Bihar reclaims India

November 15, 2015

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar (centre) greets supporters after victory in the state elections in Patna on Sunday (AP)

The stunning defeat of Narendra Modi’s BJP in Bihar Assembly elections shows that any attempt to disrupt the pluralistic social fabric of India will be met by strong resistance from citizens. Is Amit Shah listening?

As the results of the elections to the state legislature of the northern state of Bihar were coming in, quite a few people, including some journalists, were surfing television channels in Pakistan. The purpose was to see if there were really celebrations happening in that country because India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was suffering one of its worst defeats in a state election since it came to power in Delhi 18 months ago.

The next day there were quite a few newspapers which carried the reaction in the neighbouring country to this election. The most important aspect being reported was that the firecrackers, indeed, were burst in India and not in Pakistan as were anticipated by Amit Shah, president of the BJP and, possibly, the second most powerful man in the country after Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the course of the long and vituperative campaign, Shah stood out for bringing Pakistan into a state election.

The point he was trying to make was that the defeat of his party in Bihar would be celebrated in Pakistan. In other words, he was trying to say that voting for the Grand Alliance of the regional parties, Janata Dal (U) or the JDU, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, would be anti-national. To the politically savvy, it was evident that the political strategist of the 2014 victory of the BJP was getting desperate. The voters also did not seem to have seen it differently. Just like the Extreme Backward Classes (EBCs) saw the comment of Mohan Bhagawat, who heads the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) the ideological parent of the BJP.

Bhagawat had stated that the policy of reservation (or affirmation) for the socially and economically underprivileged classes needed to be reviewed. His statement came when the campaign had already been polarised with the beef controversy. It gave a new handle to the leaders of the JDU, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, and the RJD leader, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to regain their hold over the critical mass of voters belonging to the EBCs by saying that they would be denied the benefits of the affirmation programmes by the BJP. And, to counter the Nitish-Lalu attack, no less than the Prime Minister told an election rally that the regional leaders were keen to deny them reservation to accommodate a minority community, read Muslims, something that is unconstitutional.

In short, it only showed to what extent efforts were made by those holding powerful positions in the ruling establishment to indulge in polarising society to gain votes. So, it is an irony of sorts that ruling party members as well as Opposition party leaders expect the top notch leaders to initiate action against the motormouths who relish making incendiary statements violating all norms of plurality. It is a different matter that the people of Bihar saw through this all and gave a reply that has taken the smile off the faces of the ruling party leaders. The BJP could get just 53 against the 178 of the Grand Alliance in a 243-member assembly.

The numbers state the extent of victory that Nitish and Lalu have secured for the Grand Alliance in Bihar and much more for the Opposition in the country. Nitish and Lalu have been the two faces of the same coalition. Nitish has been the face of development for India’s most backward of states. Every single opinion poll showed him to be best and first choice for chief ministership. Many believed that Lalu would bring down Nitish because he was painted as the unnecessary load he carried over his head. Lalu, however, proved everyone wrong by making his RJD the single largest party in the assembly by sticking to his good old social axis platform.

The most fabulous story of this election has been that the each of the alliance partners was able to transfer its votes to the other partner most comfortably, completely foxing the BJP. Even the Congress got a shot in the arm by raising its number from four in 2010 to 27 in this election.

The Nitish-Lalu combo has fundamentally delivered the most critical message to the BJP since May 2014. That it was not invincible when the Opposition was united. The BJP, of course, would look into causes of its debacle with a magnifying glass. But the challenge is really to the man whom the people voted for decisively because he showed, literally and figuratively, the stars to the young people of this country. Stars for the youth meant jobs. That’s one reason they followed the Pied Piper to the ballot box. For reasons that are beyond the comprehension of many, the disillusionment among the young has only grown over the months. That’s why the voters of Bihar who gave 31 out of 40 parliamentary seats to the BJP decided to say they didn’t want it to rule their state as well.

The decision of the people of Bihar is more than just a rebuke to Modi. It is a challenge that he has, perhaps, not faced so far in his political career. He has clearly lost the plot of development which brought him to power. It is clear that none can survive by playing or allowing the politics of polarisation or disharmony and, yet, help the country grow economically. There is no choice in the matter for any party which rules a country like India. Alternatively, if he decides not to press the first option firmly, he will have to try and carry all sections of the Opposition to get the economic reforms moving because this alone will bring foreign investment. For a person who looks at the Opposition, largely, with contempt, the task is a hurdle difficult to cross. This is why the Bihar election result will be a game changer for the Prime Minister and his party.

A different election
Talking of elections, a corporate in the southern state of Kerala has surprised everyone by fielding candidates in the local body elections and gaining a majority. The Kitex textile group with a turnover of R10bn (RO58.10mn) has set a record by launching a political outfit by the strange name of Twenty20 and winning 17 of the 19 seats in the elections to the Kizhakkambalam village body about 20km from Ernakulam.

The ostensible reason for the corporate’s decision to field candidates is that it was denied permission by the village body to set up a plant in the village. The corporate had already spent quite a large sum of money, said to be about R280mn (RO1.63mn), for various developmental projects. But, the village body did not change its mind. The opponents have termed it an opportunistic exercise that has been hotly denounced by the company. The point to be monitored is whether the corporate will do something concrete for the development of the village or implement an agenda which will help it make more profit or do something that will genuinely help the people. Fingers remain crossed until the intentions are proved correct.

Animals can teach human beings interesting lessons. The elephant population in some of the forest reserves has gone up considerably and it has been proved that the forest sanctuaries spread across the three southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala have an elephant population of over 6,000. This number makes this region the single largest Asian elephant population in the world. The forest officials have been creating water holes (and they created 650 of them) to ensure that the elephants do not go out of the forest area
and destroy crops and land up in the eternal animal-human conflict zones.

But, the elephants do not seem to be interested in these water holes. To them, they seem to be too artificial for their comfort. A study by the National Centre for Biological Sciences and Wildlife Conservation Society has found that the elephants prefer flowing water because that also facilitates riparian vegetation, shade and bamboo for food. It simply means that the elephant is telling the human beings that water holes should be provided where there are no natural water streams. Human beings sometimes forget that the elephant is the most intelligent of animals.