India: Bihar-Verdict: A Message for Non-Biharis! 

The three messages from Bihar's verdict, writes Mark Tully - columns -  Hindustan Times

by Nilofar Suhrawardy   27 November 2020

Though the first president was from Bihar, revolutionary leaders like Jayprakash Narain have hailed from here, the state place is the birth-place of top bureaucrats as well as media-persons, the underlying anti-Bihari tendency still prevails among certain sections. From one angle, this can be countered with a comical trait being associated with practical citizens of all states. This includes pronunciation of Bengalis as well as South Indians, the religious appearance of pundits and mullahs, and “fun” being made of Sardarjis, Parsees, Christians, Gujaratis for certain traits “assumed” to be strongly linked with them. To a degree, practically all Indians are laughed at by compatriots from other areas and even looked down upon. But the anti-Bihari sentiment is also linked with a negative attitude towards Biharis.

Undeniably, recent years have been witness to a decline in negative opinion held about Biharis particularly among new generations. This is apparently linked with an increase in interaction between Biharis and non-Biharis within particularly the Hindi belt and northern India, including the capital city. Nevertheless, certain sections still retain the earlier opinion about people hailing from Bihar. Paradoxically, little importance is given to the ethical limits of holding a negative attitude towards any person or community without any reason. It amounts to lowering one’s own stature. Pointing a finger at anyone, that too without any reason, amounts to pointing three at one’s own self.

Bihar’s electoral verdict certainly proves that the state’s voters have used their electoral right shrewdly, outsmarting master strategists and even “seasoned” politicians in this battle. Think seriously, it was a nail-biting race, the end-result of which probably spelled sleepless nights for many heading the state government at present. There is no guarantee that these power-holders are seated comfortably in their positions. Winners have not really tasted actual victory.

Bihari voters are apparently not in favor of national parties holding total command over their state’s politics. Yes, this is true of practically most states with strong regional parties in the fray. During assembly elections, voters tend to give greater importance to regional parties while they exercise a different strategy during parliamentary polls.  Whatever the rest of the world thinks of them, during these assembly elections, Biharis have definitely voted shrewdly, outsmarting even master strategists in this race. The tight-race between National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and Mahagathbandhan (MGB) is just a symbolic indicator of Bihari voters having refused to be taken for a ride by rhetoric laid before them by seasoned politicians.

Elementarily speaking, Bihari voters have paid greater importance to what they have perceived as significant for themselves as per their analysis. Religious cards laid before them, veiled as Ayodhya-issue failed to move them despite it being referred to by Prime Minister Modi during his campaign. What, as per electoral statistics, was given greater priority by them were economic issues talked about by Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejashwi Yadav. The latter may be viewed as a political novice in comparison to Modi and Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader, the present Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. Yet, he managed to give a strong fight, not as Lalu Prasad’s son but because Bihari voters understood what he projected before them. It is not as if they didn’t understand Modi and/or Kumar’s language. But those did not hold as much appeal for them as of the RJD leader’s words.

It is possible, the electoral impact would have been different if this was not the Covid-phase spelling socio-economic distress for people at large. Voters have learned the hard way that the virus does not discriminate on basis of caste or religion. It may be recalled, initially, an attempt was made to hold a Muslim sect responsible for the spread of Covid-19. Stigma was also linked with primarily poor being discriminated against as carriers of this virus. But poor, who form a large segment of voters, refused to be convinced by this logic. They viewed Covid-19 as an ailment of the rich. Let us not forget, Bihar remains a poor state, workers from where migrate to other states in search of employment. Students (who can afford to) seek better educational opportunities elsewhere.

Dual-cards exercised by Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan were not ignored by voters. Remaining an ally of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the young man chose to confront JD-U. LJP won only one seat from the 137 it contested from. There is a view that his primary role was to diminish JD-U’s importance in Bihar. He has done the job. However, even though Kumar and his party members may have got this message, prospects of their breaking ties with BJP as of now are limited. Both BJP and JD-U are probably fairly frustrated at their having failed to diminish the political importance of RJD in Bihar in assembly elections. They have learned, BJP and JD-U’s success in Lok Sabha polls does not guarantee similar gains for them in assembly elections. RJD remained in the lead during these and 2015 assembly polls.

Over-confidence in its own moves and that of its allies has proved dangerous for JD-U. This party is probably most upset by its dismal performance as well as its failure to decrease the electoral importance of RJD. It has been cornered in its own political camp. That statistically, RJD is in the lead is probably a harsh political reality difficult to accept for JD-U.

It would be erroneous to assume that voters in Bihar have not understood the political ploy of BJP and the regional parties it has chosen to ally with. Clearly, they find it difficult to digest this or rather accept it. The impact of this factor prompting them to support RJD cannot be ignored. Politically, it was wise of RJD and other anti-BJP parties to form a Grand Alliance/MGB. However, this alliance erred in the distribution of seats, giving Congress a greater number than it should have. Just a few more seats in MGB’s favor may have changed Bihar’s political map. At least, this is suggested by voters’ verdict.

Allegations are being fired at AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) for trying to split votes and diminish prospects of anti-BJP parties’ success.  The party has been labeled as pro-BJP.  Well, India has a multi-party system. Small parties with different tags, including religious, are deliberately floated and/or independent candidates made to contest elections primarily to split votes. In this context, not one but several parties and/or candidates participated in Bihar elections as vote-cutters. Voters’ electoral decisions must be judged in this context. These vote-cutters may have fared better if Covid-phase had not prompted Bihari voters to give greater importance to major regional parties in the race laying stress on the economic development of the state. Bihar-verdict is just an eye-opener to political maturity displayed by voters after being struck by corona-crisis.

Bihar’s electoral verdict should also be viewed as a lesson for regional players in coming assembly elections. Bihar’s electoral verdict has not been decided by Modi-wave, any religious card but the democratic decision of voters, taken shrewdly baffling strategic ploys of seasoned politicians. Besides, non-Biharis need to start taking certain dictates from Biharis, beginning with a change in their attitude towards them. I am not saying this as a Bihari or a non-Bihari. This is immaterial.  Democratic twist decided by Biharis’ political move is too significant to be ignored.

 

 

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