Notes on Bihar : Elections 2015

The elections to the Bihar Assembly attracted the attention of the entire country like never before. And now the stunning verdict is destined to haunt the Modi-Shah duo for a long time to come. In many ways, Bihar 2015 should go down in the annals of Indian elections right in the same league as the historic 1977 verdict when India had thrown off the yoke of the infamous Indira-Sanjay Emergency. Seventeen months into the stifling and calamitous Modi rule, Bihar has spoken for the whole of India by giving a roaring rebuff to the BJP, leaving Modi’s autocratic authority thoroughly dented and diminished.

The drubbing of the BJP resonates across the country as a sure sign of the growing disillusionment with the Modi government and rejection of the systematic unleashing of the vicious RSS agenda. The protests by progressive British Indians, people of South Asian origin and other citizens caring for democracy, human rights and communal harmony in India that overshadowed Modi’s recent visit to London were very much inspired by the crushing defeat that the people of Bihar had handed to Narendra Modi just on the eve of his London trip. But the decisive defeat of the BJP was shaped by the social reality and political history of Bihar as has evolved not just over the last eighteen months since the Modi victory of May 2014 but over the last quarter century of post-Congress socio-political alignments.

Like in many other states, in Bihar too the BJP grew in the late 1980s through its aggressive Ayodhya campaign. The sharp decline of the Congress in the wake of the Bhagalpur riots and the rise of the Janata Dal to power prompted considerable sections of the Congress base to shift to the BJP. The BJP, the party of feudal reaction and aggressive communalism, thus emerged as the principal party of the traditional forward caste base of the Congress, and with the CPI choosing to align with the ruling dispensation, the BJP also came to occupy the dominant opposition space in Bihar. The rise of crime and corruption and the impunity granted to the perpetrators of feudal violence and massacres of the fighting rural poor gave the BJP ample opportunities to grow. With Nitish Kumar joining hands with the BJP and the NDA coming to power in Delhi in the late 1990s, the BJP in Bihar rose to greater prominence which eventually led to its prolonged power-sharing stint from November 2005 to June 2013. In the Modi wave of 2014, the party, together with its allies, even managed to win an unprecedented 31 of 40 LS seats in Bihar, which together with the even more stunning sweep in UP, gave it its first ever majority at the Centre.

Parting Ways With BJP Saved Nitish A Possible Drubbing

Propelled by its renewed grip on central power, and emboldened by its Lok Sabha poll gains from Bihar, the BJP might have felt that power in Bihar lay just a few Modi rallies away. But it failed to read and understand Bihar. The people of Bihar had long been experiencing the implications of the rise of the BJP in Bihar in terms of a heightened feudal-communal offensive. The dismantling of the Amir Das Commission to save the patrons of the killer Ranveer Sena and the dumping of the recommendations of the Land Reforms Commission to appease the landed interests represented predominantly by the BJP did not earn Nitish Kumar any goodwill from the rural poor, marginal peasantry and the democratic opinion in Bihar. The subsequent serial acquittals of massacre perpetrators by the Patna High Court, increased police repression and bureaucratic domination, and growing loot of public resources and the emergence of an immensely powerful contractor-criminal syndicate created powerful ripples of resentment. Had Nitish Kumar not severed ties with the BJP and instead gone on to sanctify the BJP-backed corporate aggression, communal polarisation and feudal violence in the name of ‘good governance’ and ‘development with justice’, chances are pretty high that Nitish Kumar would have been squarely defeated in these elections.

The fact that Nitish Kumar decided to part ways with the BJP with the nomination of Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate did not merely or primarily reflect a clash of personal ambitions or an ego conflict. It meant the alliance had become socially unsustainable and politically untenable even by Nitish Kumar’s hypocritical standards of social justice and secularism and in his calculations the BJP under Modi and Shah had become an unaffordable liability. This is precisely why the astute politician in Nitish Kumar took the calculated risk and lost no time to join hands with Lalu Prasad soon after the Lok Sabha elections and he has been proved right. With a fragmented opposition, the BJP may have managed to win handsomely in the Lok Sabha elections in Bihar and gone one to form a majority government, but the state is clearly not enamoured of the idea of having to face a BJP-led government. And the BJP’s failure to read the social reality and political mood of Bihar made it pile up one mistake after another leading to its eventual crushing defeat. But it must be noted that with a vote share of nearly 25 per cent and a tally of fifty-plus seats (the highest the BJP has won till date on its own without the assistance of a favourable alliance), the BJP still remains a formidable force in Bihar.

