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Caste, communal and dirty politics to dominate Bihar polls

Indian women hold their voter's identity card before casting their vote at a polling booth in the Jahanabad area of the eastern Indian city of Patna October 18, 2005. Thousands of policemen, backed by helicopters, patrolled India's lawless state of Bihar on Tuesday as voting began in a state poll that will decide the fortunes of a key member of the Congress Party-led federal coalition. REUTERS/Krishna Murari Kishan
Indian women hold their voter's identity card before casting their vote at a polling booth in the Jahanabad area of the eastern Indian city of Patna October 18, 2005. Thousands of policemen, backed by helicopters, patrolled India's lawless state of Bihar on Tuesday as voting began in a state poll that will decide the fortunes of a key member of the Congress Party-led federal coalition. REUTERS/Krishna Murari Kishan

New Delhi: Bihar does not understand the language of development. And our politicos understand it much better. With the first of the five-phase elections kicking off from Monday, the die has been cast.

It’s the caste which matters the most, it is the communal strife which is the right recipe for winning elections. And, pepper it up with dirty politics by calling names and you have the right concoction. It’s a time-tested experiment that has rarely gone wrong. So, why to experiment with something called Development?

Which is why major political parties have junked the development theme to return to “safe” politics of cow and caste?

A poor elderly Muslim man is killed on rumours of cow slaughter in Dadri, and it becomes a dominating political issue in Bihar.
Suddenly, the political parties, which were talking about changing the fortunes of Bihar by implementing their ideas of development, see in it a golden opportunity and latch on to it with both hands.

The discourse now changes to the dietary habits of communities. Cow slaughter, which is already banned in several states, returns to the fore. The fire, which started in Bishada village, has now reached Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh. And, we have representatives of political parties resorting to a slug fest over the issue.

At a time when the caste conundrum was proving to be a jigsaw puzzle with so many parties chasing different castes, the beef row has succeeded in creating a divide. Battle lines have been drawn. It’s either us or them! With two main alliances running neck and neck, the issue may prove to be a game changer.

It’s a high-octane match, the verdict of which would make or mar political fortunes of several political parties.
The BJP badly needs a victory. It has never succeeded in breaching the citadel built assiduously, first by the Congress party, and then, by regional parties riding on the success of Mandal politics.

The then Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad Yadav was the first to breach the fortress when he dethroned the Congress-led government in 1990 by promising empowerment to the marginalized castes of society. The 15-year tenure of Lalu Prasad and his illiterate wife Rabri Devi before he was convicted in a folder scam saw his party’s complete stranglehold on backward and other backward castes of the state which stood behind him like a rock.

But these 15 years were marked by complete lawlessness, with the state slipping to abysmal low on all developmental parameters.

The year 2005 proved to be a watershed moment for Bihar. Lalu’s staunch opponent Nitish Kumar joined hands with the BJP to oust the government of RJD, which had by then become infamous for its notoriety. Development was a huge casualty and rampant ransom had taken the shape of an industry.

The first term of Kumar’s Janata Dal (United)-BJP combine was a welcome relief as the government launched a crackdown on criminals and restored the confidence of investors and traders.

The creaky infrastructure was replaced with better concrete roads and the real estate sector witnessed a boom. A semblance of normalcy started returning to the state, which began clocking double-digit growth.

His government was returned to power again in 2010, as caste politics took a back seat and development became the buzz word. But the second term also witnessed deepening of fissures between the two parties, as it became evident that the BJP had decided to anoint Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections.

The divorce finally happened in 2013. What was an act of opportunism, turned out to be a waterloo for Kumar who was handed a humiliating defeat in the general elections? His party’s tally was reduced to two as against 20 in the previous Lok Sabha elections.

Surprisingly, Kumar had no qualms in sharing power with BJP for eight years till 2013, even though the Gujarat riots took place in 2002. Or, he pretended to believe that Modi and BJP were two different sides of the same coin!

Circa 2015 and the same Kumar who had vociferously run down Lalu in the previous elections decided to join hands with his staunchest political rival to stop the juggernaut of the Modi-led BJP. Sounds bizarre! The alliance was more to do with caste arithmetic, as the political survival of both leaders is at stake. The two decided to cast their net wider by forming a grand alliance by reaching out to several smaller caste-based parties and supported by the main Congress party.

The formation of grand alliance did upset the BJP which also went into overdrive to pander to the smaller parties left out by the socialist alliance. Not only did the BJP succeed in getting Jitan Ram Manjhi into its fold, it played a crucial role in forcing Mulayam Singh Yadav to ditch the Janata Parivar and to contest all seats to play a spoiler.

Mulayam’s Samajwadi Party being a small fish in the ocean has no big chances for itself, but it certainly can damage the prospects of several candidates of the grand alliance by cutting into their votes. Any guesses for Mulayam’s somersault!

The electioneering has also been marked by a degradation of the standard of discourse in public life, with leaders resorting to hitting their opponents below the belt by calling them by various names.

What was started by leaders panning the acronym of the parties with double entendre was soon replaced with loose talk and gutter language.It was all well and within limits when RJD was dubbed as “Rojana Jungle Raj Ka Dar” or JD (U) being called “Janata ka Daman aur Utpidan” or Nitish Kumar taking potshots at BJP by calling it “Badka Jhutha Party”.

But the political sneering plunged to its lowest when Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a “DNA” remark on Nitish Kumar. All hell has broken loose since then.

BJP president Amit Shah’s “Chara-chor” (fodder eater), comment against Lalu was met with “Narbhakshi” (man eater) retort by the latter. Lalu’s wife Rabri Devi also joined the fray by calling Amit Shah as “Jallad” (executioner).
The list is endless with leaders also delving into mythological characters and likening their rivals to characters from the epics – Mahabharata (Dhritrashtra, Duryodhan and Putana) and Ramayana (Vibhishan).

So, who would the voters vote for? No party has a blueprint for the development of Bihar. None has bothered to come out with a vision document. The voters are more confused than ever. It remains to be seen which alliance will make the most of this confusion and come out trumps.

Vikas Khanna is a senior journalist and the views expressed are his own.

ANI