A book that rightly points out that irrespective of which person or party is in power in Bihar, nothing will ever change in the state
Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar
IN ANY discussion on Bihar, my contribution is always a short observation that I read while in college, which was in the nature of a legend. When emperor Ajatashatru built the new capital city of Pataliputra (modern-day Patna), he invited Lord Buddha to bless it. Buddha certainly blessed the city, but also added that it will be dogged by three curses—flood, fire and internal feud. While I cannot vouch for the historical authenticity of this event, it certainly holds true for the Bihar of today. The state continues to be ravaged by the three curses, and a full exposition of these can best be understood by reading this very fine book by Santosh Singh, who is the state correspondent for The Indian Express. Bihar is the current flavour, with three rounds of voting complete for the assembly elections and two remaining before results are declared on November 8. The grand alliance—which has Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the Congress—and the Bharatiya Janata Party are directly pitted against each other in this make-or-break polls, which, it is said, will dictate the future of the Modi government at the Centre.
As the nation debates the two scenarios of Modi’s win or loss, what is being ignored is the future of Bihar. Singh’s book should be read by everyone with an interest in politics, but is near-compulsory for residents of the state. One hopes they read it before casting their vote, for the stark reality is that irrespective of which combination wins, Bihar will remain the same, and if anyone has any doubts on this count, they should read Singh’s book to know why.
It is also a must for those signature academics, and now one can add artistes and litterateurs to the category, who fear the onset of dark days in the country with the advent of Narendra Modi at the Centre, because if any state defines whatever is wrong with our system, it is Bihar. Thus, if any positive activism is required, it is in this state.
The best part of the book is that it has no ideological slant. It is a reporter’s account of the events in the state through the regimes of the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nitish Kumar, along with his alliance partner BJP, the post-break-up phase and the brief interregnum of Jitan Ram Manjhi. Others, including Ram Vilas Paswan, Sushil Kumar Modi and Nand Kishore Yadav, are also featured.
The chief ministers and parties in power may have changed, but the one thing that remains constant is caste and caste-based alliances. The other reality is that no party is free of criminals, which seem a prerequisite for either getting elected or managing caste alliances. Singh has made an apt observation in the book that while politicians may not be good at arithmetic, they certainly are very good at social arithmetic.
The brief history of Bihar in post-independent India begins with the rule of Congress, when political power was in the hands of upper castes. Backward castes like Yadavs and Kurmis, which can rightly be termed as dominant castes, worked as a bulwark for the Congress, always playing second fiddle. The social combination that kept the Congress in power was the combination of Dalits, Muslims and forward caste votes. In a state, where the words ‘industrialisation’ and ‘privatisation’ are taboo, enterprise means cornering state contracts, and whichever social combination is in power, holds sway over such contracts.
When VP Singh decided to implement the Mandal Commission report, recommending reservation for backward castes, it changed the entire scenario in Bihar. Lalu, who rode to power, changed the entire equation by arrogating all powers to the backward castes, particularly the Yadavs. His electoral alliance, which became famous by its acronym MY (Muslim-Yadavs), ensured that his party ruled from 1990 to 2005. The jungle raj unleashed by him in the name of social justice is very well captured in the book.
Lalu’s focus only on his caste led to the rise of Nitish Kumar, another backward leader hailing from the Kurmi caste, but one who spoke the language of development. Though Nitish’s first term did see basic development, the caste factor remained. His alliance with the BJP brought him the votes of forward castes, while non-Yadav backwards backed him. Dalits and the extremely backward castes are numerous and any party can throw sops at them and include them in their support base. Whether it was Nitish or Lalu, both maintained the much-needed alliance with criminal-politicians.
The break-up between Nitish and the BJP—which Singh has rightly remarked was not because of any ideological issue, but purely because of Nitish’s jealousy over the rise of Modi, which he saw as a danger to his own prime ministerial ambitions—has once again brought back Nitish and Lalu together, as they fight for their political survival. The way the major contenders have prepared themselves for the polls is convincing enough a reminder that while the party ruling the state may change, the state will not.
From interesting anecdotes to brief biographies of major state leaders, this book brings out the Bihar story in the most straightforward manner without mincing any words or getting into polemics. Whether it is casteism, communalism or criminalisation of politics, all political parties are equally responsible for it in the state. If activism is required to protest against things that are wrong, or for improvement, Bihar is where it should begin from.