Skip to main content
Sabrang
Sabrang

Blinded by communal bile, BJP fails to read Bihar

Mohammed Sajjad 26 Nov 2015


Courtesy: Ranjeet Kumar/The Hindu
 
Nitish’s governance record, Modi’s empty promises sealed saffron alliance’s fate


The landslide victory of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance of Nitish-Lalu-Congress) in the Bihar polls, with almost 180 out of 243 seats in the assembly, has conspicuously drawn the attention of the entire nation. No other election for a provincial legislature of India may have been watched as closely as this one. In May 2014, after the overwhelming victory of the saffron coalition in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, and in some subsequent provincial elections (such as Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir), the BJP appeared as an invincible force. Even though it lost the Delhi assembly elections, the party’s majoritarian Hindutva offensive went on to create an atmosphere of fear across the country. Communalist virulence was on the rise as the Bihar poll dates came closer. Hoodlums, including saffron lawmakers and ministers, became dangerously intrusive—to the extent of lynching a person rumoured to have a different food habit. Killers of writers and artists were roaming free while autonomous institutions like the Sahitya Akademi were displaying slavish submission before the regime, to the extent of not daring to call a condolence meeting for the victims or condemn the murderers.

Such a scary context made people watch the Bihar polls with bated breath. For most people, even outside Bihar, the very ‘Idea of India’, as Rabindranath Tagore put it, was at stake. Hence, the Bihar verdict on November 8, 2015, brought huge relief to everyone who believes in the historically evolved liberal, plural civilizational ethos of the Indian subcontinent. Still, it doesn’t mean that communalization of Bihar’s society has come to a halt.
 
Nitish, Lalu balance caste equation
In the poll run-up, observers, reporters, and informed insiders said the incumbent chief minister, Nitish Kumar, seeking his third term, retained his popularity even though a section disapproved of his alliance with Lalu[i]. The reported disapproval had to do with the apprehension that Lalu may not let Nitish continue with his development work. This apprehension was felt more among the educated middle classes, mostly comprising the upper castes and trading communities--the core base of the BJP. The RJD-JDU alliance had already demonstrated a strong performance in the assembly by-elections by winning 10 out of 15 seats. Moreover, this was something the Mahagathbandhan could read well in advance; the contents of the speeches delivered by its leaders in their Patna rally of August 30 made it too evident. They, sort of, almost abandoned the upper castes, the traditional hegemons, pegging the proportion of electoral nominees from this social segment down to 15%, which is equal to their population in Bihar. This realization dawned more decisively after the July 25 rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Muzaffarpur, supposedly a strong base of the upper castes, particularly Bhumihars, who are supposed to have benefitted much from Nitish’s tenure. Yet, they deserted Nitish after he broke his alliance with the BJP in June 2013[ii].

The Mahagathbandhan has reportedly secured around 42% of votes. Except 1957, never did any party/coalition secure such a high percentage of votes in Bihar’s assembly elections. An obvious interpretation of this mandate is that backwards, dalits and minorities, and a huge proportion of women across castes and classes displayed massive consolidation to the extent that despite the chipping in of votes by the Left Front, the Third Front and BSP candidates, the Mahagathbandhan won, in many cases with emphatic margins. The popular endorsement and appreciation of good governance and socially inclusive development under Nitish was loud and clear. Even those who were openly going to vote for other groups had no hesitation in making public their acknowledgement of and gratitude to the Nitish administration. Schoolgirls cycling on good roads were the strongest testimonies of governance and educational uplift. More significantly, the 50% reservations for them in the local bodies testified to the political empowerment of women. This was further burnished by the manifesto promising 35% reservation for women in public employment. The enhanced supply of electricity added to Nitish’s charisma. Not inappropriately, he carries the nickname Sushasan Babu (Mr Good Governance).


Importantly, despite his alliance with the BJP, he was able to let communal harmony prevail. In his first stint (2005-10), he brought to book and expedited the judicial trial of the perpetrators of the Bhagalpur riots of October 1989. Then, the ruling Congress under the chief ministership of Satyendra Narayan Sinha (1917-2005) was found either helpless or unwilling to prevent and control the riots, engineered by the factional rivalries of veteran Congressmen Bhagwat Jha Azad (a former chief minister) and Shiv Chandra Jha (a former speaker of the Bihar assembly). The riots were intensified by the visit of the then Prime Minsiter Rajiv Gandhi, who stayed the transfer of the erring police officer. In March 1990, when Lalu Yadav became chief minister, he earned great fame because of his firm handling of communal riots. Nevertheless, he never went for penalizing the rioters[iii]. After Nitish became chief minister in 2005, he re-opened the cases despite being in alliance with the BJP[iv]. Precisely because of this, in 2015 the people trusted Nitish that despite his alliance with Lalu he would succeed in letting development work occur in Bihar.

Nitish’s image of a performing chief minister was all set to attract substantial upper caste votes as well. Seeing this, the RSS found it electorally prudent to consolidate this social base towards the BJP’s side; hence the statement from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat about a re-look at the reservation policy. Contrary to the assertions of many analysts and politicos, Bhagwat’s statement saved the BJP from a bigger drubbing. But his statement was also fodder for Lalu, who scoops up votes best with such issues. Lalu distributed photocopies of the relevant pages of MS Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts (1966) on a large scale. This text is a foundational exposition of the chauvinistic ideology of the RSS.
 
Mahagathbandhan relies on scientific seat distribution
The Mahagathbandhan allayed the misgivings of incompatibility by displaying an almost frictionless seat distribution. A young, professionally equipped techno-manager, Prashant Kishor, who fell out with Narendra Modi soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was won over by Nitish. He was joined by another sharp, articulate strategist, and a professionally trained academic of Delhi University’s department of social work, Prof Manoj Jha, the national spokesperson of the RJD, among others. Applying their professional expertise, they meticulously collected information about the socio-economic profiles and recent electoral histories and profiles of each constituency and of the prospective candidates. They then worked out winnabilities. Based on this, symbols were allotted to the candidates. This defied the conventional practice of seats being allotted to allies and leaving it upon them to choose nominees. It was the reason why there was complete transfer of votes among the Mahagathbandhan allies. This is why, compared to the BJP, the Mahagathbandhan had the least number of rebels. Mahagathbandhan candidates from the Paswan (Dusadh), Kushwaha (Koeris) and upper caste communities, in most cases, attained easy victories with comfortable margins. The Paswans and Kushwahas were also dissatisfied with the BJP because it conceded very few seats to the LJP of Ramvilas Paswan and to the RLSP of Upendra Kushwaha, despite both being ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet. This was felt as humiliation by their respective social bases. The BJP alliance trailed in the home booths of both leaders.

Nitish said, “Laluji ko Hanuman ji ka gada chalanay do (let Laluji make use of the mace, a weapon associated with the mythical monkey-god Hanuman).

Modi makes mockery of the PM’s office
Another good strategy of the Mahagathbandhan was that immediately after Narendra Modi’s rally, there followed a press conference of Nitish, who made point-by-point rebuttals of the PM’s allegations. Within two or three days of a Modi rally, Nitish-Lalu would hold a ‘sabha’ at the venue, and Lalu would ridicule the PM, to great acclaim. The more Modi attacked the two, the more the subaltern communities consolidated around their leaders, with visible vengeance. Unlike the PM’s rallies, the CM’s sabhas were more organic, with greater participation of women. The meticulous preparedness of the Nitish-Lalu duo can be gauged by the fact that as early as June 2015, when JDU workers were addressed by Nitish and Prashant Kishor in Patna’s Shri Krishna Memorial Hall, Nitish’s instructions made it pretty clear that JDU workers were to make pointed rebuttals with factsheets of accomplishments; the rest was to left for the RJD and Lalu. Nitish said, “Laluji ko Hanuman ji ka gada chalanay do (let Laluji make use of the mace, a weapon associated with the mythical monkey-god Hanuman).”

