Renowned social scientist and founder-member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI) — a non-profit civil society organisation based in Patna — Shaibal Gupta speaks to KN Ashok about the upcoming election in Bihar.
Edited Excerpts from an Interview.
What are your views on the upcoming election in Bihar? Previously, Nitish Kumar ruled the state as an ally of the NDA, now he is contesting with Lalu Prasad Yadav against the BJP led NDA coalition.
It is a peculiar election this time. There is no anti-incumbency which operates against Nitish Kumar. He is known as a person who has delivered. The BJP is also not considered as a communal party in the state as during the seven years that the NDA ruled in Bihar under the leadership of Nitish, the political and cultural agenda of the BJP was not allowed to surface. So, there is no anti-incumbency factor against BJP as well.
Modi was the main factor in the Assembly elections in other states such as Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Haryana where the NDA won. Will he be able to do the same in Bihar?
Modi’s national stocks have diminished in the last one-and-a-half-years. However, I am surprised that his popularity is not that low in Bihar. He is attracting huge crowds here. Still, in other states, he did not have to contest against powerful leaders. However, in Bihar he has to contest against a successful leader who could be catapulted as a Prime Ministerial candidate in the 2019 election. So Modi faces a difficult game in the context of Bihar.
It is a general perception that caste is the main factor in Bihar politics. Will it be a deciding factor this time as well?
Caste has always been a factor in the politics of Bihar. The question is what is the configuration of caste. Earlier Nitish Kumar walked out the coalition of extremes, where the upper-caste had a very decisive role along with OBCs and Dalits. The thing is that whenever the upper castes lead a coalition in the state, they say that the alliance cannot be called caste based. However, when the poor and the marginalised get united, the alliance is always referred to as a casteist alliance.
Can you elaborate a little more on this?
The national base of the BJP is upper caste; this base was originally with the Congress. The base of the BJP, historically, is Bania. But in Bihar, the BJP has tried to woo all the castes listed in Annexure one – which comprises of 108 backward castes, who constitute 30 percent of the state population – and Annexure 2 – which comprises of Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris among others. For example, they declared King Ashoka as a Koere and issued a stamp in his name. They have organised caste rallies in the past but still they say that we are not casteist. So caste is very much there.
What about the Mahadalit community? Jitin Ram Manjhi has emerged out of the blue to claim that he is the only leader of the Mahadalits.
The BJP is working out a coalition of extremes. By taking in Manjhi, they are eyeing the Mahadalit vote. In some sense, Manjhi went to the BJP because Nitish mishandled the situation. Nitish practically drove him to the BJP camp.
What about the BJP’s allegation against the coalition that if Lalu wins with Nitish, the Jungle Raj will be back?
When Lalu was in power in 1991, it was with the largest backward and social justice based coalition in Bihar. Bihar was united; they could win 53 seats out of 54. But after the court cases against Lalu, his support base was limited to the Yadav caste. Even though democratisation took place initially under Lalu’s rule, the state collapsed. In the absence of a functioning state the upper castes started committing ‘high valued’ crimes while the Yadav’s were left to commit ‘low valued’ crimes. This was the general perception among large section of the people in the state. So, there is fear that in case Lalu comes back to power, the lumpen component of the Yadavs may resurface.