In last four years, Bihar has gone through a period of confusion and unstable political churning. After 2005, when Nitish Kumar first assumed power in state by allying with the BJP, Bihar was facing a period of backwardness.
But the same cannot be said now. His hunger for power has led to Bihar undergoing a social shift – from communal harmony and religious unity to the emergence of caste-based violence and communal riots. The image of “Susashan Babu” is under threat, as his compromising ability has seen a new low with his popularity dipping significantly ever since he broke away from the Grand Alliance with the RJD and the Congress. The overwhelming mandate against the BJP in the 2015 assembly election was crystal clear. But the backhanded manner in which Nitish has struck a deal with the BJP again is imposing a heavy price on people of Bihar.
Nitish’s past record of political dealings clearly indicates that he has often taken a soft stand against BJP’s communal facet, often in the name of a conditional alliance. Perhaps, this was why the BJP and Nitish stitched an alliance for more than nine odd years. The reason why he quit the NDA alliance in 2014 before the Lok Sabha election was because he found BJP under Modi to be significantly different from how the party was, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. In fact, Nitish’s stand on Modi is on record where he confesses to veteran journalist Sankarshan Thakur – “Is aadmi se compromise nahi ho sakta (There’s no possibility of reaching a compromise with such a person).”
Despite allegedly having deep personal differences with Modi, Nitish compromised incredibly – forgetting his love for socialist stalwarts like Jay Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia. He buckled under BJP’s pressure. Consequently, he quit the Mahagathbandhan and re-aligned with an uncomfortable and dangerous political partner.
Subsequently, a few decisions and events in the state have led to an increase in the activities of anti-social, communal elements who want to polarise the electorate before the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election. Firstly, Nitish appointed the former SP of Bhagalpur, Krishna Swaroop Dwivedi, as the state’s DGP. Now, Dwivedi had previously been indicted for his partisan role in the infamous 1989 Bhagalpur riots, which saw more than 1,000 people (most of them Muslims) killed and numerous properties destroyed. In this context, it can be reasonably argued that Nitish acted on his bosses’ orders to appoint an allegedly religiously-biased, communal-minded officer.
Appointing an officer supposedly with a communal agenda was an undeclared soft stand on communal forces. Its impact was seen in the coming days when Arijit Shashwat, son of Ashwini Choubey (Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare and a senior leader of the BJP) was arrested, after being found guilty for communal clashes in Nathnagar, Bhagalpur district. He was not arrested despite a court warrant being issued against him. The ‘Dwivedi Effect’ was clearly visible in the reluctance and delay of the Bihar police in arresting Arijit.
Secondly, there seems to be a ‘do not act tough’ instruction to the administration against riot- instigators. One only needs to have a brief look at the timeline of communal clashes which took place in Bihar in March 2018 to understand this:
March 17 – Bhagalpur
March 24 – Siwan
March 25 – Aurangabad
March 27 – Samastipur and Munger
March 28 – Silao (Nalanda) and Sheikhpura
I don’t think these clashes were small, isolated incidents. Instead, I fear that something bigger was planned. A 7-member fact-finding team of journalists and social activists – comprised of Nadeem Khan (social activist), Prashant Tandon (journalist), Hasnul Banna (journalist), Tarique Anwar (journalist), Sagrika Kissu (journalist), Mahtab Alam (social activist) and Farrah Shakeb (social activist) – have found that the violence had been planned on an ‘industrial’ scale. Around 2 lakh swords were reportedly purchased from an online portal. CDs and pen drives with abusive and highly objectionable songs were circulated also. The pattern of violence in all these riot-affected areas was quite similar. Based on the evidence, the team thought that it was clear that the violence had been well-planned and orchestrated by BJP leaders and Bajrang Dal activists.
The team met Amir Subhani, Principal Secretary (Home), Govt. of Bihar, who said that they were aware of the presence of a huge number of swords in the Ram Navami procession. He also said that brandishing weapons was a new phenomenon that had never been witnessed before.
In response to the nationwide bandh by Dalit organisations on April 2, 2018, representatives of different upper castes tried to retaliate by calling bandhs of their own. As a result, Bihar mostly witnessed hooliganism, vandalism and rampant violence by these fringe groups in Patna, Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Begusarai, Gaya, Chhapra, Nawada, Jehanabad, Sasaram, Sheikhpura, Vaishali, Purnea and other districts. Even a Union minister, Upendra Kushwaha, was assaulted. It’s as though the miscreants were given a free reign, only days before Modi’s visit to Champaran.
The state seems to have turned into a battleground for confrontations – either between the Hindus and the Muslims, or between the upper and lower caste people and their organisations. The violence seems to have an underlying, 2-dimensional agenda. One of the agendas is to mindlessly attack and fan anti-reservation sentiments against the reservation policy of our nation. The second is to cash on the anger of upper-caste people against the people from the lower castes.
For example, during the 2015 Bihar assembly election campaign, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat questioned the existing reservation policy and called for its review. This, in my opinion, was an electoral stunt – mainly to instigate hate and fear in minds of the majority community against the minorities. Such a strategy may pave the way for communal forces to polarise the electorate on lines of caste and religion before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
A couple of years ago, in a conversation with The Quint, Sankarshan Thakur shared his views on how a political party like the BJP wins in a Muslim-majority area? He simply stated that they do so by consolidating the anti-Muslim vote.
The same template is being used to widen the gap between upper-caste and lower-caste people in Bihar, particularly by the BJP. The creation an anti-reservation environment is already underway. Provoking people through violent gestures is only a second means to further polarise the situation in the state.
Bihar has rarely witnessed such a horrifying series of events in recent times. Though the state is known for caste discrimination and violence, the successive occurrence of incidents of communal violence probably show that Nitish Kumar’s compromising ability with fascistic elements is increasing unimaginably. The previous ‘small incidents’ in different pockets of state have flared up and turned into riot-like situations. These are concerted efforts to create a communal divide in the state.
Yet, the government is doing nothing to prevent the situation from worsening even further. On the other hand, these incidents merely seem to be vigorous ‘red-carpet preparations’ by communal elements for the upcoming Lok Sabha election.