Towards Building up a Political (Caste) Consensus in Bihar

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In Bihar today, there's a dire need for every one -- who can recognize and speak up the truth - to stand together on one platform. You have to identify the problems before they can be addressed.

Everyone seems to be divided along the party or caste lines. The moment one expresses an opinion, he/she is slammed as either "Bhakt" (pro-Narendra Modi) or "Sick-ular" (pro-Great Alliance of Lalu-Nitish-Congress).

There's another very important element in the context of Bihar, and that is jealousy/bad blood owing to caste or family origin. One may not be willing to give credit to others if they happen to belong to the rival castes. On the other hand, people have a tendency to shut their eyes to the failings of their own caste men or women.

For example, most of the Yadavs and the Kurmi-Koeris - since they have the illusion that the current government in Bihar is theirs - would not acknowledge that the administration of Nitish needed any improvement. They resist considering what would be required to have the government restructured or revamped. For example, whenever there’s a discussion on the law and order, they would be defensive citing administrations in other BJP-ruled states or Delhi.

On the other side, by and large, the rival upper castes - since they feel power has slipped out of their hands for ever - wouldn't give credit for anything to the Nitish's more than a decade old administration.

As a result there's hardly any consensus on action plan between the rival castes (and the political parties) in Bihar on the issue of how to improve the lot of the province.

Since caste competition is so intense in Bihar, let's do a reality check in the two rival camps: the Forward Castes and the Backward Castes (and let me know where you disagree):
The upper castes in Bihar more or less have a relative advantage in education, mobility and social (external-internal) awareness. They have a privileged autonomous position in the society on the basis of which they can critique their own upper caste leaders or stay indifferent. They can afford to turn against those who project themselves as caste leaders. Their survival or well-being doesn't necessarily depend on continuing as a camp follower of a particular caste leader.

On the other hand, members of the backward castes, by and large, have a tendency to follow their own caste leaders, more so when they are told that the upper castes are up against their interest (particularly, the reservation). They get energized and swayed when they are counseled by their leaders that by staying together in the camp of Backwards, they could perpetually rule Bihar and over the Forward castes. “This is a fight of the Backwards against the Forwards” has been the electoral war cry of Lalu Yadav at all the elections.

The Nitish-Lalu side has a distinct advantage of numbers that matters in a democracy. They can easily rally their caste base against the upper caste leadership accusing the latter of a "Forward caste conspiracy against the Backward caste." An overwhelming part of the backward caste population will, then, get behind their leaders once they are frightened of the Forward caste dominance.

Furthermore, if the upper caste people are on the BJP bandwagon, the Muslims can also be rallied very easily against them and in favor of the Backward caste leaders.

This rivalry and bad blood, therefore, marks the political landscape of Bihar and will likely continue for some time. Lalu and Nitish will be the winners in this scenario for the foreseeable future until something dramatic happens.

Lalu-Nitish have a vested interest in keeping the status quo in Bihar and particularly in their caste groups because otherwise the educated-aware members of their base will challenge their modus operandi and will possibly question their authority.

Examined against this backdrop, it’s disturbing to find here and there the youths of Bihar on either side so much brain-washed that they are not able to see beyond their narrow party or caste framework. On social media and elsewhere, for example, a young pro-Lalu man sees a “Brahmanical conspiracy” in the fodder scam Lalu is involved in. People like him don’t see anything wrong with Lalu pushing his dynasty on his party and on the politics of the province. He considers the BJP a “Fascist” party and not a national party that has made its way to the top because of the undemocratic dynastic failings of the inheritors of the Indira Congress.

On the other side of the fence, most of the young men and women against the Grand Alliance, seem to be pro-Narendra Modi more than pro-BJP, not knowing that personality-cult is the opposite of democracy. They refuse to acknowledge that their excessive reliance on the charisma of a leader, their reluctance to distancing themselves from the far-right Hindu elements and their absolute refusal to working with the Muslims to win over their support, deter them from extending their influence.

The Biharis will have to unanimously accept first that the problems in Bihar Nitish was given mandate in 2005 to grapple with have not gone away. Criminalization in politics, declining standards in education and morals, corruption and disorder in administration, deteriorating work ethics, insecurity of life and property have been the challenges since the Congress rule in Bihar. Instead of improving them, the Lalu-Rabri regime made them worse. The first administration of Nitish-Sushil (NDA: 2005-10) did steer the state in the right direction for which it got another mandate in 2010. For reasons not specific to Bihar, that march to improvement got derailed in 2012-13.

Now, in the changed political scenario, with the GA in the government and the NDA in the opposition, it’s incumbent on the leaders to work on a consensus of governing agenda for the betterment of Bihar.

Caste cooperation rather than caste conflict is the only way to the future of Bihar.


Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.

Dr. Prasad administers a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.

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