Originally Published 2015-11-05 10:23:15 Published on Nov 05, 2015
There is an element of Shakespeare in Bihar politics. It has over the last 40 years seen so many historical developments impacting national politics that the ongoing election will once again throw up a surprise.
Whoever wins, Bihar wins again

Every school yard has a bully just as it has a crybaby or two. The ongoing Bihar hustings resemble that school yard. There are crybabies and bullies depending on which political formation is addressing rallies and raining abuses on the other. The polls have been intense and deserve the billing of a referendum. Equally it is said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, But this adage doesn't hold good for Indian polity where old dogs and old and and new tricks are commonplace. The campaign in Bihar has been brutal, replete with venom, pithy ripostes, sarcasm as once coalition partners BJP and Nitish Kumar's JD-U fight a dirty battle to the finish. The fact that Nitish has even deigned to tie up with erstwhile foe Lalu Prasad Yadav in his quest to thwart the BJP from coming to power tells you once again that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, which is at one level warfare based on deception. And why shouldn't it be, after all Bihar is the land of Chanakya and kuth nithi. Bihar is also the graveyard of political ambition.

The seeds of rebellion and mass based national movements often emanate from Bihar. With communal faultlines having opened up in the caste ridden politics of Bihar, the state elections are being viewed as a decisive election for the BJP. Imagine the JD U and BJP got into bed to demolish Lalu Yadav in 2005 and now Nitish is in bed with Lalu to keep Modi's BJP at bay. It doesn't get bigger than this. Bihar though isn't India, even as Delhi's largest single migrant population is from Bihar. That is how much Delhi has changed from a bania and Punjabi dominated capital that I grew up in. The election that is now winding down in Bihar could well set off a political realignment if Nitish manages to stop a bellicose Modi. It will be fair to say then that it all begins and ends in Bihar. Revenge is another sub plot here, the BJP feels that it was stabbed in the back by Nitish when he junked them for the Mahagatbandhan. Actually,there are too many sub plots and as the nation waits for an answer, India's derailed reforms process gasping and sputtering also awaits deliverance. Already finjance minister Arun Jaitley has spoken about realiging FDI limits immediately after the poll results. So, India waits for yet another verdict. unfortunately it has chosen to lurch from one state election to another, holding economic reform to ransom in the process.

But this is as good a time as any to switch to rewind to catch vignettes of how Bihar is fertile breeding ground for rebellion and mass movements. The genesis of the decline of the all powerful Mrs Indira Gandhi came in the same Bihar. Disgusted with rampant corruption and widespread social equity dilution, veteran freedom-fighter and crusader Jayaprakash Narayan re-entered active politics to be at the vanguard of the movement that would ultimately consume Mrs Gandhi. He appealed to the youth of Bihar to refurbish India's political and social order by making impassioned speeches which caught the imagination of the public in the main the youth. Sentiment changed and an inert nation hit back.

Let historian Ram Guha take up the narrative, "Through 1974, Bihar saw a series of strikes and processions, demanding the resignation of the Congress Government in the state. One protest, in Gaya, provoked the police into firing on unarmed demonstrators; in another protest, in Patna, the police rained lathis on Narayan himself. By now, the 'Bihar movement' had been renamed the 'JP Movement'. To its banner flocked students of all stripes, and also the major Opposition parties. No longer did it merely want a change of regime in Bihar; it demanded that Indira Gandhi herself vacate her chair and seek a fresh mandate from the people. In the second week of June, 1975, the JP Movement got a huge boost when a court in Allahabad ruled that Mrs Gandhi was guilty of electoral malpractice. The call for her resignation grew louder; instead, the Prime Minister imposed a state of Emergency on the nation. Opposition leaders were jailed, and the press censored. There was surprisingly little dissent." But it all culminated in Mrs Gandhi losing herself and the Congress party being vanquished in the 1977 elections. That the Janata Party experiment, a rainbow coalition of right, left and centre did not last long due to internal squabbles of men with enormous egos is another matter. That Mrs Gandhi stormed back to power in 1980 of course is a longer story.

After Rajiv Gandhi was caught in the Bofors maelstrom, another momentous event took place in the same Bihar when Lalu Prasad Yadav's Bihar Government stopped L K Advani's Rath Yatra. This too resulted in a government falling, this time it was V P Singh who had created a National Front to defeat Rajiv Gandhi.

Advani's arrest in Samastipur en route to Ayodhya under the National Security Act. The Rath Yatra which enflamed passions was cleared by PM V P Singh, but a much younger Lalu Yadav who originally wanted to stop the Rajdhani Express, by which Advani was travelling, on the Bihar-Uttar Pradesh border itself and fly him to Patna in a helicopter and thereafter persuade him to go back to Delhi saw it falling through.

Advani then began his Yatra from Dhanbad on the second leg traversing the tribal belt, central Bihar and Patna, receiving a boisterous welcome along the route. with ecstatic chants of Jai Shri Ram, Advani was greeted in a raucous manner in Patna by a loud and humungous crowd. Advani who advocated how Ram was a unifying figure belied all those Cassandras who had articulated that the Rath Yatra would open a communal tinder box. His speeches saw a common refrain, "It is shocking that in India, Hindus who constitute the majority population have to agitate for the construction of a temple and that too at the birthplace of Rama." Recalling his October 1990 arrest, Advani years later said, "I recall the period when I got arrested following the order of the then chief minister in course of my rath yatra on the temple issue and was lodged in Masanjore which is now in Jharkhand,"

Indira Gandhi lost her crown due to the JP upsurge which began in Bihar, while the count down for V P Singh's fall also began the day when Advani was arrested in Samastipur. The dominoes fell quickly thereafter as the BJP withdrew its support to the V P Singh government.

Finally, we come to 2005 when the hurly burly of Bihar politics took another interesting turn. Lalu Messiah of the minorities and undisputed ruler of Bihar for 15 years came a cropper at the hands of the same Nitish Kumar who he has allied with today. In 2005, Bihar Assembly elections were held twice. The first time in February there was fractured verdict and as no party had a clear majority, fresh elections were held in October-November the same year.

The JD-U went to bed with the BJP to oust Lalu's Jungle Raj, his sheen lost due to the fodder scam. The NDA won 143 seats in the 243-member Assembly, with the JD(U) bagging 88 seats and the BJP 55. The RJD managed just 54 seats. Now look at the irony a decade later the BJP and JD-U are adversaries and Nitish who chase Lalu out of Bihar has had to stitch up an alliance with his once bet noire.

Nitish stopped Lalu's misrule of 15 long years 10 years ago only to combine with him to thwart Modi's BJP. There is an element of Shakespeare in Bihar politics. It has over the last 40 years seen so many historical developments impacting national politics that the ongoing election will once again throw up a surprise. If Nitish wins then he becomes the man who stopped the rising tide of Modi which lifted all the boats since he entered national politics (barring the defeat at the hands of Kejriwal in Delhi). If Modi's BJP wins, then it means that the BJP so crippled by recent Luddism may well choose to strike out on the reforms path again. Modi's hands will be strengthened as he goes into a winter session and four key state elections in 2016 - West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Punjab. His quest to have a larger swathe of India under him served. But Nitish's win may be good for Indian democracy riven by rising intolerance and deep polarisation in recent months.

Fade to black.

Either way Bihar wins again.

(The writer is a Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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