The plot of this year’s most talked about film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has far too many similarities with the state of Bihar. Bihar like Slumdog Millionaire’s chief protagonist Jamal Malik had a pitiable past, both faced too many hurdles to succeed, and both emerged triumphant against all odds. Similarly, the change witnessed by Bihar under the leadership of Nitish Kumar is no less dramatic than the film’s climax. Yet, there is a sense of underlying awakening of the common masses involved in this change.
With 40 seats at stake, Bihar is the hotbed of political commotion. Cracks in UPA and performance graph of the present state government is set to change the political discourse of the state in these polls.
All the major political parties of the state have their agendas and issues in place by now. The important among them are-
Criminalization is the biggest issue in Bihar. 15 years of (mis)-governance during Lalu Yadav’s regime, saw Bihar virtually turning into a banana republic. During this time the rise of ‘Bahubalis’ like Shahabuddin and Pappu Yadav became common. Crime was rampant and kidnapping virtually became an organized industry. The ‘Golus’ and ‘Kislays’ of the state were under serious threat. Businessmen started migrating as it became almost impossible to carry trade. The condition of the state was rightly dubbed as ‘Jungle Raj’.
Nitish Kumar assumed power in a state which was in a very bad shape and had not been successful in suppression of criminal elements. Under him, Bihar became relatively much safer. ‘Bahubalis’ like Shahabuddin are now behind bars with the courts even barring them from contesting polls. Migration of businessmen has stopped and law and order is firmly in place again. The NDA is likely to reap benefits with these changes.
On the other hand, it will prove difficult for the Lalu-led RJD-LJP combine to defend themselves over this issue as clearly Nitish has an upper hand here.
Development is the other major issue here. During the regime of the previous government, Bihar turned into one of the most underdeveloped states of India. The division of the state and formation of Jharkhand was the last nail in the coffin of its development as it lost almost all industries that it had to the new state.
The condition of the roads was pathetic and electricity was believed to be an occasional visitor to the homes of common man. Adding to the misery was the condition of educational institutions. College sessions were so bad that people jokingly used to call graduation as a ‘Five Year Plan’. Education mafia was so strong in areas like Gaya and Jehanabad that no student failed even when appearing in exams from colleges that never existed in the first place.
In these elections, NDA will appeal to the voters with thrust on development and will try to showcase its achievement of past three years. Nitish Kumar regularly holds ‘Janata Darbaar’ (public grievance meeting) in various districts to look into the problems of the masses which helps him in connecting with people. This is sure to help him. The recent cabinet meeting in Barbighi village of Begusarai, was an extension of this exercise and was widely appreciated and publicized.
The mass recruitment of the primary teachers in the state would also work in favour of the ruling coalition.
The RJD-LJP combine and Congress would certainly try to trouble the government over the issue of Kosi floods as the ruling coalition of the state not only failed in controlling the breach in the river on time but also fared miserably in the rehabilitation of the affected people and in the distribution of relief funds.
Lalu Yadav would also try to play up his good work in Railways that attracted wide appreciation. Since he has allotted a number of trains to the state in the last five years and has done a commendable job, this could be his saving grace. But the question that arises here is why he failed to write the same success story while his party ruled Bihar for 15 long years.
The Congress party will also try to cash-in on the development programmes of the Central government like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Rs 70,000 crore loan waiver scheme for the farmers.
In a state where caste plays a major role in electoral politics, the NDA will surely give a tough fight to the M-Y factor of RJD which is combined with the Dalit vote bank of Paswan. About 72% strong MBC (Most Backward Castes) voter connects with the persona of Nitish Kumar and despite the charisma of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ramvilas Paswan, it seems mostly in favour of NDA. This time around, even the Muslim voter is not averse to supporting the JD(U) because of the spotless, pro-people and secular image of Nitish Kumar.
The master of social engineering, Lalu Prasad Yadav has forged an alliance with Ramvilas Paswan’s LJP this time to counter NDA. After the cracking of his M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) vote bank, Lalu Yadav has turned to woo forward caste voters by fielding Rajput, Brahmin and Kayastha candidates. This is a significant change, as all his life Lalu Yadav has projected himself as a messiah of social justice. Lalu is primarily eyeing 13% Muslim and 15% Yadav votes together with his share in the MBC electorate. Apart from this, Lalu is also hoping to benefit from upper caste votes as per his new social engineering tactic of lending tickets to upper caste leaders.
This alliance can also be benefited by the hold of Paswan over Dalit votes especially 5% Paswan (Dushadh) vote bank. The emergence of Paswan as the biggest leader of backwards in the state forced Lalu to woo him even at the cost of ditching the Congress. The effect of Paswan was clearly visible during the 1999 polls when he supported NDA and 5% votes swung directly in the latter’s favour which ultimately turned out to be decisive.
The story was repeated in the 2004 general elections when he joined the UPA in a pre- poll alliance. This is the reason why no political party has been able to completely ignore him.
There is a big divide in Bihar, not on communal lines but between have and have-nots. This divide has created the problem of Naxalism and counter-Naxalism.
The two main groups of Naxalites, the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) and the Communist Party of India, Marxist-Leninist (People`s War) merged to form the united Communist Party of India, Maoist or CPI (Maoist) in September 2004.
Naxal violence became frequent in Bihar after that as both groups were the most powerful ones, accounting for about 88 percent of the countrywide Naxalite violence and 90 percent of the resultant deaths.
The succeeding years witnessed a further expansion of these groups from traditional strongholds in Patna, Gaya, Aurangabad, Arwal, Bhabhua, Rohtas and Jehanabad in southwestern Bihar, to West Champaran, East Champaran, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga and Madhubani districts. The Naxalites have also extended their areas of influence to Shaharsha, Begusarai and Vaisali and areas along the Uttar Pradesh border.
The problem still persists though weakened by the politics of Lalu Prasad Yadav which divided the group between Yadavs and non-Yadavs. Every political party shall have to evolve a strategy of tackling this menace to garner backward votes.
In the past year or so, this issue has gained momentum thanks to the politics of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Raj Thackeray. After the killing of a Bihari youth protesting the ill treatment of Biharis in Maharashtra, politicians of Bihar united to address it and the country saw a historic moment with arch rivals Lalu Prasad Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan and Nitish kumar sharing the same podium.
In this election, all the parties would try to garner the votes of youth by taking credit for action taken in this direction. It will be interesting to see the rise of “Bihari Nationalism” and its impact on the politics of the country because it is a national problem being faced by Biharis not only in Maharashtra but also in other parts of the country like Punjab, Assam and Delhi.
It is very interesting that apart from such factors, national issues barely have any impact on the outcome of polls in Bihar.
So, Congress is very unlikely to benefit from issues like Indo-US civil nuclear deal, high economic growth rate and terrorism in Bihar. But defectors from other parties like Sadhu Yadav and Ramai Ram together with the traditional Congress vote bank may give a tough fight to RJD and LJP in some constituencies apart from the 3 seats already held by it.
With UPA’s split, it is a triangular political war in Bihar. It will be very interesting to watch the mood of Bihari voters. But one thing is certain, Bihar has finally awakened and is voting the right people for the right reasons. Jai Ho!
Sharique N Siddiquie