Lalu-Nitish tie-up a bigger shame for Bihar than BJP losing polls
Coining the slogan of 'Bihari vs Bahari' was a dangerous ploy employed by the Mahagathbandhan.
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The BJP's drubbing at the hands of the Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan of the JD(U), RJD and Congress in the recently held Bihar elections was welcomed by many observers and analysts. They were of the opinion that considering the rise in right wing rhetoric following the sweeping mandate the BJP got in the 2014 general election, it was essential for the BJP’s divisive campaign in Bihar to fail the test of the ballot to cement the pluralistic nature of Indian polity and society.
There is no denying the fact that the BJP’s Bihar campaign was full of vitriol. Following the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq at a village situated in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, the leadership of the saffron outfit repeatedly raked up the issue of cow protection in the backdrop of the elections. While Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar stressed on the need for Muslims to respect Hindu sentiments by refraining from consuming beef, former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi described the elections as a “fight between those who eat beef and those who don’t”.
To make matters worse, Prime Minister Modi himself targeted a particular community (read Muslims) on the premise that the Mahagathbandhan was out to dilute the reservation pie of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Maha Dalits and hand it over to the Muslims instead. No sane person would have the audacity to justify the polarising discourse associated with the BJP’s campaign. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising to see the saffron brigade's annihilation at the hands of a grand caste coalition. What was surprising though was the celebration that followed.
The BJP might have fittingly been the loser but the winner was not very different either. The criticism which is being levelled against Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar is that he has extended key portfolio positions to Lalu Prasad Yadav’s son Tejashwi Yadav and Tej Pratap. Both are in their 20s and have absolutely no political or administrative experience.
This, without a doubt, is the least shocking as Nitish’s alliance with Lalu was an opportunistic one. What else did the people of Bihar expect? Lalu, being a convicted politician, cannot hold office and therefore, it makes sense for Nitish to give concessions to Lalu's party (which, by the way, emerged as the single largest party) by making Tejashwi the deputy chief minister.
Sadly, by doing so, Nitish has even put the BJP’s record to shame. While the BJP had made controversial choices, like having Smriti Irani as the human resources development (HRD) minister and Gajendra Chauhan as the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) chairman, (the former stands accused of furnishing incorrect information about her educational qualification, while the latter is said to be under-qualified or undeserving), Nitish has appointed such a person as the deputy chief minister who wouldn’t even be considered fit to lead a domestic cricket team if we take into account his previous avatar as a cricketer.
Much has been said and written about the polarising nature of the BJP’s campaign but similar assertions need to be made in relation to the campaign of the now incumbent government. How can one forget or ignore Lalu’s campaign proclamation describing the Bihar elections as a “war” between “backward and forward castes”? It is one thing to stand for social justice and bat for the underdog, but pitching one caste or a set of castes against another during an election is nothing but outright casteism. It has helped Lalu achieve the desired result in the polls but it is definitely wrong.
And those who think that it is entirely Lalu who is at fault, and not Nitish, need to think once again. The decision to come together must have been mutual since an alliance cannot be stitched together by a leader alone. In such a scenario, shouldn’t people doubt the credentials of Nitish who refused to maintain an arm’s length from a convicted politician?
However, the most dangerous electoral ploy which Nitish employed to win the Bihar elections, besides forging an alliance with the RJD, was to coin the slogan of “Bihari vs Bahari”. The slogan was representative of Shiv Sena-like regional politics. We are aware of the harm done to Maharashtra and Mumbai by Shiv Sena’s regional chauvinism. Patna doesn’t possess the economic might of Mumbai but thankfully, it hasn’t been a witness to violence linked with regional identity.
Unlike Maharashtra, where Shiv Sena goons have physically targeted north Indians in the past, we haven’t heard of similar incidents of violence towards people of other states in Bihar. True, Bihar has its history of caste and communal violence. The Bhagalpur riots of 1989 remain a blot on Bihar’s history. Equally shameful was the caste-related violence unleashed by the likes of Ranvir Sena led by Brahmeshwar Singh Mukhiya.
But the Mahagathbandhan’s catchy political slogan identifying Biharis and compartmentalising "others" as "outsiders" may well add a third dimension of violence in the state. Let us hope it never happens but wittingly or unwittingly, the campaign slogan has created space for a certain kind of people to be branded as “Baharis” or "outsiders" in Bihar.
Lastly, it would be too early to write the obituary of the Mahagathbandhan government. It should be given an opportunity to walk the talk. But the government’s success would largely depend on how well Nitish is able to rein in the “Lalu dynasty” by keeping both the sons on their toes and simultaneously ensuring that Bihar doesn’t descend along the path of "goonda raj". It goes without saying that the government will have to operate with a zero corruption approach and provide for employment, income, equality, social justice and communal harmony.