PTH is grateful to Abhinav Pandya for making this contribution on request. Further PTH does not essentially agree with every point made in the article
In the intellectual circles the verdict of 8th November 2015 marks the victory of the forces of secularism over communalism. In the annals of documented history, it will go down as the day of revolution which arrested the onslaught of the juggernaut of mythical and invincible Modi. Half a century down the lane, these documented histories will be nothing more than the mythological tales shamelessly hiding the truth beneath the biases and intellectual dishonesty of intelligentsia/media/liberals clique, just like puranas and smirits hide the dishonesty of the Brahmins, and Modi will be nothing more than a mythological demon, who was crushed by the forces of truth, brotherhood and poor, innocent people.
However, the truth is far from this and the worrisome issue is that either most of us do not know it or would refuse to accept it. An expert in psychology of political communication and rhetoric can always trap the Indian minds because of their obsession with fairy tales of mythology.
Though the objective of this essay is to explore the causes of BJP’s grand defeat in Bihar but the reason I mentioned above analysis as an overarching background is that, that I want the readers to have this understanding embedded deep in their sub-consciousness before enjoying the political stories of India.
Now, coming to the subject-matter of this essay, it must be said right in the beginning that the verdict is not any kind of revolution or Stalingrad-Waterloo type landmark event in Indian politics, as it regarded by the intellectuals, just as the rise of Modi was not any revolution marking the doomsday of Indian secularism. In my opinion, people have always voted in a pattern which can be explained rationally. Those, who could understand the pattern, and get a peep into the minds of Indian populace, captured the power with well-established instruments of political mobilization in a multi-cultural, diverse and democratic political setting like India.
BJP has always been able to get people’s support whenever it has been able to unite Hindus in a bit radical and aggressive manner, raising the real as well as imagined fear of Muslims and Pakistan primarily, and to a very little extent the fear of Christians especially on the issues of tribal conversions. This pattern can be clearly observed in the last 20 to 30 years of BJP’s active politics. Prior to Shahbano case, BJP could not make much headway using communal rhetoric because congress was not seen by Hindus as a pro-Muslim or pro-Dalit party. Its image was of a centrist and inclusive party whose rank and order were dominated by caste Hindus, and which co-opted Muslims and Dalits but not at the cost of the humiliation and neglect of Hindus, their political interests as well as religious sentiments. But, after Shahbano there was a dent in this image of Congress. And, the spectacular rise of BJP could happen only because of Rath Yatra and Ram Mandir movement which was overtly communal and a firm political assertion of Hindu religious identity.
BJP which has its ideological roots in Hindutva, is basically a party with an ideology which works fine as long as used as a political rhetoric or a stunt to mobilize people but becomes a bit redundant when comes in power. BJP, whenever it has been in power, at least at the national level, has tried to swim into the unknown waters of development and innovation, be it in the economy, science and technology or foreign policy. This progressive approach has been immensely beneficial to India as one could see during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reign. Therefore, it is no surprise that even the people in Pakistan and Bangladesh wanted Atal Ji to win in 2004. But, the sad part is that whenever it has tread on the path of development and used it to garner votes, it suffered electoral defeats which has more often than not compelled BJP to go back to its original weapon of communal politics.
Here, I would like to make one digression. It must be noticed that election issue in 2014 elections was development but most certainly and very firmly, under its garb was hidden the image of congress as anti-Hindu and anti-national. If it was only development, Modi would never have won a landslide victory. The permutations and combinations were such that everything went in the favour of Modi i.e. – anti-Hindu image of Congress and state parties like SP, JDU, BSP, RJD, corruption, inefficiency and poor economic performance of ruling party, victimization of Modi for Gujarat which went a little overboard and at some level smacked of vested interests, and the stellar performance of Modi as chief minister of Gujarat. Hence, people trusted him for national leadership.