The PM’s divisive speeches in the later phases of the election, such as the ones at Buxar and Darbhanga (where he invoked terrorism), and Amit Shah’s speech at Raxaul, etc, backfired. Also, their prevarications on floating too many names from too many castes ended up pleasing none[v]. While such speeches lowered the prestige of the office of the PM, Nitish’s rebuttals raised him to the status of a decent statesman, something reportedly admitted even by the RSS. Nitish also took up the matter of regional pride, the historic lack of which is supposed to have been a bottleneck in the economic development of Bihar, as suggested by Shaibal Gupta, an economist and advisor to Nitish. Hence the slogan ‘Bihari’ (son of the soil) versus ‘Bahari’ (outsider). The same issue was taken up by Lalu in a different way. In his characteristic wit and rustic wisdom, Lalu described the persona of the two Gujaratis (Narendra Modi and Amit Shah) as being unwanted in Bihar. He made the audience recall that Amit Shah stood accused of such crimes that he had to be “banished from Gujarat”; “Woh tarhipaar hai.” Lalu’s mimicry of the PM’s speeches inflicted serious damage on Modi’s persona, stripping him of the charisma he enjoyed in 2014. Also, the PM’s offer of a special package in a manner as if the territory of Bihar and the collective identity of its people were up for auction was taken as an affront.


 
Inflation costs BJP dear

The PM’s failure in controlling inflation and his non-fulfilment of promises were the BJP’s greatest disadvantage. Rising prices of pulses, vegetables, and edible oils, failure to deliver against black money, huge cuts in the Indira Awas Yojana (shelters for poor), and the non-implementation of the Jan Dhan Yojana were greatly resented by the people. Voters complained that they had opened bank accounts for the Jan Dhan Yojana by selling their goats and bicycles (which their daughters had got from the government). They thought the PM had cheated them. Lalu was quick to capitalize. His hoardings articulated these complaints by displaying a slogan—Gharibon badla le lena jis ne dukh pahunchaya hai (O poor folks, take revenge on those who have made your lives miserable). The JDU’s hoardings said: Jhansay mein na aayengay, Nitish ko jitaayengay (We won’t be misled any more, we will make Nitish win).

Nitish was able to convince the peasantry that if the BJP won in Bihar, its MLAs will enable it to get its numbers right in the Rajya Sabha and pass the Land Acquisition Bill--a prospect as alarming as reservations being done away with. The Forbesganj killings (where a BJP-corporate nexus had become evident: the investor concerned was said to have close links with the then deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi) had convinced the peasantry all the more that their lands would be taken away, with state violence, if the BJP came to power[vi].

The good performance of the Left was also because of this. Its campaigns further persuaded the people to vote against the BJP by educating them about how corporations were waiting to snatch away their lands. It created class awareness by discussing the Amir Das and the D Bandopadhyay committee reports on land reforms. The CPI-ML managed to win three seats--its candidate Mehboob Alam won with a huge margin from an assembly seat in Katihar district in Seemanchal (eastern Bihar). Given the intensely bipolar fight in the state and a resource crunch, the three-seat win is not a mean achievement for the party. What is intriguing is why the Left didn’t align with the Mahagathbandhan given the tremendous threat to secularism, for the sake of which the Left, not long ago, was in alliance with Lalu.

The Left Front was the fourth front in the polls. The third front was comprised of the Samajwadi Party, the Jan Adhikar Party of Pappu Yadav and the NCP of Tariq Anwar-Sharad Pawar. During the course of the campaign, the electorate could make out that the third front was tacitly helping the BJP: Mulayam Singh Yadav’s utterances about the better prospects of the BJP in some of his speeches confirmed such a tacit understanding.


 
BJP fans communal flames to corner seats

No election campaign in Bihar has ever been as rabidly communalized as this one.  For someone occupying the PM’s chair, Modi stooped so low as to speak (at Buxar) that reservations could be given away to the “other community”. He also sought votes invoking his own cast, marking a new low for India’s democracy. There were 667 instances of communal skirmishes across Bihar after June 2013 (when Nitish broke away from the BJP alliance). “From throwing animal carcasses at places of worship to digging up buried issues, police records in Bihar have listed a variety of ways in which communal tension appears to have been deliberately kept on the boil ever since the BJP-JDU ruling coalition split on June 18, 2013.[vii]” In Muzaffarpur and the adjoining district of Tirhut, such occurrences, since September 2013, were particularly shocking and surprising. On September 19, 2013, the carcass of a pig was found inside an under-construction mosque in Bhanpur Brewa, a hamlet of Muslims and Dalits near Mahua in the district of Vaishali, which has the highest density (20.68%) of Dalits in north Bihar[viii]. On September 30, 2013, scores of Hindus and Muslims pelted stones at each other following an alleged incident of cow slaughter in the Yadav-dominated Chakmajahid, another village in the vicinity, where, on July 31, 2014, posters appeared on the wall of a mosque with this expletive-ridden line: “Kasai gai katna bandh karo (Butchers stop killing cows).” Incidentally, VHP leader Pravin Togadia was in Mahua, 5km from Chakmajahid, on May 28, 2015, to address a rally organized by the Gau Pushtikaran Sanghathan[ix]. A Sufi shrine, of Maulvi Shah Imaduddin at Chakmajahid, is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. This may be an index of interfaith harmony in the locality, which was sought to be vitiated by communal forces. Earlier, there was tension on the issue of cow slaughter in Aba Bakarpur near Mahua.

Not far away from these villages, on January 18, 2015, in village Azizpur (near Saraiya in Muzaffarpur), in the assembly seat of Paroo (a segment of the Vaishali Lok Sabha seat) represented by the BJP MLA Ashok Singh, a ferocious riot broke out[x]. Locals, according to civil society group Samaaj Bachaao Aandolan (of Kashif Yunus, an advocate in the Patna high court and the great grandson of Md Yunus, 1884-1952, the first chief minister of Bihar), “Directly accused Singh for plotting this riot. The plot was planned on January 17 at the house of a local mukhiya belonging to the Mallah community. The house of the Paroo MLA is in the same panchayat to whom this mukhiya belongs. The mukhiya is an active Bajrang Dal leader. The MLA was the planner and this mukhiya was the executor.” A delegation of the civil society group visited Azizpur on January 21, 2015, and its efforts led to the registration of 22 FIRs.

It is in the fitness of things to recall this Mallah-Muslim riot in detail as in it lies the genesis of how AIMIM leader and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi finally landed in Bihar, though confining himself to eastern Bihar. This may also explain why the BJP fared less badly in Tirhut (including Champaran) and how the competition for winning over Mallah (Hindu fishermen) voters became sharper. This was long before the emergence of Mukesh Sahni--who made news as ‘son of Mallah’, though hardly any Mallahs knew him before the elections. Eventually, the Paroo assembly seat returned Ashok Singh for a third consecutive time. The RJD had given its ticket to Shankar Yadav. Locals say a good number of Dalits, and a substantial number of Mallahs didn’t vote for the RJD[xi]. Shankar’s defeat was a foregone conclusion, given his negative image. He was in the reckoning only because of the popular sentiment against the BJP. Also, Muslims constitute a significant proportion of Paroo’s electorate.

Twenty-one seats of Champaran and 11 seats of Muzaffarpur saw better performance by the BJP. While Champaran, Sheohar and Sitamarhi districts have a history of communal conflict and a relatively better presence of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS-like organizations, Muzaffarpur has been known for communal harmony. In all these parts, a good proportion of EBCs and Dalits are reported to have voted for the BJP.

