Beyond Bihar

Updated: Dec 08, 2010, 22:25 PM IST

Shashank Chouhan

There can be as many takeaways from the result of Bihar elections as there are analysts. But one truly stands out for being the irony that it is: On a day when a tainted CM pressurized his party to let him stay on the hot seat, when a multi-crore real estate scam got added to the list of burgeoning corruption scandals breaking from Centre to the peripheries, when an old veteran gave up at the altar of political stability in another state, it was Bihar – of all states – that gave a breath of relief to everybody and emerged as that old and almost forgotten political lesson – nothing betters getting the basics right.

In the Bihar of 2004, those basics would mean getting the caste arithmetic bang on. But in a year when corruption and weak leadership seemed to have become the damning highlight of our upcoming yearender (don’t miss it by the way, it’s in a new avatar this time), good governance, clean and inclusive politics have made Bihar stand out.

It has taken Nitish Kumar’s ‘naya Bihar’ to set the agenda for politicos straight – work works.

That work, if done whole heartedly and honestly, cannot only help one progress, importantly, it can erase old perceptions and change the very people for whom it is carried out.

In the din of press conferences, dhol-beats and bursting crackers, one small soundbyte got muffled even though it was the loudest congrats for Nitish: Sita Devi, a construction worker in Delhi who hails from Madhubani in Bihar, expressed quiet happiness to a reporter as she could now think of returning to her home because development had become the main agenda in her state. She was left jobless when sugar mills in Bihar wound up under the glib Lalu Prasad. And there are lakhs like her across the country who may make a comeback.

In shedding rhetoric, the soft-spoken Nitish decided to let his work do the speaking: be it laying an unprecedented over 2000 kms of roads, appointing a lakh teachers for schools and paying them salaries on time, giving construction work across the state a major boost, cutting the women a better deal in education and reservation (their vote proved crucial for the landslide NDA victory), banishing criminals to jails, the Nitish Kumar work report did deserve the over 200 seats in this exam. The vote in Bihar, not surprisingly, is a positive one, and not just to keep the regressive Lalu-Rabri confined to their cow shed.

Also, voters don’t want those neck-deep in animal fodder calling dirty names to their trusted leaders (Rabri called Nitish ‘chor’). Neither do they appreciate only one sector growing in the name of industry, i.e. is crime and its ancillary, corruption.

All of that should ideally be an inspiration for the rest of politicians in the country who not only usually fall short of the voters’ expectations, but can’t even keep their laundry clean. And coming from Bihar which had become a synonym for everything wrong with this country, this election result should make it to the books of all political parties.

Nitish Kumar won thumbs down not only because the night life in major Bihari cities does not spell kidnappings & lootings anymore, but also because he found a way to balance idealism with pragmatism. One JDU leader at an election discussion programme said those who deny casteism are the biggest casteists. One cannot agree with him and can even be shocked as his leader refused to bring caste in any of his election speeches, but there is no missing the point – backwardness associated with certain groups of people is a reality in India. Nitish decided to address that backwardness as part of his inclusive development and social engineering programmes and won handsome support of those who benefited.

Even in a deeply divided people, development, rather than a biased focus on the backwards, works as a great unifier and leveler.

The election result is also a lesson in how contradicting viewpoints can still work to the advantage of a coalition of extremes. The BJP, being a junior partner of JDU in Bihar, kept a low profile throughout the five year tenure at the cost of keeping one of its iconic leaders out of the state and facing rebellion from state MLAs. It decided to keep its eggs in the safe basket and they have hatched this election: it has nearly doubled its seats from 55 to 91, bettering even Nitish’s JDU in expanding base and sweeping the urban areas.

Its increased numbers in Hindi heartland is also a message that politics is essentially local. Star power from Centre, family glamour or even national issues do not work in states as the electorate seem to have realized that India is a federal democracy and can behave like one.

But importantly, the lesson to be derived is that the election battle can be and will be won state-by-state. Wherever the state unit is strong, cohesive, has the support and autonomy from the Centre, there a party stands to strike gold. Politics can thus become a grassroots up approach and not a top down one. What works in UP can totally be a non-starter next door.

Another important lesson that its beneficiary of Lok Sabha poll forgot was quite surprising: negative campaigning won’t work. Be it the ‘PM-is-weak’ campaign by a desperate LK Advani or a Rahul Gandhi belittling the humble work of the Bihar government trying to undo a difficult past, the voters’ patience with mud-slinging has run-out. Rhetoric won’t do in an age when youngsters’ ears are stuffed with iPod earphones 24*7. Good music will, of course.

And good music is liked by everyone. How else would you explain the pan-India interest in the result of Bihar election? And once the masses like your music, they want more of it which is the biggest challenge before the winning combine now. The Bihari has tasted good work and it will not spare anyone who does not satisfy him fully. That is a passion which is now shared by the entire nation and has politicians going back to their thought schools in a whimper.

It’s never too late to learn, after all.

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