to Bihar and defeat Lalu—thunderous applause followed. BJP’s migrant card seems to be working well and may repeat the effect it made in the last Lok Sabha election. Whether the Gujarat Biharis (the term coined by CR Patil to have and assimilating effect) turns the table in favour of BJP, especially in eastern Bihar, whrere the BJP historically is not so strong, looks to be seen when Bihar election results are announced.
By Subas Gantayat from Surat
On the one hand, the RJD-JD (U)-Congress coalition has been bitterly complaining against the special package that helps bolster the development plank of NDA’s poll strategy. On the other hand, RJD Chief Lalu Yadav has accused the NDA of trying to split the Yadav-Muslim vote bank by helping Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) contest the elections and garner Muslim votes to the detriment of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress coalition. Fear of a split in the Muslim vote bank owing to the Owaisi factor, and the apprehension that the Yadav segment of the electorate may also not vote for them en masse this time around owing to the presence of Yadav leaders in NDA, have sent tremors down the ranks of the RJD-JD(U)-Congress grand alliance.
The camp opposing NDA would much rather have the Muslim segment of the electorate believe that BJP is and has always been a party of Muslim-baiters and is, therefore, against Secularism. Likewise, they do not favour the idea of the splitting of the Yadav votes. They are keen on keeping the flock of the Muslim-Yadav vote bank in their stranglehold by operationalising their tried-and-tested strategy of playing the Communalism card against NDA and offering the vote bank constituents sops and populist schemes.
The hypocrisy of extending unabashed support to a particular religion or a community in the name of promoting Secularism or warding off casteism does not in the least make them feel queasy. Such is the audacity of political rivals of the NDA of arrogating to themselves the mantle of champions and protectors of the interests of these groups. It shows the ugly underbelly of vote-bank politics practised with such ease and aplomb against the development agenda of NDA. It is time for Bihar to choose between the progressive and development agenda of the NDA and the regressive vote bank politics of the RJD-JD (U)-Congress combine.
The RJD-JD (U) coalition has no economic agenda whatsoever. Lalu has made it clear that his coalition is fighting against “fascist and communal forces”. There is nothing more to his agenda. The champions of pseudo-Secularism have no intention of being ever concerned about the State’s economy and have apparently been “dedicating” and periodically “re-dedicating” their lives every time there is an election, to fighting “fascist and communal forces”. How they propose to do the fighting is by identifying the BJP with Communalism and entering into a grand coalition against that party with whosoever is ready for such collaboration.
When the BJP or the NDA, of which it is a partner, talks of development politics, the RJD-JD(U)-Congress clique counters it with the talk of communalism and secularism. As Lalu once famously said, development projects do not fetch votes, but talking of the bugbear of communalism and secularism does! Lalu has further dared the Prime Minister to bring back black money stashed away at overseas tax havens in keeping with BJP’S poll promise of 2014. Conveniently overlooking all the good work already initiated by the NDA government in this regard, he went ahead and taunted Modi by stating that the latter was incapable of vindicating his promise of unearthing black money.
Referring to onion prices shooting up across the country, albeit due to shortage of production, he made a jibe at Modi about the latter’s “inability” to unearth stocks of onion hoarded by black marketers, let alone unearth black money, thereby making a facetious charge over a matter of great national importance. Such flippant quips and facetious comments made in casual reference to matters of national importance do get a moronic claps and guffaws from his roadside audience who are out for a good time and even endear this clown to the mainstream media, which is all the time on the lookout for sound bites (the nastier the better). Whether his antics and buffoonery are capable of translating the amusement and titillation of the audience into votes in this age of right to information and vibrant social media, which have transformed the common man into less gullible and more knowledgeable and discerning a voter, is a foregone conclusion.
