By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
According to the gossip market and based on inputs from local leaders and the media, the first two phases have gone the Grand Alliance (GA) way, while the NDA has performed strongly in the third and fourth phases. The last phase remains crucial but for the time being, let’s look back at the 10 things that made the campaign discourse in this Bihar election both interesting and entertaining:
It seemed democracy was up for auction. Figures were cited and countered with statistics.
Issues like what the parties want to do to prevent distress migration from the interiors and create job opportunities for youth received only passing references from the leaders. Why does a major portion of the state remain unconnected from industries and reforms despite more than two decades of NEP (New Economic Policy)? Why do hospitals and schools remain in pitiable plight and how can they be resurrected? In the shrill war cries of both the camps, the issues of the common man were blurred and people were taken for a ride.
New words like shaitan (devil), narbhakshi (man-eater), brahm pishach (demon), luccha etc got added to the political lexicon. Language used was vituperative and intemperate. Hardly fit for political discourse, but well…
It seems that the anti-incumbency factor did not work as an insipid state BJP leadership failed to check the GA from successfully turning this Bihar election into some sort of a referendum on the performance of the Modi government at the centre. This may be due to the presentation of the PM as the BJP face. No one seems to be inclined towards asking the RJD and the JDU to give an account of their performance for 25 years.
It was initially expected that the proposed Land Bill of the NDA government would feature prominently in campaigns, but that was not to be. This bill had the potential to usher in far-reaching changes in the rural feudal structure and unlock the unutilized vast stretches of land for industries and housing. It would have greatly benefitted the landless Dalits and the EBCs who remain deprived of adequate livelihood options. The rich farmers’ lobby and OBC parties like RJD, JDU and SP along with the Congress thwarted the NDA’s attempt to get the bill passed. Surprisingly, the BJP did not make this an election issue. Land reforms remain a neglected zone.
The GA raked up the reservation issue despite being aware of the fact that the ceiling of 50 percent can’t be raised as per the apex court directive. Caste polarization was contemplated and an issue that had relevance in the early nineties came to haunt the people again. It seems that the state political leadership has failed to keep pace with the changing times and society. The NDA countered the reservation card by introducing the communal angle into it; it is hard to believe that the BJP leaders do not know that reservation can’t be given on the basis of religion as averred by the Andhra Pradesh High Court while striking down the 4.5 percent quota for minorities within OBC quota as brought by the erstwhile UPA government. Reservation is a can of worms which no party is willing to touch, leave aside reviewing it. The issue lingered on in debates after debates and that too with the nefarious design of creating social divide without any substance.
Black magic and tantra-mantra also became topics of animated discussions. Where are we heading to? Is this the 21st century Bihar that the youth wants?
How ridiculous is it that the PM of the country is branded as an outsider and the subject of Bihari pride is invoked for political reasons? Nitish is not Bihar and Bihar is not Nitish as the DNA barb was made out to be. Imagine the plight of students and migrants who move out of state when regionalism is raked up for petty political reasons.
The innocuous cow has never had it so good in recent memory. Since elections are going to be held in the Muslim dominated Seemanchal region on 5th Nov, NDA is working overtime at communal polarization by bringing issues like cow, beef and pseudo secularism, Darbhanga module of terrorism and minority appeasement policies of GA into focus.
Election for a single state need not extend for so long. Moreover, the terrain of Bihar is not that inhospitable and remote that it will take a month to complete the election process. Too long a process tends to blur the real issues and provide opportunity to the parties to rake up and overplay insignificant issues, apart from keeping governance frozen. Just recollect the number of visits that the PM is making in the state and the camping of several important cabinet ministers at Patna to oversee the poll process.
Despite all the hue and cry, there is a silver lining. All hopes have not yet been dashed.
The reservation card failed to evoke any caste tensions in the state as the GA would have wanted. Impact may be there to some extent, but very few youth are willing to buy Lalu’s logic of a possible scrapping of reservation. There is a significant percentage of population among the backwards who are yet to gain from reservation and hence, are not particularly enamoured of it.
The Muslims have exercised restraint though they have been provoked, and have been careful about not overplaying their identity to dent the chances of a possible counter polarization of Hindus resulting in division of so called secular votes. Chances are that they would vote strategically to ensure the defeat of BJP candidates, but the NDA doesn’t seem too bothered. The previous LS Election 2014 has bust the myth of Muslims being a formidable electoral block who can make or mar the prospects of any party.
Whatever may be, certain trends look as clinchers:
All in all, an election like no other. Let’s wait and watch for what lies ahead.
‘Bihar Elections With Ojha’ is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of the Bihar 2015 elections.