However, as the JDU government prevented pre-election communal violence rather successfully, eventual communal polarization could be prevented.

This is in contrast with Akhilesh Yadav’s administration in UP, where numerous communal riots have occurred since the SP came to power in 2012. The worst was the Muzaffarnagar riots of September 2013. It became apparent that the Akhilesh administration was slow in checking communalization[xii]. Many surmised that he was looking for communal polarization in western UP so that the Jat base of the Lok Dal and the Dalit base of the BSP would switch over to the BJP and Muslims would have no option but to desert these parties and the Congress to eventually rally behind the SP. The strategy boomeranged.

Political analysts have also opined that the wilful communal politics of Akhilesh spiralled out of his hands in Muzaffarnagar[xiii]. Little did Akhilesh-Azam Khan realize that the sole electoral beneficiary of rabid communal politics would be none other than the BJP[xiv]. Consequently, more than 90% of Lok Sabha seats in UP went to the BJP in 2014. Things didn’t stop there. Western UP got much more deeply communalized even at the social level.

The Dadri lynching (September 28-29, 2015) was a logical culmination of this process. As the Bihar polls neared, majoritarian communal forces, failing to engineer riots in Bihar, tried to do so in UP to create communal polarization in the neighbouring state by contact. Not wrongly did Nitish attack the BJP, saying that the beef issue was being imported to Bihar. The BJP’s alleged strategy failed. The history of Bihar elections doesn’t have many instances of conflicts around the cow[xv].
 
 

Courtesy: Alessio Mamo/Redux/eyevine

Nationwide majoritarian violence leads to subaltern consolidation
The instances of lynching, mob violence, and Dalit persecution in certain parts of India by late September and early October, and BJP leaders, including Union ministers, defending the aggressors, contributed towards a subaltern consolidation in favour of the Mahagathbandhan. Not only did the Hindu majority resist communal polarization, but the Muslim minority also reciprocated by frustrating the efforts of Asaduddin Owaisi--whose AIMIM could not win even from Kochadaman (Kishanganj), where 74% of the electorate is Muslim.

Eventually, 24 Muslim candidates got elected, some with emphatic margins, including CPI-ML candidate Mehboob Alam. Nonetheless, for a pluralist democracy it is extremely worrisome that its religious minority would vote en bloc as a fear-stricken, scared community. The fear factor among Muslims was unprecedentedly high[xvi]. “Never has the Muslim community witnessed an election so bitter, a campaign so acrimonious, scattering seeds of distrust to pit faith against faith, caste against caste,” reported Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, from Muzaffarpur, where his Muslim respondent belonged to the Sufi shrine of Kambal Shah (existing since 1880s), venerated by both Hindus and Muslims[xvii].

This fear factor in determining electoral behaviour is something to be taken note of. Such a situation is fraught with implications and in the celebration of the trouncing of two communal parties, the BJP and the AIMIM, one should not remain oblivious of the prevalence of communalisation of both majority and minority communities. It has been found that as the subaltern classes and castes move up the economic ladder, they tend to become more prone to communalisation. The middle classes (even among the OBCs and Dalits) tend to vote more for the BJP as this segment is more visible and aggressive in urban spaces; the CSDS-Lokniti and other surveys (pre- and post-poll) indicate such proclivities.

Among the Muslims, too, such trends are found. This aspect needs academic investigation. My own trips into many villages in north Bihar during the last two years or so have revealed that quite a lot of Muslim youth are in a denial mode. They deny the menacingly growing phenomenon of harbouring ‘Wahabi’ radicalism by a section of their co-religionists. The vulgar display of wealth by neo-rich Muslims earning in West Asian countries have not only brought about economic competition and rivalry, but also conspicuous assertion of identities by constructing mosques with tall minars, which have always been seen as eyesores in Hindu neighbourhoods[xviii].
 
This too may explain why Owaisi decided to land in Bihar. The Azizpur riots were revealing. In the political melee over it, a Muslim aide to Jitan Manjhi, Syed Sharim Ali (appointed by Manjhi as Waqf administrator) and Shahid Ali Khan (minister for minority affairs in the Nitish cabinet) joined Manjhi’s HAM-S. After news of Manjhi’s overtures to the BJP came, Sharim Ali flew to Hyderabad and had a long meeting with Owaisi. This is how the people sensed a possible BJP-Manjhi-Owaisi ‘nexus’.
 
As this ‘nexus’ got exposed and pressure mounted on the AIMIM, it eventually decided to dilute its ambition and contest only six seats with the highest Muslim concentrations in Seemanchal. Still, the AIMIM could secure only around 80,000 votes. In Bihar Muslims account for 17% of the population; in four districts, the Muslim population is above 35%: Kishanganj (68%), Araria (41%), Purnia (37%) and Katihar (43%).
     
The Mallah factor and the agrarian economy of chaur lands
In the previous elections, the Paroo Mallahs were said to have been opposed to Ashok Singh, who used to brand the Mallahs as Maoists. This time he was desperate to get Mallah votes. In October 2014, there was Mallah-Muslim tension in village Turkauliya. This was prevented from spiralling into violence through dialogue and administrative intervention. In January 2015, in Azizpur, a village of Pasmanda Muslims, violence, again essentially between Mallahs and Muslims, could not be prevented (the author’s report in the EPW edition of January 31, 2015, details all aspects). The Mallahs (Hindu fishermen, including allied or similar sub-castes like Gangotas and Kevats—boatmen) are now emerging as “dominant castes” in these parts of Bihar, more specifically in and around Muzaffarpur. The chaur (low-lying waterlogged lands across north and east Bihar) have almost been abandoned by peasants, with the male members of families migrating for livelihood. Soil of these lands is used by brick makers. Thus baolis (ponds and pondlets) emerge within the landmass of chaurs. Malalhs use these baolis for fishery without the landowners. The lands also attract aquatic and semiaquatic birds. Mallahs sell these birds and fish in the local village haats and markets. Such an economy has implications. The rate of migration for livelihood among Mallah males is lowest. The preponderant physical presence of Mallah males in the villages is increasingly making them emerge as local toughies. Their defiance of the absentee landowners (not landlords, as most are marginal and middle peasants) by exploiting the chaur lands have made them a cohesive group, which has started yielding an electoral advantage to them.

Peasants owning land in the chaurs look up to the state for investments for draining out the water so that the extremely fertile soil of the chaurs can be used for planting Rabi crops and pulses. In some chaurs, with the collective efforts of village communities, some success in making arrangements for draining out water has been achieved. This has brought a perceptible improvement in the economic status of the peasants. So far, the state has been callous. In the late 1980s, the then MLA of Paroo, Mrs Usha Singh (of Jaintpur Estate, who was later elected MP from Vaishali in 1989 and became a deputy minister in the VP Singh cabinet, 1989-90) had raised the issue in the Bihar assembly, to no avail. In 1989-90, Nitish Kumar was Union minister of state for agriculture. He talked about the matter, but nothing substantial emerged. The current minister, Radha Mohan Singh, who represents Motihari (East Champaran), must be familiar with the chaur economy, but is yet to speak out.

The challenge
Neither of the two coalitions in their high decibel election campaigns, talked about how to control the recurrent flood, about how to make useful investments in reclaiming the chaur (low lying, waterlogged) lands of north Bihar ( given the fact that the poor among the upper castes have got their economic stakes in the chaur lands) and how to give creative impetus to agro industries.

A pressing challenge before the new government that has received such an overwhelming mandate from the people of Bihar, would be to retrieve the lost glory of at least some of the institutions of learning and research, besides, specifically, revamping of the primary education system. During the 1990s, a generation of the teachers of the government schools retired and a large number of vacancies could not be filled in for long. This broke the back of education. Some of these spaces came to be filled in by the RSS chain of schools. It also spread RSS shakhas. Subsequently, when the BJP alliance came to power in 2005, these shakhas further spread. In Bihar, during the Congress era, oppositional political spaces were occupied by the Left and Socialist political formations of peasant radicalism. During the era of social justice, these spaces came to be captured by the right wing reactionary forces.