The Myth of ‘Caste Arithmetic’

BJP leaders now attribute their defeat to the superior caste arithmetic of the Nitish-Lalu alliance. This is a blatant, arrogant lie. The BJP had done everything possible to defeat the so-called caste arithmetic of the JDU-RJD-Congress alliance. In terms of the Lok Sabha vote share, the NDA was only 4 per cent short of what would have been the combined vote share of the RJD, JDU and the Congress. With Jitan Ram Manjhi forming his own party and joining the NDA camp, the BJP must have thought it had managed to offset the deficit. Every attempt was made to project Modi as India’s first OBC PM even though it is well known that it is HD Deve Gowda who qualifies for this distinction. A deal was struck with Mukesh Sahni, the self-styled icon of the Mallah community, and full page advertisements were issued in his name making open and explicit appeal to his caste and other Annexure-I castes to trust the BJP for their betterment. BJP leaders openly said that the BJP would not go for a forward caste chief minister. The idea of a Yadav chief minister was also mooted from BJP election meetings.

In a most brazen attempt to woo dalit/mahadalit voters – who have been among the biggest victims of massacres perpetrated by the BJP-backed Ranveer Sena – the BJP issued a poll advertisement questioning Nitish Kumar’s ‘sushashan’ claims by citing several shocking cases of caste and gender violence like the Kurmuri gangrape of young Musahar women, the Baddi village incident of killing of Ramvilas Ram and attack on Ravidas temple on Independence Day 2012, and the lynching of Sai Ram in Mohanpur village of Rohtas district for the crime of his cattle having allegedly trespassed into the field of a powerful landowner. The incidents were all real, except that the perpetrators were all known BJP supporters and when the CPI(ML) launched sustained protest struggles, local BJP leaders were in the forefront to oppose the CPI(ML)-led protests and even attempt to intimidate the protesters. Indeed, fomenting and perpetrating riots and various other acts of feudal-communal violence and vandalism and then raising a hue and cry about the State Governments’ failure to maintain ‘law and order’ has become a standard Sangh-BJP tactic.

Communalism, Contempt and Arrogance

If the BJP’s caste arithmetic and communal calculations did not work beyond a point, it is because more and more people could sense the real political agenda of the BJP. When a Jitan Ram Manjhi is propped up by the BJP, the party of perpetrators and patrons of serial massacres of the rural poor and practitioners of anti-dalit suppression and discrimination, as the mahadalit face of the BJP-led alliance, the identity factor cannot possibly work wonders for the BJP. When Mohan Bhagwat moots a review of reservations (coming from him it can only mean ending the policy of reservations), or VK Singh can think of nothing other than a dog analogy to respond to the horrific murder of two dalit kids in BJP-ruled Haryana, no Ram Vilas Paswan can win dalit votes for the BJP. When the entire country feels shell-shocked by the Dadri incident of mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq over the rumour of beef-eating, yet the loud mouth Prime Minister remains deafeningly silent on Dadri but makes speeches appealing to Yadavs to vote against leaders who justify the right to eat beef, and Sushil Modi starts reducing the Bihar elections to a battle between beef-eaters and those seeking a ban on beef-eating, the game-plan becomes all too obvious for every peace-loving harmony-seeking common citizen. By the time BJP leaders started invoking Pakistan and China in a provincial election and the BJP came up with the cow ad after having already been reprimanded by the Election Commission for two divisive venomous ads, everybody in Bihar could see through the dangerous desperation and devious design of the party.

