For decades Bihar proved that political sensibility means a peculiar understanding of social reality that has little to do with economic growth or social development. If this were not the case, Bihar would never have mattered in the Indian political scene. The fourth largest state in India, one that sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha but has not much to show as achievements in the social and economic sphere, Bihar has nonetheless never failed to show the civilised way out whenever the Indian State and society got stuck in a mess of its own making.
Remember Indira Gandhi and her authoritarianism, which had to bite the dust when elections were held after 21 months of Emergency, which she had imposed to suppress the resistance led by the iconic Jayaprakash Narayan in the 1970s. The epicentre of that resistance was Bihar.
Then cut to the early 1990s when the BJP’s then PM -in-waiting LK Advani led the Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya, to start the building of a temple at the “exact spot” where a 16th century mosque stood. The Yatra left a trail of blood in its wake across the country. Except in Bihar, where the then CM Lalu Prasad Yadav ordered Advani’s arrest and stopped the mayhem.
Now, the people of Bihar have stopped another juggernaut, the one steered by PM Narendra Modi.
It is history repeating itself, the history of Bihari resistance to the excesses of insolent authority. Though Karl Marx believed that when history repeats, it does so as tragedy the first time and again as farce, the same doesn’t hold good when the protagonists are Bihari.
Scorned by the rest of India as undeveloped and backward, inhabiting a state that lives in another century, Biharis have, on the contrary, acted wisely at nearly every crucial crossroads in the life of the Indian republic, be it the 1970s, ’90s or 2015.
The Bihar Assembly election was given a ‘national colour’, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virulent campaign throughout the state. From Day One, the battle was made out to be a clash between the Nitish/Lalu versus Modi/Shah duos. So, when the people comprehensively rejected Modi’s politics, how did the ‘discerning class’ understand the verdict?
The ‘mainstream’ reaction to the BJP rout was of two kinds. One section heaved a sigh of relief while others were apprehensive if not alarmed by the verdict. The relief was based on the fond hope Modi will read the verdict as a rejection of the so-called fringe elements in the Hindu Right, and that would give him strength to focus on his big plans for India’s development instead of letting the discourse get hijacked by naysayers crying hoarse over the deeds of a few in the Sangh Parivar.
The apprehension, on the other hand, is that the electoral defeat would make the Modi regime less confident about intensifying neoliberal reforms. This group usually believes that when people express themselves politically, in elections or otherwise, it’s a threat to the prospect of economic reform.
These two positions, essentially, sum up the ‘liberal’ response to the drubbing that the people of ‘backward’ Bihar gave Modi and his party. Presenting leaders and policies as something apart from their ideology and politics is the mainstay of this kind of reasoning. In the world of liberal imagination, the Dadri lynching, the burning of Dalit children, murders of rationalists, writers and political dissidents are merely the handiwork of some ‘fringe’ elements, actions that don’t find approval in the political ideology of Hindutva, nor had anything to do with the worldview they share with the party in power.