Considered by many as the cradle of democracy, Bihar has been witness to many significant social and political movements that changed the course of Indian politics. The recently concluded assembly election in the state reflects the true picture of national politics — an ever-surging BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a decimated Congress and a group of regional parties that have become synonymous with the only visible resistance in the absence of an effective opposition for the past six years.
In a way, Bihar is like a microcosm of Indian politics. And that is why the state is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Bihar and politics
Over the past two months, Bihar has witnessed yet another political change. Although the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, led by Nitish Kumar, is set to return in Patna, the 2020 assembly polls have given birth to new political equations. In fact, the shift was underway for quite some time.
Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have been the bellwether states for the politics in the Hindi heartland because they end up playing a crucial role in government formation at the Centre.
How important Bihar is in national politics goes beyond numbers. And it was visible on the day of counting. On 10 November, India was glued to TV and mobile screens, following the vote-by-vote update. The 16 hour-long counting was like a rollercoaster ride with its ups and downs — a final before the IPL final. The results, yet again, put to test the veracity of exit polls that had given the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led Mahagathbandhan a clean sweep. At the end, with NDA’s win, 31-year-old Tejashwi Yadav was unable to create history by becoming the youngest chief minister of Bihar.
End of the Socialist shadow
The 2020 assembly polls will also be remembered for many firsts — an election without Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, the last of the Socialist-era politicians from Bihar apart from Nitish Kumar, and a greater acceptance for the BJP, a national party that has so far served as a junior partner in the state.
Bihar, which witnessed a near-uninterrupted Congress rule for decades until the 1990s, saw the rise of regional players in Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United).
Lalu used V.P. Singh-Mandal gambit to expand his base. About 15 years later, Lalu became Bihar’s Chief Minister and his party remained in power till 2005. Since then it has been Nitish, who empowered the Extremely Backward Class (EBCs) — communities that Lalu could not reach out to.
While regional players like the RJD and the JD (U) increased their support base, the Congress witnessed a steady decline, and today, it is a minor player in the state. The party witnessed a decline after the first post-Mandal assembly election in 1995. Regional parties got the support of the other backward classes, Dalits, and Muslims.
Bihar’s appetite for change
Bihar has always shown a great appetite to lead the change and be shaped by it. Many momentous political changes that took place in India in the past few decades had Bihar as its epicentre. Even Gandhi began his Indigo movement, which came to be known popularly as the Champaran movement, against the British in 1917 from Bihar. Be it the JP movement or the agitation over OBC reservation or Indira Gandhi’s attempt to script her comeback, all have had roots in Bihar.
It is Bihar from where Indira Gandhi is said to have scripted her comeback after the Emergency she imposed. It was on her way to Belchi village in Bihar that Indira Gandhi took the famous elephant ride in 1977 — reaching out to the families of Dalit victims who were murdered by upper caste land owners. The Congress, which had been wiped out from Bihar, laid the foundation for its return in the state with Indira Gandhi’s visit. The JP Movement had caused much harm to Indira Gandhi, politically. So it was only natural for her to have gone back to Bihar, which held her comeback key.
Modi has arrived
With 74 seats, the BJP has emerged as the second-largest party in Bihar assembly, one short of the RJD’s 75 and a good 31 seats more than its ally the JD (U), which won 43 seats. This marks the beginning of a shift in Bihar politics where Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a national leader, seems to have overshadowed the regional satraps. The Modi wave that had swept the country in the 2014 Lok Sabha election had lost its steam just a year later when Bihar voted in the 2015 assembly election. The vote was widely seen as Bihar’s rejection of the national trend that was clearly visible in the state in 2014.
This time around, the entire campaign of the BJP was on the shoulders of PM Modi whose popularity, it appears, transcends the boundaries of caste and class. This signals the beginning of the end of the Mandalisation of politics in Bihar. Politics in Bihar, especially during the post-Mandal period, had witnessed a shift from an upper-caste dominated power structure to the OBCs and the Yadavs.
Rise (Modi) and fall (Nitish)
Even though PM Modi has said that the party will work under the leadership of Nitish Kumar, the journey for the JD (U) chief is not going to be an easy one. In Bihar, an anti-Nitish sentiment, especially regarding unemployment and lack of industrial growth, is hard to miss. The Bihar chief minister could not look the other way when slogans against him were raised at his own rallies. Since assuming office in 2005, Nitish has made Bihar wait for reform, industrialisation and high economic growth that the rest of the country witnessed in this period.
Data from the National Sample Survey showed that Bihar’s unemployment rate rose in 2018-19 to 10.2 per cent as against 7.2 per cent in the year-ago period. In the same period, the overall unemployment rate for the entire country fell to 5.8 per cent from 6.1 per cent. But more worryingly, data showed that Bihar had one of the highest unemployment rates in the age-group of 15-29 years — 30.9 per cent in 2018-19 as against 22.8 per cent in the year-ago period. That’s the voter Tejashwi Yadav was targeting with his promise of 10 lakh government jobs.
The social engineering programmes have failed to alleviate Bihar’s poverty, leaving people desperate for economic engineering. In 2011-12, Bihar remained one of the poorest states in the country, with 33.7 per cent of its population below the poverty line.
Care Ratings, in a recent report, points out that Bihar has a low share of India’s factories — only 1.5 per cent as of 2017-18 — and will need to improve. In Bihar, the share of manufacturing in the total GSDP was as low as 8.7 per cent, while the all-India figure was 17.4 per cent.
By voting for caste, Bihar began to slip on the development index but it did lead to empowerment. Christophe Jaffrelot, political science professor at the Sciences Po, Paris, has called it the ‘silent revolution’.
Views are personal.