Thursday, 05 November 2015 12:10

Bihar is back to caste politics

Bihar is back to caste politics



In poll-bound Bihar, political leaders seem to be travelling back in time as they have returned to their old electoral tactic of identity politics and shunned away from the talk on development. This comes as a pungent contrast to the Nitish era in which the JDU and the BJP ended regional satrap Lalu Yadav's 15-year regime by shifting focus from caste issues to civic and economic promises.


The two parties, before they parted ways, did extremely well by not just ending the caste psyche but transforming voters from caste-driven cheer groups into informed and progressive citizens who kept assessing the work of their leaders and voted on the basis of performance. That was one reason why the Rashtriya Janata Dal led by Lalu Yadav, which was known for its notorious Jungle Raj days, found its vote bank eroding continuously in the last one decade. But not any longer.


The parting of ways between Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is now single handedly dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, created a strange situation where caste made a comeback. The rivalry between Modi and Nitish is well-known, and the two leaders were so keen to pin down each other in the Bihar elections, that they thought of revoking the long forgotten caste-politics and use it as their magic wand.


For many years, the JDU and the BJP had complemented each other electorally to manage stunning victories in even traditionally unfavourable constituencies. While the JDU brought for the BJP the elusive OBC votes, the BJP paid back the favour to its ally by getting them the support of the upper castes. So perfect was this poll combination that Lalu Yadav could do nothing but bemoan his fate as he kept losing one election after the other.


But post the break-up in late 2013, the JDU and the BJP both realised they had no longer the majority support. Had the two parties stuck to their development agenda, people would have surely stood by them and endorsed their progressive politics one more time. Just like they blessed the BJP in the general election in 2014, they would have returned Nitish in the state elections, thus giving both the parties their due share in national and state elections, respectively.


But here, the animosity between Modi and Nitish played the spoilsport. the two leaders did not want to take a chance. They did not trust people's allegiance to development politics, which their parties had created. In order to ensure a guaranteed victory, they resorted to go back to the classic tropes of caste politics.


The BJP, which already had a Dalit ally in Ram Vilas Paswan's Lok Janshakti Party and an OBC ally in Upendra Kushwaha's Rashtriya Lok Samta Party, went even furtehr and accommodated Jitan Ram Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha. Although the BJP had nothing in common with HAM when it came to political ideology or objectives, it went ahead with this alliance to get an edge over the Maha dalit votes which Manjhi may bring.


Similarly, Nitish stunned everybody by joining hands with his bete noire Lau Yadav, whose jungle raj he had so scathingly criticised all through these years. In order to cement the Yadav votes, which Lalu is said to represent, Nitish forgot all the wrongs Lalu had done during his regime, pushing Bihar to the very nadir in the list of undeveloped states. 


From here onwards, BJP and JDU forgot every tenet of the development politics which they themselves had nurtured in the state. Every day they surprised people with their public endorsement of caste based politics. The JDU joined together the RJD to demand a caste based census, and focused its poll campaign to that end. The BJP declared that it will not let any member of the upper caste community become the chief minister. Clearly, it is an unabashed declaration that they are ready to stifle talent in the state on the basis of caste, as no upper caste man or woman, however talented he or she may be, cannot make it to the top post.


The BJP further went a few notches down when it publicly distanced itself from the RSS remarks on reservation. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the BJP, had said that it is time to do away with caste based reservation and privileges should be given to only those who are financially constrained. But instead of seconding this positive suggestion, the BJP came out with a loud and clear message that it did not agree with the RSS statement.


PM Modi begun his first rally in the state with an appeal to the Raghuvanshis. Paswan said that the Mndal style reservation has not benefitted the dalits. And Manjhi gave out a loud call that OBCs have an anti-dalit mindset. In the Nitish camp, in most of their rallies, Nitish and Lalu talk more about the caste background of their candidates than their election agenda.


Given this scenario, it is difficult to predict who would win and who would lose. But the people of Bihar have already suffered the biggest set back. They are now no longer left with the choice to vote on the plank of development.


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