Despite having been caught red-handed and punished by the electorate for the rank communal agenda behind its empty and deceptive developmental rhetoric, the BJP is still trying to blame others for ‘derailing’ its development campaign! All that the BJP offered in the name of a development-oriented campaign was a cocktail of arrogant grandstanding oblivious of the party’s own accountability for the state of affairs in Bihar, sheer contempt for the plight of the people and an attack on the democratic choice of the people in a federal system, camouflaging greater centralisation with faster development. The so-called Bihar package announced by Narendra Modi was little more than statistical jugglery clubbing several ongoing projects with vague long-term assurances. But what was really offensive about it was the way Modi announced it like an emperor showering some largesse on his subjects. Coupled with his earlier DNA remark about Nitish Kumar, the condescension and contempt that oozed out of every Modi speech hardly conjured any vision of development. Without taking any responsibility for the eight years his party shared equal power in Bihar, Modi led a frontal assault on the spirit of democracy and federalism by insisting that a state like Bihar could develop only with the same party or alliance holding the reins of both provincial as well as central power.

Betrayed Promise of 'Development with Justice'

Some political observers see the Bihar verdict as a vindication and popular endorsement of Nitish Kumar’s model of governance and development. It is true that compared to the social and administrative anarchy and complete economic stagnation and breakdown experienced especially during the latter half of the fifteen long years of RJD rule, Nitish Kumar obviously has a higher popular rating. But there can be no denying that his model of ‘good governance’ saw the rise of a new pattern of mafiadom in Bihar represented by the likes of Anant Singh, Sunil Pandey and their ilk. The much-promised development was marked by extensive corruption and complete abdication of the agenda of land and agrarian reforms. Protests and struggles by different sections of people were routinely met with bureaucratic apathy and police repression. With serial acquittal of massacre perpetrators and framing of leaders of people’s movements on false charges, the promise of justice was overshadowed by systematic injustice.

Nitish Kumar initially articulated a somewhat comprehensive vision of development that promised not just improved infrastructure, but also some degree of social transformation and empowerment. The setting up of two commissions to recommend measures for urgent land reforms and educational restructuring and announcement of a road map of agricultural development evoked hopes of broad-based social development and empowerment. But the reports of both Land Reforms Commission and Educational Reforms Commission containing key recommendations of land and tenancy reforms and introduction of a common school system were consigned to the waste paper basket and the road map of agricultural development simply became an excuse to subject Bihar agriculture to the vagaries of contract farming and dubious genetic experiments while neglecting the basic requirements of irrigation, timely and adequate supply of input and credit and assured procurement. And the crucial issue of employment remains unanswered in the absence of any sustainable model of industrialisation and meaningful and dignified service sector jobs. The productive energy and dynamism of Bihar’s youth remains locked up in insecure and ill-paid contractual employment.

The Left Campaign and the Left Strategy

All these issues have been raised repeatedly giving rise to sustained struggles which reached a peak in the run-up to the elections. If they did not resonate as much during the elections and did not reflect adequately in the election outcome, it is because stopping the BJP bid for power became the overriding popular consideration. The Left forces in Bihar contested these elections as a united and independent bloc, and the joint Left appeal revolved precisely around the key agenda of land and tenancy reforms, agricultural development, sustainable industrialisation and meaningful mass employment, and the universal demand of housing, health and education for all. The Left campaign held high the banner of democracy, justice and people’s unity and boldly articulated the alternative direction and priorities for genuine pro-people development and transformation. With a vote share of close to 4 per cent and a tally of three seats – more than what any of the BJP allies has got – the Left and CPI(ML) have clearly emerged as the most relevant third force in Bihar. It is ironic that the media effectively ignored the presence of the Left in the Bihar elections, instead choosing to project as the so-called ‘third front’ a momentary coalition of parties like the NCP, SP and Pappu Yadav’s Jan Adhikar Party and a few others which collapsed midway through the elections and failed to win a single seat.