Overall, Bihar continues to suffer as India’s ‘internal colony’.[xix]  Nitish Kumar’s gigantic challenge lies in going ahead on an inclusive journey that will create a middle class but one that is both rooted and stays on in the province. As important, for the sustainability of social democratic project, would be active programmes to resist the communalisation of that middle class as it evolves. The challenge is not just with the government just voted in but its allies in the political and social spectrum that see this victory, today, for what it actually is. A push back to the forces of aggressive majoritarianism and a reaffirmation of the idea of the republic. Will Bihar, “the Heart of India”, really show us the way? [xx]
 
[i] Nitish got the mandate in previous two elections (2005, 2010) in alliance with the BJP.
[ii] Historically, the Bhumihars have also played their roles in erecting educational and cultural institutions in Bihar in general and in Tirhut (north Bihar) in particular. Muzaffarpur is supposed to be the city and district of Bhumihar landlords. Nitish Kumar was in alliance with the BJP till June 2013.  In May 2014, his party the Janata Dal United (JDU) was trounced by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, and most of the upper caste MLAs of the JDU deserted him. Shaken badly by this, he could save his government by stepping down and nominating, Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Dalit from the caste of Musahars (literally, the rat-eaters), as his successor chief minister. Manjhi subsequently formed his own party, Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and aligned with the BJP to contest the Bihar elections.
[iii] For details see, Warisha Farasat, “The Forgotten Carnage of Bhagalpur”, Economic and Political Weekly, January 19, 2013, pp. 34-39.
[iv] For details see, Sankarshan Thakur, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar. Harper Collins. Delhi, 2014. Lalu’s brazen protection to the rioters was perhaps to do with the fact that most of the aggressors were the Yadavas, the core social base of Lalu. Hence, Nitish’s prompt action in this had also to do with the politics of creating a wedge between the much hyped social coalition of the Muslims and Yadavas (M-Y). Together they comprise more than 30% of the Bihar population, and they were providing rock-solid support to Lalu in elections after elections. …Nitish reaped its benefits in the 2010 Assembly elections when he got substantial votes of the Muslims, specifically of the Pasmanda Muslims, who stood more benefitted by the reservations for them in the Panchayati Raj Institutions. For details see my book, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours. Routledge, 2014    
[v] However, the rumour of the probability of a Rajput Chief Minister, helped BJP. The CSDS-Lokniti data says that around 70% of the Rajputs voted for the BJP. No other numerically-politically significant single caste has voted for the BJP in such a high proportion. Radhamohan Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and in the middle of the campaign it circulated that Rajendra Singh (an RSS Pracharak contested from Dinara, Bhojpur, and lost it) could be the NDA chief Minister. Whereas, the most important Rajput leader, the Vice President of the RJD, Prof. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, adversely affected the GA’s prospects by his remarks that the Hindu sages used to eat beef; he had also proposed alliance with Owaisi, which was rebuffed by Lalu. 
[vi] Khalid Ansari and Ashok Yadav, “Notes on Forbesganj Violence”, 23 June 2011.  http://www.countercurrents.org/ansari230611.htm
[vii] Appu Esthose Suresh, “Carcass in mosque, idols defaced: How communal pot is kept boiling in Bihar”. The Indian Express, August 22, 2015
 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/carcass-in-mosque-idols-defaced-how-communal-pot-is-kept-on-the-boil-in-bihar/   
[viii] In 2015 the elder son of Lalu, Tej Pratap Yadav contested from the Mahua Assembly which is a segment of the Hajipur Lok Sabha, reserved for the Scheduled Castes, the seat of Ramvilas Paswan. Mahua is a market-town situated on a state highway connecting Hajipur, Samastipur, and Muzaffarpur. An old sufi shrineof Makhdum Shah Nematullah Zahidi in Mahua is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. These regions are known for communal harmony. Vaishali district went for polls in the third phase, whereas Muzaffarpur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Champaran went for the polls in fourth phase on 1 November 2015. Incidentally, Prashant Kishor, the techno-manager poll strategist belongs to Mahua (Vaishali).
[ix] Appu Esthose Suresh, “Police Record in Bihar Show ways in which Communal Pot was kept Boiling”, The Indian Express, August 22, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/this-was-the-first-time-we-looked-at-each-other-with-suspicion/
[x] Mohammad Sajjad, “Caste, Community and Crime: Explaining the Violence in Muzaffarpur”, Economic and Political Weekly, January 31, 2015.
[xi] This was also in circulation that Shankar Yadav managed (euphemism for obtaining ticket through bribes, by paying huge amount) RJD ticket for Paroo through Tej Pratap Yadav. There is a common refrain among the RJD people that Tej Pratap is less scrupulous, and that the younger son of Lalu, Tejaswi Yadav is a relatively more promising politician in making..
[xii] See my column, “This is Akhilesh Yadav’s way of Running UP”. August 5, 2013. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-column-this-is-akhilesh-yadavs-way-of-running- up/20130805.htm
[xiii] See my column, “Rise of Non-saffron Modi in Indian Politics” September 13, 2013. http://www.rediff.com/news/column/the-rise-of-non-saffron-modi-in-indian-politics/20130913.htm 
[xiv] See my column, “Don’t the Massacres Prick your Conscience, Azam Bhai?”, September 16, 2013.   http://www.rediff.com/news/report/dont-the-massacres-prick-your-conscience-azambhai/20130916.htm
[xv] See my column, “Raking up Beef Issue will Hurt BJP”. 13 October 2015 http://www.rediff.com/news/column/raking-up-beef-issue-will-hurt-the-bjp/20151013.htm 
[xvi] This fear however was not manifesting in Balrampur (Katihar district) where all the downtrodden including the Muslims voted for the CPI-ML candidate, who defeated the BJP with emphatic margin of over 20,000 votes.
[xvii] Muzamil Jaleel, “Bihar polls: Hurt by ‘certain community’ remark, they ask: Aren’t we his responsibility?”. The Indian Express, 2 November 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bihar-polls-hurt-by-certain-community-remark-they-ask-arent-we-his-responsibility/
[xviii] Sarvepalli Gopal, Anatomy of a Confrontation: The Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi. Penguin, Delhi, 1992, pp. 18-19
[xix] Sachidanand Sinha, The Internal Colony: A Study in Regional Exploitation. Sindhu Publications, Delhi, 1973
[xx] John W Houlton, Bihar, the Heart of India. Orient Longmans, 1949

Blinded by communal bile, BJP fails to read Bihar


Courtesy: Ranjeet Kumar/The Hindu
 
Nitish’s governance record, Modi’s empty promises sealed saffron alliance’s fate


The landslide victory of the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance of Nitish-Lalu-Congress) in the Bihar polls, with almost 180 out of 243 seats in the assembly, has conspicuously drawn the attention of the entire nation. No other election for a provincial legislature of India may have been watched as closely as this one. In May 2014, after the overwhelming victory of the saffron coalition in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, and in some subsequent provincial elections (such as Maharashtra and Jammu & Kashmir), the BJP appeared as an invincible force. Even though it lost the Delhi assembly elections, the party’s majoritarian Hindutva offensive went on to create an atmosphere of fear across the country. Communalist virulence was on the rise as the Bihar poll dates came closer. Hoodlums, including saffron lawmakers and ministers, became dangerously intrusive—to the extent of lynching a person rumoured to have a different food habit. Killers of writers and artists were roaming free while autonomous institutions like the Sahitya Akademi were displaying slavish submission before the regime, to the extent of not daring to call a condolence meeting for the victims or condemn the murderers.

