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Bihar Battle

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When India gained Independence, Bihar was rated as among the best governed states – perhaps one of the reasons why there exists this fascination among its people for the civil services! Its economy was sound and the people not less well off than those in other parts of the country. Then a number of political and economic decisions were taken at the national level, inspired mostly by Socialist doctrine that destroyed its inherent strength, without compensating in other ways. Later, just as Bengal melted down on ‘discovering Communism’, the shattered feudal society of Bihar rearranged itself around the Mandal Commission Report.

It may seem odd to the people, elsewhere, as to how Bihar continues to identify so strongly with caste even though the consequences are there for all to see, but it seems to have become the sole means of self-identification. With a very significant number of its rural population migrating to other states as ‘cheap’ labour, it has become a major source of income but has delivered no other benefits. What a fall from the magnificent history of the region, which not only led in statecraft, but also in industry and commerce, providing education to people from all parts of India and abroad!

The political career of Lalu Yadav, one of the few politicians of this country who has been convicted for corruption, is illustrative of Bihar’s tragic decline. The present, eight-time Chief Minister, ‘Sushasan Babu’ Nitish Kumar, was believed to be the antidote to such politics, but failed to deliver what was expected of him – good governance and economic growth. Even after being in alliance with the BJP, which has been in power at the Centre since 2014, he was unable to deliver the ‘double-engine’ punch. The coming days will show the Chanakyan tactics of which party – Lalu’s RJD, or Nitish’s depleted JD(U) – will succeed after the latest gamble. As is the case in UP with the Samajwadi Party, the RJD’s votes do not transfer to allies during election time. Nitish Kumar knows this and his actions, therefore, are probably inspired more by the desire to hurt the BJP for having been ‘ignored and belittled’ than to actually benefit his party.

It is interesting to note that the BJP has been pretty sanguine about the turn of events. Is this because most analysts believe the 2024 Lok Sabha elections will still go its way in the state? In fact, the likely depredations of the RJD in office may alienate a lot of voters, particularly those of the JD(U). The assembly elections that follow may not be such a priority for the BJP at the present. Bihar, for now, seems set to become the next battleground between caste identity and Hindu nationalism.