The Left strategy of contesting as an independent bloc in Bihar has been criticised by some friends who thought any division of anti-BJP votes should have been avoided. The results make it amply clear that the Left participation has in no way stopped the Grand Alliance from defeating the NDA. On the contrary, the Left has also contributed its mite – all the three seats won by the CPI(ML) have come by defeating NDA candidates. Beyond the bare statistics of votes and seats, lies the importance of the Left campaign in terms of ideological-political mobilisation and this has surely helped in a big way in resisting the BJP and its aggressive communal campaign. The worry of the liberal and progressive intelligentsia about the dangerous implication of a possible BJP victory in Bihar is perfectly understandable, but what also needs to be understood is the fact that the Left joining hands with or withdrawing in support of the Grand Alliance could have only been a defeatist and suicidal course of action not only from the Left’s own point of view but crucially in the larger context of resisting the BJP. The truth is simple: the Left putting a voluntary cap on its growth and assertion in the name of checking the BJP can only make things easier for the BJP.

Much will now be read in the massive electoral victory of the Grand Alliance and as indicated by the presence of a large spectrum of political forces in Nitish Kumar’s swearing-in ceremony, there will be no dearth of attempts to project the Grand Alliance as the only viable national alternative to the BJP. But the experience of the 1996-98 UF government and the 2004-14 UPA government clearly tells us that such governments and their policies and politics provide no stable and credible alternative and in many ways only facilitate the growth of the BJP. The Congress having suffered a steady and massive decline, the BJP has anyway come to occupy a major space as the number one national party and most regional parties, including Lohiaite formations like the JDU or for that matter even the BSP have had no difficulty in joining hands with the BJP. The resurgence of the Left as a powerful national level force is absolutely essential for a positive change in the ideological environment and political balance and for the rise of a credible pro-people political alternative. The rise of the Left in the Hindi belt is of crucial importance in this context and the recent outcome has once again proved that Bihar remains the most fertile ground for the Left in the Hindi belt. Every attempt must therefore be made to sustain and nurture the new-found unity of the Left in Bihar, expand and intensify the whole range of Left-led class and mass struggles and raise the level of the Left’s assertion and intervention in Bihar politics.

Left Parites' Votes on Major Seats in Bihar 2015

1. Balarampur/Barsoi ----- CPIML ---- 62,513 ======= 18. Masaurhi ---------- CPIML ---- 18,903

2. Darauli (SC) ------------- CPIML ---- 49,576 ======= 19. Jagadishpur ------- CPIML ---- 18,154

3. Tarari --------------------- CPIML --- 44,050 ======= 20. Manjhi -------------- CPIM ----- 17,803

4. Bibhutipur --------------- CPIM ----- 40,647 ======= 21. Rajhunathpur ------ CPIML ---- 16,714

5. Ziradei -------------------- CPIML ---- 34,562 ======= 22. Sandesh ------------- CPIML ---- 15,879

6. Agiaon (SC) ------------ CPIML ---- 31,789 ======= 23. Bhorey ---------------- CPIML ---- 14,011

7. Bakhri -------------------- CPI ------ 29,185 ======= 24. Kesaria --------------- CPI ----- 11,767

8. Bachhwara -------------- CPI ------ 28,539 ======= 25. Matihani ------------- CPI ------ 11,232

9. Teghra ------------------- CPI ------ 25,818 ======= 26. Phulwari (SC) ------- CPIML ---- 11,188

10. Dhuraiya --------------- CPI ------ 24,501 ======= 27. Ghosi -------------- CPIML ---- 10,894

11. Karakat ----------------- CPIML --- 23,534 ======= 28. Rupauli ------------ CPI ------ 10,426

12. Obra -------------------- CPIML ---- 22,801 ======= 29. Sursand ----------- CPI ------ 10,342

13. Harlakhi ---------------- CPI ------ 22,709 ======= 30. Chanpatia --------- CPI ------ 10,136

14. Arwal ------------------- CPIML ---- 21,354 ======= 31. Mohiuddin Nagar -- CPIM ---- 10,018

15. Paliganj ---------------- CPIML ---- 19,438 ======= 32. Beldaur ------------- CPI ------ 9,963

16. Ujiarpur ---------------- CPIM ----- 18,973 ======= 33. Benipatti ------------ CPI ------- 9,758

17. Goh --------------------- CPI ------ 18,951 ======= 34. Rosera (SC) ----------- CPI ------ 9,543

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