Such a scary context made people watch the Bihar polls with bated breath. For most people, even outside Bihar, the very ‘Idea of India’, as Rabindranath Tagore put it, was at stake. Hence, the Bihar verdict on November 8, 2015, brought huge relief to everyone who believes in the historically evolved liberal, plural civilizational ethos of the Indian subcontinent. Still, it doesn’t mean that communalization of Bihar’s society has come to a halt.
 
Nitish, Lalu balance caste equation
In the poll run-up, observers, reporters, and informed insiders said the incumbent chief minister, Nitish Kumar, seeking his third term, retained his popularity even though a section disapproved of his alliance with Lalu[i]. The reported disapproval had to do with the apprehension that Lalu may not let Nitish continue with his development work. This apprehension was felt more among the educated middle classes, mostly comprising the upper castes and trading communities--the core base of the BJP. The RJD-JDU alliance had already demonstrated a strong performance in the assembly by-elections by winning 10 out of 15 seats. Moreover, this was something the Mahagathbandhan could read well in advance; the contents of the speeches delivered by its leaders in their Patna rally of August 30 made it too evident. They, sort of, almost abandoned the upper castes, the traditional hegemons, pegging the proportion of electoral nominees from this social segment down to 15%, which is equal to their population in Bihar. This realization dawned more decisively after the July 25 rally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Muzaffarpur, supposedly a strong base of the upper castes, particularly Bhumihars, who are supposed to have benefitted much from Nitish’s tenure. Yet, they deserted Nitish after he broke his alliance with the BJP in June 2013[ii].

The Mahagathbandhan has reportedly secured around 42% of votes. Except 1957, never did any party/coalition secure such a high percentage of votes in Bihar’s assembly elections. An obvious interpretation of this mandate is that backwards, dalits and minorities, and a huge proportion of women across castes and classes displayed massive consolidation to the extent that despite the chipping in of votes by the Left Front, the Third Front and BSP candidates, the Mahagathbandhan won, in many cases with emphatic margins. The popular endorsement and appreciation of good governance and socially inclusive development under Nitish was loud and clear. Even those who were openly going to vote for other groups had no hesitation in making public their acknowledgement of and gratitude to the Nitish administration. Schoolgirls cycling on good roads were the strongest testimonies of governance and educational uplift. More significantly, the 50% reservations for them in the local bodies testified to the political empowerment of women. This was further burnished by the manifesto promising 35% reservation for women in public employment. The enhanced supply of electricity added to Nitish’s charisma. Not inappropriately, he carries the nickname Sushasan Babu (Mr Good Governance).


Importantly, despite his alliance with the BJP, he was able to let communal harmony prevail. In his first stint (2005-10), he brought to book and expedited the judicial trial of the perpetrators of the Bhagalpur riots of October 1989. Then, the ruling Congress under the chief ministership of Satyendra Narayan Sinha (1917-2005) was found either helpless or unwilling to prevent and control the riots, engineered by the factional rivalries of veteran Congressmen Bhagwat Jha Azad (a former chief minister) and Shiv Chandra Jha (a former speaker of the Bihar assembly). The riots were intensified by the visit of the then Prime Minsiter Rajiv Gandhi, who stayed the transfer of the erring police officer. In March 1990, when Lalu Yadav became chief minister, he earned great fame because of his firm handling of communal riots. Nevertheless, he never went for penalizing the rioters[iii]. After Nitish became chief minister in 2005, he re-opened the cases despite being in alliance with the BJP[iv]. Precisely because of this, in 2015 the people trusted Nitish that despite his alliance with Lalu he would succeed in letting development work occur in Bihar.

Nitish’s image of a performing chief minister was all set to attract substantial upper caste votes as well. Seeing this, the RSS found it electorally prudent to consolidate this social base towards the BJP’s side; hence the statement from RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat about a re-look at the reservation policy. Contrary to the assertions of many analysts and politicos, Bhagwat’s statement saved the BJP from a bigger drubbing. But his statement was also fodder for Lalu, who scoops up votes best with such issues. Lalu distributed photocopies of the relevant pages of MS Golwalkar’s Bunch of Thoughts (1966) on a large scale. This text is a foundational exposition of the chauvinistic ideology of the RSS.
 
Mahagathbandhan relies on scientific seat distribution
The Mahagathbandhan allayed the misgivings of incompatibility by displaying an almost frictionless seat distribution. A young, professionally equipped techno-manager, Prashant Kishor, who fell out with Narendra Modi soon after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, was won over by Nitish. He was joined by another sharp, articulate strategist, and a professionally trained academic of Delhi University’s department of social work, Prof Manoj Jha, the national spokesperson of the RJD, among others. Applying their professional expertise, they meticulously collected information about the socio-economic profiles and recent electoral histories and profiles of each constituency and of the prospective candidates. They then worked out winnabilities. Based on this, symbols were allotted to the candidates. This defied the conventional practice of seats being allotted to allies and leaving it upon them to choose nominees. It was the reason why there was complete transfer of votes among the Mahagathbandhan allies. This is why, compared to the BJP, the Mahagathbandhan had the least number of rebels. Mahagathbandhan candidates from the Paswan (Dusadh), Kushwaha (Koeris) and upper caste communities, in most cases, attained easy victories with comfortable margins. The Paswans and Kushwahas were also dissatisfied with the BJP because it conceded very few seats to the LJP of Ramvilas Paswan and to the RLSP of Upendra Kushwaha, despite both being ministers in the Narendra Modi cabinet. This was felt as humiliation by their respective social bases. The BJP alliance trailed in the home booths of both leaders.

Nitish said, “Laluji ko Hanuman ji ka gada chalanay do (let Laluji make use of the mace, a weapon associated with the mythical monkey-god Hanuman).

Modi makes mockery of the PM’s office
Another good strategy of the Mahagathbandhan was that immediately after Narendra Modi’s rally, there followed a press conference of Nitish, who made point-by-point rebuttals of the PM’s allegations. Within two or three days of a Modi rally, Nitish-Lalu would hold a ‘sabha’ at the venue, and Lalu would ridicule the PM, to great acclaim. The more Modi attacked the two, the more the subaltern communities consolidated around their leaders, with visible vengeance. Unlike the PM’s rallies, the CM’s sabhas were more organic, with greater participation of women. The meticulous preparedness of the Nitish-Lalu duo can be gauged by the fact that as early as June 2015, when JDU workers were addressed by Nitish and Prashant Kishor in Patna’s Shri Krishna Memorial Hall, Nitish’s instructions made it pretty clear that JDU workers were to make pointed rebuttals with factsheets of accomplishments; the rest was to left for the RJD and Lalu. Nitish said, “Laluji ko Hanuman ji ka gada chalanay do (let Laluji make use of the mace, a weapon associated with the mythical monkey-god Hanuman).”

The PM’s divisive speeches in the later phases of the election, such as the ones at Buxar and Darbhanga (where he invoked terrorism), and Amit Shah’s speech at Raxaul, etc, backfired. Also, their prevarications on floating too many names from too many castes ended up pleasing none[v]. While such speeches lowered the prestige of the office of the PM, Nitish’s rebuttals raised him to the status of a decent statesman, something reportedly admitted even by the RSS. Nitish also took up the matter of regional pride, the historic lack of which is supposed to have been a bottleneck in the economic development of Bihar, as suggested by Shaibal Gupta, an economist and advisor to Nitish. Hence the slogan ‘Bihari’ (son of the soil) versus ‘Bahari’ (outsider). The same issue was taken up by Lalu in a different way. In his characteristic wit and rustic wisdom, Lalu described the persona of the two Gujaratis (Narendra Modi and Amit Shah) as being unwanted in Bihar. He made the audience recall that Amit Shah stood accused of such crimes that he had to be “banished from Gujarat”; “Woh tarhipaar hai.” Lalu’s mimicry of the PM’s speeches inflicted serious damage on Modi’s persona, stripping him of the charisma he enjoyed in 2014. Also, the PM’s offer of a special package in a manner as if the territory of Bihar and the collective identity of its people were up for auction was taken as an affront.


