Various hues of politics in Bihar come together in a book with impressive span and detail
By Amitabh Ranjan
Speaking recently on the birth anniversary of Karpoori Thakur, the socialist stalwart and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s beacon, the latter offered the political circles a lot to chew on. Kumar prefers speaking in Hindi. Reported by the media, the English translation of what he said on the occasion runs something like this: “Karpoori Thakur worked for the welfare of all sections of society. But he was removed within two years. We are too working for the welfare of all sections of society. Sometimes, some people get annoyed at the prospect of working in the interests of all sections of society.”
For those whose staple is politics, in Bihar and beyond, nothing is lost in translation. He was alluding to Thakur’s second term as CM from June 24, 1977, to April 21, 1979. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), the pre-1980 version of the BJP which was part of the Janata Party government, revolted against the decision of 33% job reservation for backward castes and propped up Ram Sundar Das, another socialist leader, as the CM.
Dyed in green, Kumar has had dalliances with saffron. He is having one in his fourth term. But he is now a pale shadow of the once self-assured and even flamboyant suitor that he was. The reason lies in the numbers in the Assembly, an outcome of the carefully calculated and scripted 2020 poll arithmetic by the BJP. No one knows the implication better than Kumar. He understands that not rejection, but dejection could be his fait accompli soon.
That, in a nutshell, is what JP to BJP, the latest book by Santosh Singh, a senior journalist and the Patna correspondent with The Indian Express, leads up to. While doing so, Singh takes you through the veritable kaleidoscope of the state’s politics, from the rise of socialism, its fall and its revival till it finds its feet, first under Thakur and then under Lalu Prasad Yadav and Kumar. You come across unsung heroes of socialism without whom the politics of Bihar would certainly not have been what it is today. The book also captures how the Congress withered in Bihar, failing to read the state’s social pulse. And how our very own GOP lost its moorings, caught as it was in a cesspool of casteism, corruption and lust for chair.
The present-day socialism in Bihar is substantially the legacy of Thakur, the Jan Nayak. Despite many more years at the helm than him, Yadav could not rise to the level of the visionary predecessor and remained all theatrics. It was Kumar who worked on the template provided by Thakur not only to connect with the masses, but also to hammer out quite a few schemes to empower the marginalised and weak, starting with job reservation for backward castes, divided into OBCs and EBCs.
Reservation for women and EBCs in panchayats will go down in history as one of the greatest social empowerment tools under Kumar. Added to this, his bicycle scheme for girl students and prohibition helped him build a caste- and community-neutral women vote bank. He, however, always needed an ally to remain in power. Kumar went with the NDA in November 2005 when he became the CM in a coalition government. In a way, he added to the script, which had its beginning in the JP movement when BJS was opted in, ending its status of a pariah on the soil of socialism. Since then, it has been love, hate, love between Kumar and the NDA.
Veteran journalist Nalin Verma says the RSS-BJS (and its post-1980 avatar BJP) has worked with socialist forces to increase its political space, but has always been ambivalent on the “preferential treatment” to the weaker sections. Kumar is not the one to be ignorant about this. The author says the BJP has a game plan of sidelining Kumar and that it will unfold sometime in 2022. The moot point is: will Bihar’s OBCs and EBCs easily allow the gains from the socialist dispensations fritter away? His contention will be tested.
The book’s span is commendable, the compilation of facts and anecdotes impressive. The narration could have been tighter. One area where the book leaves much to be desired is basic editing and proofreading. The onus lies on the publisher.
The latest ministry expansion and portfolio allocation would have the impression that Kumar is still in control. Will the author’s 2022 proposition hold good. What after Kumar? As Raj Kamal Jha, chief editor of The Indian Express and a celebrated author, says in his foreword, Singh provides a compass to navigate the future. That’s what makes this book readable.
A former journalist, Amitabh Ranjan teaches at Patna Women’s College
JP to BJP
Rs 595, Pp 352