By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
The Chief Election Commissioner has dubbed the ongoing Bihar Assembly Elections 2015 as the mother of all elections and quite rightly so. A good number of union cabinet ministers are camping in Patna to participate in the election campaign. And when I witness the PM making frequent visits to the state to bolster the morale of NDA, I am left with hardly any doubt about the importance being attached to this election. Believe me, this election is going to be historic, and it is not only about the mutual bitterness between Modi and Nitish, the colourful words that have enriched political lexicon and the brazen attempts towards caste/religious polarization whipping up passions, but there are other angles too that need no conjecturing.
All of a sudden, there is a buzz in the air. The collapse of the Nehruvian consensus has led to serious contestations as far as policies and ideologies are concerned. The acts of appropriation and re-appropriation of legacies, claims, and counterclaims are in full public spectacle. The Congress, for one, had always stood for unity in diversity, a sort of cultural pluralism. Whatever may have been the practices of the party at ground level, in principle, it always differed from the Hindu right. With the decline of Congress and the vanishing of generations fed on Congress ideology, a tectonic shift seems to be taking place in Indian polity. For long, cultural nationalism – one of the core RSS beliefs – was lying dormant due to Congress domination over political discourse. The ascent of BJP in 2014 LS elections has led to vigorous debates on history and secularism, fuelling fears of majoritarianism in the process. Apart from these two dominant paradigms as represented by Congress and BJP, there is a third one too, and this is cultural federalism. Cultural federalism is nothing but a confederation of various castes, communities, religions, ethnicities and sub-cultures, which often gets reflected in the regional and caste-based socialist parties in the country.
Since Congress is nowhere in the electoral picture, the onus falls on the socialist, read Mandal parties, to prevent the Hindutva juggernaut from rolling over the Hindi heartland. UP and Bihar have been the theatres of Mandal politics. When RJD chief Lalu avers that this election is a contest between Mandal 11 and Hindutva 11, it is not an off the cuff remark but has deeper underlying essence. Though the present socialist backward leadership in Bihar or UP had cut their political teeth under the tutelage of the likes of Lohia, Charan Singh and J.P. Narayan who were anti-Congress, they are not averse towards throwing their lot with the Congress to checkmate BJP in the light of changed socio-political circumstances. For them, Hindutva is a bigger challenge that can neutralize their brand of socialist caste politics and hence, needs to be fought vehemently. The Congress decline and the marginalization of communists have further left the field open for the propagation of Hindutva ideology. The JDU-RJD-Congress feel threatened by the rise of Hindu right and what drives the last nails in their coffin is the Hindutva’s attempts to show themselves as the true inheritors of the legacies of J.P. and Lohia.
The electioneering campaign focus is refreshingly different from the mundane, monotonous debates about development. The realization that politics is not only about development but also about ideology has dawned upon political experts who have now woken up to the harsh ground realities of caste.
Bihar has been in the vortex of events that have written history. It has been the land of socialist and reservation politics. It has been the land where Gandhi experimented with mass democracy. Just remember the Champaran Satyagraha. It has been the focal point of unrest and emergency that led to the fall of Mrs. Gandhi’s government in 1980 LS elections. Who can forget the indomitable spirit of J.P. Narayan, the iconic socialist who took up the cudgels to challenge Congress during the 1974 Peoples Movement? Not to mention the way Dalit and Muslim politics, in all probability, will change in the country. A Manjhi magic will catapult him to the focal point of Dalit politics and pit him directly against the OBC leadership of the state. Since Manjhi has already energized the downtrodden with his ultra-Dalit politics, it will hardly be surprising if a potent Dalit movement surfaces in the state just as it did in UP.
For long, Dalits and OBCs had together supported RJD and JDU, making both parties invincible. But now, chinks have developed in the combination. Owaisi-led AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) is merely testing the waters in 6 assembly seats in Muslim dominated constituencies but going by the way his popularity is soaring among the minorities due to his fiery rhetoric, the chances of inception of Muslim Right polity in India can’t be ruled out. Mulayam Singh Yadav should see the writing on the wall as a reinvigorated Owaisi plans to make a debut in communally sensitive UP in 2017 Assembly elections.
A grand alliance win will spell trouble for the BJP as NDA lacks the numbers in Rajya Sabha. The holding up of the legislative business of the Government may result in policy paralysis and the eroded credibility of the Modi government. Just recoil back to the disruption of Parliamentary proceedings by a ganged up opposition in the previous winter session of the House when the NDA government tried to come up with GST Bill and the Land Bill. It will also buttress Nitish’s chances to lead the combined opposition in the 2019 LS elections against Modi-led NDA.
This election will be remembered for new lows in political discourse and the use of words like shaitan, narbhakshi, jallaad, darinda, luccha etc. The high stakes involved and the mutual bitterness in both the camps has led to leaders not hesitating to launch personal attacks. Raking up of emotive issues have led to the blurring of real agendas as there has been a goal displacement. The arrival of parties like AIMIM from Hyderabad, Shiv Sena & NCP from Maharashtra and SP & BSP from UP to participate in the state elections point towards the national importance attached to the poll process.
The 1995 and 2000 Assembly elections were polarized by the caste factor during the heydays of Mandal. Things improved in 2004 and 2009 Assembly elections when development took the centre stage in election campaigns. But now, it seems we are back to square one. This election may have significant ramifications for our polity as the socialist-cum-Mandal forces attempt to prevent Hindutva forces from rolling over Bihar. A Hindutva revival in the land of Mandal may spell doomsday for social justice-cum-casteist brand of polity.