 
Inflation costs BJP dear

The PM’s failure in controlling inflation and his non-fulfilment of promises were the BJP’s greatest disadvantage. Rising prices of pulses, vegetables, and edible oils, failure to deliver against black money, huge cuts in the Indira Awas Yojana (shelters for poor), and the non-implementation of the Jan Dhan Yojana were greatly resented by the people. Voters complained that they had opened bank accounts for the Jan Dhan Yojana by selling their goats and bicycles (which their daughters had got from the government). They thought the PM had cheated them. Lalu was quick to capitalize. His hoardings articulated these complaints by displaying a slogan—Gharibon badla le lena jis ne dukh pahunchaya hai (O poor folks, take revenge on those who have made your lives miserable). The JDU’s hoardings said: Jhansay mein na aayengay, Nitish ko jitaayengay (We won’t be misled any more, we will make Nitish win).

Nitish was able to convince the peasantry that if the BJP won in Bihar, its MLAs will enable it to get its numbers right in the Rajya Sabha and pass the Land Acquisition Bill--a prospect as alarming as reservations being done away with. The Forbesganj killings (where a BJP-corporate nexus had become evident: the investor concerned was said to have close links with the then deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sushil Kumar Modi) had convinced the peasantry all the more that their lands would be taken away, with state violence, if the BJP came to power[vi].

The good performance of the Left was also because of this. Its campaigns further persuaded the people to vote against the BJP by educating them about how corporations were waiting to snatch away their lands. It created class awareness by discussing the Amir Das and the D Bandopadhyay committee reports on land reforms. The CPI-ML managed to win three seats--its candidate Mehboob Alam won with a huge margin from an assembly seat in Katihar district in Seemanchal (eastern Bihar). Given the intensely bipolar fight in the state and a resource crunch, the three-seat win is not a mean achievement for the party. What is intriguing is why the Left didn’t align with the Mahagathbandhan given the tremendous threat to secularism, for the sake of which the Left, not long ago, was in alliance with Lalu.

The Left Front was the fourth front in the polls. The third front was comprised of the Samajwadi Party, the Jan Adhikar Party of Pappu Yadav and the NCP of Tariq Anwar-Sharad Pawar. During the course of the campaign, the electorate could make out that the third front was tacitly helping the BJP: Mulayam Singh Yadav’s utterances about the better prospects of the BJP in some of his speeches confirmed such a tacit understanding.


 
BJP fans communal flames to corner seats

No election campaign in Bihar has ever been as rabidly communalized as this one.  For someone occupying the PM’s chair, Modi stooped so low as to speak (at Buxar) that reservations could be given away to the “other community”. He also sought votes invoking his own cast, marking a new low for India’s democracy. There were 667 instances of communal skirmishes across Bihar after June 2013 (when Nitish broke away from the BJP alliance). “From throwing animal carcasses at places of worship to digging up buried issues, police records in Bihar have listed a variety of ways in which communal tension appears to have been deliberately kept on the boil ever since the BJP-JDU ruling coalition split on June 18, 2013.[vii]” In Muzaffarpur and the adjoining district of Tirhut, such occurrences, since September 2013, were particularly shocking and surprising. On September 19, 2013, the carcass of a pig was found inside an under-construction mosque in Bhanpur Brewa, a hamlet of Muslims and Dalits near Mahua in the district of Vaishali, which has the highest density (20.68%) of Dalits in north Bihar[viii]. On September 30, 2013, scores of Hindus and Muslims pelted stones at each other following an alleged incident of cow slaughter in the Yadav-dominated Chakmajahid, another village in the vicinity, where, on July 31, 2014, posters appeared on the wall of a mosque with this expletive-ridden line: “Kasai gai katna bandh karo (Butchers stop killing cows).” Incidentally, VHP leader Pravin Togadia was in Mahua, 5km from Chakmajahid, on May 28, 2015, to address a rally organized by the Gau Pushtikaran Sanghathan[ix]. A Sufi shrine, of Maulvi Shah Imaduddin at Chakmajahid, is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. This may be an index of interfaith harmony in the locality, which was sought to be vitiated by communal forces. Earlier, there was tension on the issue of cow slaughter in Aba Bakarpur near Mahua.

Not far away from these villages, on January 18, 2015, in village Azizpur (near Saraiya in Muzaffarpur), in the assembly seat of Paroo (a segment of the Vaishali Lok Sabha seat) represented by the BJP MLA Ashok Singh, a ferocious riot broke out[x]. Locals, according to civil society group Samaaj Bachaao Aandolan (of Kashif Yunus, an advocate in the Patna high court and the great grandson of Md Yunus, 1884-1952, the first chief minister of Bihar), “Directly accused Singh for plotting this riot. The plot was planned on January 17 at the house of a local mukhiya belonging to the Mallah community. The house of the Paroo MLA is in the same panchayat to whom this mukhiya belongs. The mukhiya is an active Bajrang Dal leader. The MLA was the planner and this mukhiya was the executor.” A delegation of the civil society group visited Azizpur on January 21, 2015, and its efforts led to the registration of 22 FIRs.

It is in the fitness of things to recall this Mallah-Muslim riot in detail as in it lies the genesis of how AIMIM leader and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi finally landed in Bihar, though confining himself to eastern Bihar. This may also explain why the BJP fared less badly in Tirhut (including Champaran) and how the competition for winning over Mallah (Hindu fishermen) voters became sharper. This was long before the emergence of Mukesh Sahni--who made news as ‘son of Mallah’, though hardly any Mallahs knew him before the elections. Eventually, the Paroo assembly seat returned Ashok Singh for a third consecutive time. The RJD had given its ticket to Shankar Yadav. Locals say a good number of Dalits, and a substantial number of Mallahs didn’t vote for the RJD[xi]. Shankar’s defeat was a foregone conclusion, given his negative image. He was in the reckoning only because of the popular sentiment against the BJP. Also, Muslims constitute a significant proportion of Paroo’s electorate.

Twenty-one seats of Champaran and 11 seats of Muzaffarpur saw better performance by the BJP. While Champaran, Sheohar and Sitamarhi districts have a history of communal conflict and a relatively better presence of Hindu Mahasabha-RSS-like organizations, Muzaffarpur has been known for communal harmony. In all these parts, a good proportion of EBCs and Dalits are reported to have voted for the BJP.

However, as the JDU government prevented pre-election communal violence rather successfully, eventual communal polarization could be prevented.

This is in contrast with Akhilesh Yadav’s administration in UP, where numerous communal riots have occurred since the SP came to power in 2012. The worst was the Muzaffarnagar riots of September 2013. It became apparent that the Akhilesh administration was slow in checking communalization[xii]. Many surmised that he was looking for communal polarization in western UP so that the Jat base of the Lok Dal and the Dalit base of the BSP would switch over to the BJP and Muslims would have no option but to desert these parties and the Congress to eventually rally behind the SP. The strategy boomeranged.

Political analysts have also opined that the wilful communal politics of Akhilesh spiralled out of his hands in Muzaffarnagar[xiii]. Little did Akhilesh-Azam Khan realize that the sole electoral beneficiary of rabid communal politics would be none other than the BJP[xiv]. Consequently, more than 90% of Lok Sabha seats in UP went to the BJP in 2014. Things didn’t stop there. Western UP got much more deeply communalized even at the social level.