Now, coming to Bihar, I would like to begin with an assertion that this verdict is in no way a victory of secularism over communalism(as far as Hindu voters are concerned because Muslims anyway would hardly vote for BJP and specially under Modi’s leadership, they would never trust BJP.) I say this because the upper and lower caste Hindus of Bihar are not secular along the lines of Barkha Dutt or Arundhati Roy. If the rumor of beef-eating goes viral in Bihar or UP or instances like burning of Godhra train happen in UP, Bihar or for that matter any other Hindu-majority state, the magnitude, fervor and violence of communal riots would certainly be far greater than what happened in Modi’s Gujarat. The Yadavs, Kurmis, Thakurs, Bhumihars and Pasis of UP and Bihar are as sensitive about cows or their caste/religious beliefs as any other Hindu from any of the states would be.
In Bihar election though BJP/Modi raised issues like cow slaughter but still majorly the campaign was centered on the issues like development and jungle raj. The cow-slaughter issue would have alienated Muslims at the maximum but even if it had not been there Muslims would have hardly voted for BJP because it history is full of communal rhetoric. Secondly, in Bihar issue of development does not occupy a central position in people’s heart or a position which is higher than their caste identity i.e. something which requires erosion of caste-based politics, culture and existence. Bihar is still largely a feudal and agrarian state where modern capitalist styled development with complete disregard for caste realities/traditional cum feudal values is like a square peg in a round hole. In Bihar, for Yadavs, Manjhis, Kurmis etc. the fearless assertion of their caste identity, dignity and power vis -a -vis dominant castes like Bhumihars and Thakurs is more important than Gurgaon type sprawling MNC complexes and call centers. Even now the gory tales of upper caste violence haunt the people’s mind. Therefore, the jungleraj and corruption of leaders like Lalu Ji is perceived by Bihari lower castes as an era of their upward mobilization and acquisition of political/social/economic power, whereas by outsiders it is perceived as the state of complete chaos, lawlessness i.e. gundaraaj.
Then, Nitish Kumar as a CM had performed very well so BJP’s negative campaign and especially personal remarks by PM were more than enough to hurt people’s sentiments. Nitish Kumar Ji is a politician with clean image who is accepted by all communities and has a very strong hold among masses whereas Modi and Amit Shah were regarded as outsiders who were questioning the DNA of Biharis. The campaign machinery of Nitish Ji under Prashant Kishore made the whole thing look like outsiders verses Biharis. For the rural, masses of Bihar it was presented as the question of their ego. They preferred the safety, stability and continuity of their traditional feudal lifestyle under local leaders, characterized by emotional happiness even if it came at the at the cost of poverty, crime, corruption, caste politics and inefficiency, over the unchartered and insecure domains of development dominated by MNCs, sky-scrappers, 12 hour working days and strict discipline.
They preferred litti-chokha (traditional Bihari food) over Mcdonalds and Pizza hut. I think that they made a right choice and they did it because they wanted it. I guess even I would want to do so for my state. Here, I am not being critical of Modi’s agenda of development. I do appreciate his intentions but doubt the suitability of his model of development in Indian context.
BJP, till the end did not declare its CM candidates which went heavily against it and further, the local leadership of BJP was much below Laluji and Nitish Ji in terms of popularity and reach among the masses.
Last but not the least, I would like to mention that still there is no reason for disappointment in the BJP camp because the vote share of BJP rose from 16% in 2010 to 24% in 2015 whereas for RJD and JDU it remained the same. For Congress, there is sufficient reason to bury its head in shame as its vote share came down from 8% to 6% unless it can find some happiness in Modi’s waning popularity. Additionally, there is also no reason to conclude that Modi’s magic is over or people of Bihar actually believed in the fabricated allegation of increasing intolerance created by media/intellectual clique whose motives smacked of dubious intentions and dishonesty. Further, it is also not a reason to conclude that Modi has performed badly in governance. Though not excellent and to a large extent an assortment of misguided and scattered efforts, Modi’s governance has not been all that bad. He has at the least given us a corruption free government and showed an intention to bring changes (though it’s still a happy dream).
However, the worrisome aspect is that once again caste-politics has won over development based politics, and, for that Modi’s western-styled development model is also to be blamed to a small extent. But what bothers me is that this defeat will push BJP back into the arena of politics where it is at its best i.e. communal politics which could range from aggressive rhetoric to bloody communal riots, to win upcoming UP elections.