Fight against Corruption
Never the one to shy away from fishing in troubled political waters, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has thrown his hat in the ring by agreeing to campaign for the RJD-JD(U)-Congress coalition. The plank of his campaign? Why, corruption, of course! There was a time when he called every political party in the country corrupt and declared that all politicians were crooks and guilty of complicity. Today, his ire is exclusively targeted at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP. In the name of fighting corruption, he is campaigning for the defeat of the BJP and its NDA allies in Bihar. What is more, he is working hard for the success of some of the most discredited and corrupt political leaders and ideologically bankrupt and irrelevant political parties in the country.
As recently as a few days ago, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to Lalu Yadav on a plea by the CBI against the dropping of certain charges in one of the FIRs by Jharkhand High Court in the multi-crore fodder scam in which Lalu had been convicted and is currently out on bail. As regards Nitish Kumar, he has no reservation or compunction about working with a fellow politician of Bihar with whom he has a love-hate relationship and who is convicted on multi-crore corruption charges.
Besides, he had no qualms either about being egoistic while turning down point blank an aid of Rs 5 crore from the Government of Gujarat for the people of Bihar who had been affected by floods in Kosi river in 2008. This he did without caring a whit about the distress of the people of his own State and their need for relief or the sentiments of the people of Gujarat who had contributed the amount, making a prestige issue of accepting the aid from his political rival. Why accept the aid and let Modi, the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, hog the credit for coming to the rescue of the people of Bihar, earn their goodwill and make political mileage out of it, was his line of reasoning. He had no conflict with his conscience about placing a false pride and prestige before the distress and sentiments of people. In short, politics before people.
Furthermore, now Arvind Kejriwal is all set to wage a war against corruption by joining hands with Lalu Yadav, who is convicted on multi-crore corruption charges, Nitish Kumar who puts politics before people in distress and in need of assistance, and the Congress which is neck deep in numerous cases of scams and corruption charges and is under investigation and litigation. A unique way indeed of fighting corruption! Having fought and won elections for the Delhi Assembly twice, both the times on the plank of fight against corruption, and formed the government both the times, he has so far failed to introduce his much promised Jan Lokpal Bill and Swaraj Bill in the assembly.
If he could not accomplish the task of passing the two anti-corruption Bills to which his Aam Aadmi Party owes its existence, despite having a steamroller majority in the assembly, how does he hope to win over corruption in Bihar by campaigning for tainted and convicted parochial politicians who lack an economic agenda and a pan-Indian vision and are preoccupied with perpetuating family rule?
Cradle of Political Corruption
Bihar, one of the poorest States in India, is about to go to polls that are, according to media reports, expected to be the costliest ever. The exact dates of the election have been announced, and the campaigning already commenced. Having to stagger the publicity and campaigning over a period of more than two months, the candidates are already bewildered by the huge cost of electioneering.
The estimated expenditure of each candidate on campaigning is expected to cross the Rs 1-crore mark. However, the expenditures admissible in terms of the ceiling fixed by the Election Commission (EC) are in the range of Rs 20-28 lakh. In this context, would it sound too cynical an observation if one called India’s elections the cradle of political corruption and fountainhead of black money? Given the candidates and their parties have to resort to plying enormous amounts of unaccounted money into their campaigns, these undoubtedly seem to be very apt observations.
The forthcoming elections are of tremendous significance for the voters of Bihar. Standing at a crossroads, they now have two different paths diverging in front of them. And since they cannot travel both, they have to choose one of them. They may either take the much-treaded path of pseudo-secularism, or they may choose the unfamiliar road of issue-based politics and development agenda.
Here they just need to remember that if they go for the first option, it will lead their beloved state to the murky world of regional politics—a veritable ‘jungle raj,’ stalked by ideological dwarfs and political pygmies with arrows tipped with the poison of casteism and communalism.
On the other hand, if they opt for the second alternative it will open up for them a brave new world of social development and economic progress like never before. It will also enable them to finish an important task of seeking out and identifying the politicos who are out to fish in the troubled waters of Bihar and eliminate this scourge from their State forever.
By Sunil Gupta
(The author is a Political Comme-ntator & Chartered Accountant.)