A significant event took place on 22 October 1764 in Bihar, known as Battle of Buxar. It was fought between the English East India Company and Indian forces at Buxar. The company forces under the command of Major Hector Munro inflicted a crushing defeat on the combined forces of Nawab of Bengal Mir Qasim, Nawab of Awadh Shuja-ud-Daula and Mughal King Shah Alam II. This victory established the supremacy of English forces in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and beyond.
251 years later, another kind of battle is being fought in Bihar. This is an electoral battle to be decided by 6.68 crore voters in Bihar. The main fight is between NDA forces spearheaded by PM Narendra Modi and a loose alliance of 3 parties called Mahagathbandhan or GA (Grand Alliance) under the joint command of bitter foes-turned-friends Lalu Yadav and Nitish Kumar. Both are tallest leaders among Yadav and Kurmi – dominant backward castes and have substantial following among Muslims. It is pertinent to mention that Nitish Kumar was aligned with NDA for 17 years (1996 – 2013) and was instrumental in bringing an end to Lalu’s misrule in 2005. Miffed with anointment of Narendra Modi on Sept 13, 2013 as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014 Parliamentary elections, he broke the coalition on the specious ground of ‘secularism’. His image took a hit after his ‘opportunistic’ alliance with bete noire Lalu.
The wily Lalu in his heydays was a brazen practitioner of caste politics and evolved an unbeatable MY (Muslim/Yadav) combo enabling his party RJD (read family) to rule for 15 years (1990-2005). With no aptitude for governance or development he let loose a reign of terror aka Jungle Raj driving millions of Bihari youths to other parts of India in search of education, job, security and better life. During his regime Dalits and Extremely Backward Castes (EBC) suffered , his Yadav fraternity prospered, corruption ruled the roost and criminals got emboldened making kidnapping for ransom a flourishing industry. While the state was plunged in the darkness of anarchy, Lalu’s main vocation was taking good care of his family – illiterate wife (whom he made Chief Minister for 5 years) and nine children. But he is more infamous for Fodder Scam case in which he was convicted for 5 years and barred from contesting elections. No wonder, Bihar which was considered the second- best governed state in India in 1953 in the Paul Appleby report slid down to bottom.
Lalu’s party was dethroned in 2005 Assembly elections by a coalition of BJP and JD (U) led by Nitish Kumar. The biggest achievement of Nitish-led Govt in Bihar was to end Lalu’s Jungle Raj. His Govt initiated several social welfare schemes for the benefit of women, girl child and extremely poor sections besides constructing roads. The coalition ran smoothly primarily because BJP let Nitish run it and played second fiddle to him. Their good work and Nitish’s clean image enabled the coalition to score a landslide victory in 2010 elections, winning 206 out of 243 seats with Lalu’s party getting a paltry 22 seats. His Govt controlled crime and did basic development work like roads,schools etc but failed miserably to make headway in the core areas of power, industries and jobs.
Mass copying in exams and appointment of thousands of fake teachers made a mockery of education while corruption remained untamed. All this while Nitish kept his image of a good administrator intact with the help of spin doctors. But in a caste-ridden state like Bihar, even Nitish couldn’t resist the lure of caste politics. Guided by his vulpine political instincts, he did his own brand of social engineering by carving out EBC, Mahadalit and Pasmanda Muslim from OBC, Dalit & Muslim segments of electorate. So if boisterous Lalu known for his clownish antics was crude practitioner of caste politics in Bihar, soft-spoken Nitish was its suave high priest. In a nutshell, the main contribution of these two politicians with a socialist background was to convert castes into miasma of vote politics. It’s not that caste politics was absent before they arrived but they were so enamoured of it that governance took a back seat. While politicians were winning elections, Bihar was steadily losing ground and suffering of poor and migration of its youth continued.
Politics is war by another means and everything is fair in war and all contenders are doing the worst to show their best face as in earlier elections. The weft and warp of the caste tapestry is on full display to entice voters. While NDA has promised Bijli-Paani -Sadak (Electricity,Water,Road) to State andKamai,Padhai and Dawai (Job, Education and Medicine) to every family, Lalu/Nitish duo who have ruled Bihar for the last 25 years and their junior partner Congress are using Caste,Religion and Modi-bashing as their main weapons.
A majority of voters are likely to vote along the caste lines with Upper Caste, Dalit and Mahadalit (38%) opting for NDA and the formidable combination of Yadav, Kurmi and Muslim (34%) backing GA. In addition, there are 16 parties either on their own or as part of Third and Left front like NCP, SP, BSP, Owaisi’s MIM and strong Independent and rebel candidates in the fray. They have slim chance of success but may take away about 8 to 10% votes mainly from GA and bag around a dozen seats. But the special target of all parties is vulnerable 24% EBCs voters who are divided into 94 castes and scattered all over the state. However, the real swing may be provided by 20 million ‘aspirational’ youth ( below 30 years) and women voters casting their lot with party promising development and security who may be attracted by the unprecedented special package of 1.65 lakh crore for Bihar’s development announced by PM Modi in August,2015.
In short, youth, women and EBC voters will decide the winner. They are more likely to sway to Modi’s catchy tunes of development, job opportunities and better infrastructures than listen to shrill diatribe of Lalu and Nitish against him.
After 4 rounds of voting for 186 seats it’s a neck-to- neck race with NDA slightly ahead of GA Polling for the remaining 57 seats will take place on 5th Nov in the sensitive Seemanchal area which has substantial Muslim population and there is a distinct possibility of polarization of votes. If that happens, NDA will romp home to victory. In the worst case scenario BJP wil score a century and NDA will win around 130 seats. In case the Juggernaut of Development crushes the Djinn of Regression they may reach 160 mark. Let us see who takes the mantle of Major Hector Munro on 8th November.
By Rajendra Kumar Singh
Published on author’s blog