The Dadri lynching (September 28-29, 2015) was a logical culmination of this process. As the Bihar polls neared, majoritarian communal forces, failing to engineer riots in Bihar, tried to do so in UP to create communal polarization in the neighbouring state by contact. Not wrongly did Nitish attack the BJP, saying that the beef issue was being imported to Bihar. The BJP’s alleged strategy failed. The history of Bihar elections doesn’t have many instances of conflicts around the cow[xv].
 
 

Courtesy: Alessio Mamo/Redux/eyevine

Nationwide majoritarian violence leads to subaltern consolidation
The instances of lynching, mob violence, and Dalit persecution in certain parts of India by late September and early October, and BJP leaders, including Union ministers, defending the aggressors, contributed towards a subaltern consolidation in favour of the Mahagathbandhan. Not only did the Hindu majority resist communal polarization, but the Muslim minority also reciprocated by frustrating the efforts of Asaduddin Owaisi--whose AIMIM could not win even from Kochadaman (Kishanganj), where 74% of the electorate is Muslim.

Eventually, 24 Muslim candidates got elected, some with emphatic margins, including CPI-ML candidate Mehboob Alam. Nonetheless, for a pluralist democracy it is extremely worrisome that its religious minority would vote en bloc as a fear-stricken, scared community. The fear factor among Muslims was unprecedentedly high[xvi]. “Never has the Muslim community witnessed an election so bitter, a campaign so acrimonious, scattering seeds of distrust to pit faith against faith, caste against caste,” reported Muzamil Jaleel of The Indian Express, from Muzaffarpur, where his Muslim respondent belonged to the Sufi shrine of Kambal Shah (existing since 1880s), venerated by both Hindus and Muslims[xvii].

This fear factor in determining electoral behaviour is something to be taken note of. Such a situation is fraught with implications and in the celebration of the trouncing of two communal parties, the BJP and the AIMIM, one should not remain oblivious of the prevalence of communalisation of both majority and minority communities. It has been found that as the subaltern classes and castes move up the economic ladder, they tend to become more prone to communalisation. The middle classes (even among the OBCs and Dalits) tend to vote more for the BJP as this segment is more visible and aggressive in urban spaces; the CSDS-Lokniti and other surveys (pre- and post-poll) indicate such proclivities.

Among the Muslims, too, such trends are found. This aspect needs academic investigation. My own trips into many villages in north Bihar during the last two years or so have revealed that quite a lot of Muslim youth are in a denial mode. They deny the menacingly growing phenomenon of harbouring ‘Wahabi’ radicalism by a section of their co-religionists. The vulgar display of wealth by neo-rich Muslims earning in West Asian countries have not only brought about economic competition and rivalry, but also conspicuous assertion of identities by constructing mosques with tall minars, which have always been seen as eyesores in Hindu neighbourhoods[xviii].
 
This too may explain why Owaisi decided to land in Bihar. The Azizpur riots were revealing. In the political melee over it, a Muslim aide to Jitan Manjhi, Syed Sharim Ali (appointed by Manjhi as Waqf administrator) and Shahid Ali Khan (minister for minority affairs in the Nitish cabinet) joined Manjhi’s HAM-S. After news of Manjhi’s overtures to the BJP came, Sharim Ali flew to Hyderabad and had a long meeting with Owaisi. This is how the people sensed a possible BJP-Manjhi-Owaisi ‘nexus’.
 
As this ‘nexus’ got exposed and pressure mounted on the AIMIM, it eventually decided to dilute its ambition and contest only six seats with the highest Muslim concentrations in Seemanchal. Still, the AIMIM could secure only around 80,000 votes. In Bihar Muslims account for 17% of the population; in four districts, the Muslim population is above 35%: Kishanganj (68%), Araria (41%), Purnia (37%) and Katihar (43%).
     
The Mallah factor and the agrarian economy of chaur lands
In the previous elections, the Paroo Mallahs were said to have been opposed to Ashok Singh, who used to brand the Mallahs as Maoists. This time he was desperate to get Mallah votes. In October 2014, there was Mallah-Muslim tension in village Turkauliya. This was prevented from spiralling into violence through dialogue and administrative intervention. In January 2015, in Azizpur, a village of Pasmanda Muslims, violence, again essentially between Mallahs and Muslims, could not be prevented (the author’s report in the EPW edition of January 31, 2015, details all aspects). The Mallahs (Hindu fishermen, including allied or similar sub-castes like Gangotas and Kevats—boatmen) are now emerging as “dominant castes” in these parts of Bihar, more specifically in and around Muzaffarpur. The chaur (low-lying waterlogged lands across north and east Bihar) have almost been abandoned by peasants, with the male members of families migrating for livelihood. Soil of these lands is used by brick makers. Thus baolis (ponds and pondlets) emerge within the landmass of chaurs. Malalhs use these baolis for fishery without the landowners. The lands also attract aquatic and semiaquatic birds. Mallahs sell these birds and fish in the local village haats and markets. Such an economy has implications. The rate of migration for livelihood among Mallah males is lowest. The preponderant physical presence of Mallah males in the villages is increasingly making them emerge as local toughies. Their defiance of the absentee landowners (not landlords, as most are marginal and middle peasants) by exploiting the chaur lands have made them a cohesive group, which has started yielding an electoral advantage to them.

Peasants owning land in the chaurs look up to the state for investments for draining out the water so that the extremely fertile soil of the chaurs can be used for planting Rabi crops and pulses. In some chaurs, with the collective efforts of village communities, some success in making arrangements for draining out water has been achieved. This has brought a perceptible improvement in the economic status of the peasants. So far, the state has been callous. In the late 1980s, the then MLA of Paroo, Mrs Usha Singh (of Jaintpur Estate, who was later elected MP from Vaishali in 1989 and became a deputy minister in the VP Singh cabinet, 1989-90) had raised the issue in the Bihar assembly, to no avail. In 1989-90, Nitish Kumar was Union minister of state for agriculture. He talked about the matter, but nothing substantial emerged. The current minister, Radha Mohan Singh, who represents Motihari (East Champaran), must be familiar with the chaur economy, but is yet to speak out.

The challenge
Neither of the two coalitions in their high decibel election campaigns, talked about how to control the recurrent flood, about how to make useful investments in reclaiming the chaur (low lying, waterlogged) lands of north Bihar ( given the fact that the poor among the upper castes have got their economic stakes in the chaur lands) and how to give creative impetus to agro industries.

A pressing challenge before the new government that has received such an overwhelming mandate from the people of Bihar, would be to retrieve the lost glory of at least some of the institutions of learning and research, besides, specifically, revamping of the primary education system. During the 1990s, a generation of the teachers of the government schools retired and a large number of vacancies could not be filled in for long. This broke the back of education. Some of these spaces came to be filled in by the RSS chain of schools. It also spread RSS shakhas. Subsequently, when the BJP alliance came to power in 2005, these shakhas further spread. In Bihar, during the Congress era, oppositional political spaces were occupied by the Left and Socialist political formations of peasant radicalism. During the era of social justice, these spaces came to be captured by the right wing reactionary forces.

