Bihar Verdict: Roaring Rebuff Against an Autocratic Communal BJP

After sundry exit polls and post-poll surveys did their rounds, we finally know what Bihar has spoken. The Bihar verdict has left the loud and foul mouths of the ruling Sangh-BJP establishment speechless while amplifying the voice of every defender of democracy in an India ruled by an openly RSS-driven government. Contrary to what the Modi-Shah duo had notoriously foretold, the Bihar verdict has ignited celebratory crackers not in Pakistan but all over India. If the Delhi mandate in early 2015 gave the first resounding rebuff to the arrogant autocratic rule of Narendra Modi, Bihar has now unfurled a real banner of revolt. And defying the pressures of a bipolar election and a massive wave in favour of the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance, revolutionary communists have creditably defended their citadels of struggle and sacrifice.

The direction of the Bihar outcome was not at all difficult to see. Any political observer keeping his or her ears open could easily hear the distinctly audible whispers that eventually grew into a roaring rejection of the BJP as the marathon poll campaign drew to a close. Yet the way exit polls failed to read the writing on the wall, and the way respectable TV channels continued to report pro-NDA trends till minutes before actual results started coming in, point to nothing short of a scary censorship syndrome. Unlike the Emergency era media censorship four decades ago, this one is perhaps more corporate-driven and even 'voluntary', but that does not diminish the danger. Has indicating or reporting the truth now become too risky an undertaking inviting accusations of indulging in some 'anti-national' and 'anti-state' activity?

The JDU-RJD-Congress alliance in Bihar had an arithmetic advantage to begin with. Even in the height of the Modi wave of 2014, the combined vote shares of the three parties would have given the alliance a comfortable majority of 145 seats. The new factors that could have dented this arithmetic advantage were revolts by Jitan Ram Manjhi and Pappu Yadav and the entry of the SP or AIMIM. The mainstream media hyped up these factors like anything, projecting a non-existent SP-NCP-Pappu Yadav coalition as the 'third front' for Bihar, while systematically ignoring the Left bloc, the only policy-based alternative platform with a recorded history of not only powerful struggles but also consistent electoral strength. As it turned out, the 'third front' broke down midway through the elections, the AIMIM could not make any inroad, while the BJP's allies collapsed spectacularly, failing even to match the modest CPI(ML) tally of three seats.

What has really surprised the general political observer is the stunning scale of the victory of the Nitish-Lalu-Congress alliance. What transformed the assumed 2014 arithmetic of 145 seats into an actual 2015 statistic of 178 seats is the real political story of the Bihar elections. Admirers of Nitish Kumar are keen to explain it as a pro-incumbency vote, as a vindication of Nitish Kumar's record of 'development and good governance', but this explanation is more wishful than objective. The Nitish-Lalu alliance drew its strength primarily from the negative campaign and arrogant divisive politics of the BJP. The Modi-Shah campaign reeked of absolute political arrogance and unmitigated communal venom. While the Mohan Bhagwat and VK Singh 'mann ki baat' on reservations and dalits, and the desperate obsession with Pakistan and cows and beef, ripped apart the deceptive 'development' facade and laid bare the ugly feudal-communal face of the Sangh-BJP persona, the fact that two Gujaratis were storming Bihar with this feudal-communal campaign, gave a strong resonance to the Nitish campaign theme of 'swabhiman' or 'Bihari self-respect'. And the smart and innovative Nitish-Lalu campaign drove this message home with clear focus and great energy.

The CPI(ML), CPI, CPI(M) contested these elections as a united and independent bloc of six Left parties. While the outcome of three seats marks only a modest improvement of the 2010 ebb of only one Left member in the Assembly, the combined Left vote share of close to 4% coupled with a seat tally of three in the Assembly, marks out the Left as the only credible and potential third force in an otherwise bipolar Bihar. Defending the Left base built through decades of struggles and translating the Left's undisputed credibility and goodwill in terms of honest pro-people politics into votes is no easy challenge in a wave election and the CPI(ML) had to dig deep into its core strength to win its three seats in the midst of this electoral storm. The solid support of the rural poor, spirited and dynamic role of the youth and increased participation of peasants and women gave the CPI(ML) campaign its basic strength and energy. What makes this modest victory truly memorable is the extremely unequal nature of the electoral battle and the inhospitable media environment. In Bhojpur CPI(ML) activist Satish Yadav was killed just on the eve of the elections and three of CPI(ML)'s most prospective candidates – agricultural labour leader Comrade Satyadeo Ram, who has won from Darauli in Siwan and youth leaders Amarjeet Kushwaha and Manoj Manzil who finished close third from Zeradei (Siwan) and Agiaon (Bhojpur) respectively – were arrested on fabricated charges at the time of filing their nomination.

The Bihar elections were fought in an unmistakably national context and the verdict will clearly have a major national resonance and ramification. Apart from signifying obvious encouragement for opposition politics within the parliamentary arena, and a major setback to the BJP's dreams of securing a greater Rajya Sabha presence, the verdict will clearly inspire the whole range of ongoing democratic protests and people's struggles in the country. As for Bihar, Lalu Prasad has termed the new phase as Mandal-II while Nitish Kumar continues to harp on his familiar planks of 'good governance' and 'development with justice'. While holding the new regime accountable to its promises, the CPI(ML) and the Left in Bihar will have to champion the alternative direction and priorities articulated in the joint Left appeal with a clear focus on employment, agriculture, education, health, opportunities and rights for youth and women, and basic democratic rights and justice for all, especially for the vulnerable sections of the Bihari society. It is a major political juncture for Bihar and India, and revolutionary communists will have to advance in bold steps with full clarity of purpose and courage of conviction.

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