Overall, Bihar continues to suffer as India’s ‘internal colony’.[xix]  Nitish Kumar’s gigantic challenge lies in going ahead on an inclusive journey that will create a middle class but one that is both rooted and stays on in the province. As important, for the sustainability of social democratic project, would be active programmes to resist the communalisation of that middle class as it evolves. The challenge is not just with the government just voted in but its allies in the political and social spectrum that see this victory, today, for what it actually is. A push back to the forces of aggressive majoritarianism and a reaffirmation of the idea of the republic. Will Bihar, “the Heart of India”, really show us the way? [xx]
 
[i] Nitish got the mandate in previous two elections (2005, 2010) in alliance with the BJP.
[ii] Historically, the Bhumihars have also played their roles in erecting educational and cultural institutions in Bihar in general and in Tirhut (north Bihar) in particular. Muzaffarpur is supposed to be the city and district of Bhumihar landlords. Nitish Kumar was in alliance with the BJP till June 2013.  In May 2014, his party the Janata Dal United (JDU) was trounced by the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, and most of the upper caste MLAs of the JDU deserted him. Shaken badly by this, he could save his government by stepping down and nominating, Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Dalit from the caste of Musahars (literally, the rat-eaters), as his successor chief minister. Manjhi subsequently formed his own party, Hindustani Awam Morcha-Secular (HAM-S) and aligned with the BJP to contest the Bihar elections.
[iii] For details see, Warisha Farasat, “The Forgotten Carnage of Bhagalpur”, Economic and Political Weekly, January 19, 2013, pp. 34-39.
[iv] For details see, Sankarshan Thakur, Single Man: The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar. Harper Collins. Delhi, 2014. Lalu’s brazen protection to the rioters was perhaps to do with the fact that most of the aggressors were the Yadavas, the core social base of Lalu. Hence, Nitish’s prompt action in this had also to do with the politics of creating a wedge between the much hyped social coalition of the Muslims and Yadavas (M-Y). Together they comprise more than 30% of the Bihar population, and they were providing rock-solid support to Lalu in elections after elections. …Nitish reaped its benefits in the 2010 Assembly elections when he got substantial votes of the Muslims, specifically of the Pasmanda Muslims, who stood more benefitted by the reservations for them in the Panchayati Raj Institutions. For details see my book, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours. Routledge, 2014    
[v] However, the rumour of the probability of a Rajput Chief Minister, helped BJP. The CSDS-Lokniti data says that around 70% of the Rajputs voted for the BJP. No other numerically-politically significant single caste has voted for the BJP in such a high proportion. Radhamohan Singh, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, and in the middle of the campaign it circulated that Rajendra Singh (an RSS Pracharak contested from Dinara, Bhojpur, and lost it) could be the NDA chief Minister. Whereas, the most important Rajput leader, the Vice President of the RJD, Prof. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, adversely affected the GA’s prospects by his remarks that the Hindu sages used to eat beef; he had also proposed alliance with Owaisi, which was rebuffed by Lalu. 
[vi] Khalid Ansari and Ashok Yadav, “Notes on Forbesganj Violence”, 23 June 2011.  http://www.countercurrents.org/ansari230611.htm
[vii] Appu Esthose Suresh, “Carcass in mosque, idols defaced: How communal pot is kept boiling in Bihar”. The Indian Express, August 22, 2015
 http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/carcass-in-mosque-idols-defaced-how-communal-pot-is-kept-on-the-boil-in-bihar/   
[viii] In 2015 the elder son of Lalu, Tej Pratap Yadav contested from the Mahua Assembly which is a segment of the Hajipur Lok Sabha, reserved for the Scheduled Castes, the seat of Ramvilas Paswan. Mahua is a market-town situated on a state highway connecting Hajipur, Samastipur, and Muzaffarpur. An old sufi shrineof Makhdum Shah Nematullah Zahidi in Mahua is venerated by both Hindus and Muslims. These regions are known for communal harmony. Vaishali district went for polls in the third phase, whereas Muzaffarpur, Sheohar, Sitamarhi and Champaran went for the polls in fourth phase on 1 November 2015. Incidentally, Prashant Kishor, the techno-manager poll strategist belongs to Mahua (Vaishali).
[ix] Appu Esthose Suresh, “Police Record in Bihar Show ways in which Communal Pot was kept Boiling”, The Indian Express, August 22, 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/this-was-the-first-time-we-looked-at-each-other-with-suspicion/
[x] Mohammad Sajjad, “Caste, Community and Crime: Explaining the Violence in Muzaffarpur”, Economic and Political Weekly, January 31, 2015.
[xi] This was also in circulation that Shankar Yadav managed (euphemism for obtaining ticket through bribes, by paying huge amount) RJD ticket for Paroo through Tej Pratap Yadav. There is a common refrain among the RJD people that Tej Pratap is less scrupulous, and that the younger son of Lalu, Tejaswi Yadav is a relatively more promising politician in making..
[xii] See my column, “This is Akhilesh Yadav’s way of Running UP”. August 5, 2013. http://www.rediff.com/news/slide-show/slide-show-1-column-this-is-akhilesh-yadavs-way-of-running- up/20130805.htm
[xiii] See my column, “Rise of Non-saffron Modi in Indian Politics” September 13, 2013. http://www.rediff.com/news/column/the-rise-of-non-saffron-modi-in-indian-politics/20130913.htm 
[xiv] See my column, “Don’t the Massacres Prick your Conscience, Azam Bhai?”, September 16, 2013.   http://www.rediff.com/news/report/dont-the-massacres-prick-your-conscience-azambhai/20130916.htm
[xv] See my column, “Raking up Beef Issue will Hurt BJP”. 13 October 2015 http://www.rediff.com/news/column/raking-up-beef-issue-will-hurt-the-bjp/20151013.htm 
[xvi] This fear however was not manifesting in Balrampur (Katihar district) where all the downtrodden including the Muslims voted for the CPI-ML candidate, who defeated the BJP with emphatic margin of over 20,000 votes.
[xvii] Muzamil Jaleel, “Bihar polls: Hurt by ‘certain community’ remark, they ask: Aren’t we his responsibility?”. The Indian Express, 2 November 2015. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bihar-polls-hurt-by-certain-community-remark-they-ask-arent-we-his-responsibility/
[xviii] Sarvepalli Gopal, Anatomy of a Confrontation: The Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi. Penguin, Delhi, 1992, pp. 18-19
[xix] Sachidanand Sinha, The Internal Colony: A Study in Regional Exploitation. Sindhu Publications, Delhi, 1973
[xx] John W Houlton, Bihar, the Heart of India. Orient Longmans, 1949

Related Articles

News in Brief

Monday

13

Jan

Nationwide

Saturday

04

Jan

Karve Statue, Kothrud, Pune

Theme

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Campaigns

Monday

13

Jan

Nationwide

Saturday

04

Jan

Karve Statue, Kothrud, Pune

Videos

Culture

Watch: Sufism and its influence on Indian music

n this SabrangIndia exclusive video, Pandit Anindya Banerjee, classical musician Kallol Ghoshal and folk researcher Niladri Sekhar DasSharma talk about the Influence of Islam on Indian Music and how the Sufis, known for their great love for music and acceptance of many indigenous customs, allowed Syncretism to flourish in Bengal.

Culture

Watch: Sufism and its influence on Indian music

n this SabrangIndia exclusive video, Pandit Anindya Banerjee, classical musician Kallol Ghoshal and folk researcher Niladri Sekhar DasSharma talk about the Influence of Islam on Indian Music and how the Sufis, known for their great love for music and acceptance of many indigenous customs, allowed Syncretism to flourish in Bengal.

Podcasts

play-button
Podcast:PB Sawant

Inefficient cropping patterns have impacted groundwater reserves, that have provided for roughly 84% of the irrigated $

Analysis

Delhi HC

Hate Speech and Delhi Pogrom 2020

A spate of provocative speeches, that amount to hate speech in law and should be prosecuted allowed blood letting to spill on the streets of north east Delhi in February-March 2020
hashimpura

Hashimpura Massacre

The Lemmings of Hashimpura
summer

Summer Culture

Our first summer culture bouquet features fiction from Syria and Iraq and poetry and art from Palestine.
khoj

Teaching Without Prejudice

Report of the CABE Committee on 'Regulatory Mechanisms for Textbooks and Parallel Textbooks Taught in Schools Outside the Government System

Archives