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Chasing a mirage

Over the last six decades politics in Bihar has undergone a tremendous change. This change is often attributed to deeper structural cleavages along the axis of castes, although little, if any, attempt has been made to support or contest such oversimplified formulations with theoretical and empirical underpinnings.

The 'vikashpurush' of Bihar Nitish Kumar was forced to resign after facing rout in the just concluded general elections for the 16th Lok Sabha. Kumar, taking the moral responsibility for the defeat, put in his papers. His party entrusted him with the ‘sole right’ to select his successor. Kumar by pitching in for a Mahadalit leader as his successor; has changed the course of political debate in the state.

It is not that Jitan Ram Manjhi is the first Dalit face who has become the chief minister (32nd) of the state. It’s not that the saga of Dalit CMs in Bihar start with Manjhi, before him two Dalit leaders Ram Sundar Das and Bhola Paswan were at the helm of affairs. Das remained CM for 303 days from 21 April 1979 to 17 February 1980, while Bhola Paswan was the CM of the state for three terms from 22 March 1968 to 29 June 1968 (100 days), 22 June 1968 to 4 July 1969 (13 days) and 2 June 1971 to 9 January 1972 (222 days). Apart from these leaders, the state had CMs from extremly backward class too — Karpoori Thakur, who belonged to Nai (Barber) community, remained CM of the state for about two years.

The bigger issue, however, is not Manjhi becoming CM, the main contention is what forced Nitish to pick a Mahadalit leader as the brand ambassador of Bihar.

‘It’s certainly a classic case of tokenism politics’, said Sheffali Roy, a professor of Political Science in Patna Women’s College, adding, ‘Manjhi is just a proxy chief minister of state and this move of Kumar is not going to help him in any way—politically or socially.’

Roy, who heads the Political Science department, dubbed Nitish Kumar’s decision as immature and taken in haste. On the course of politics in Bihar, Roy said, ‘Bihar as well as Dalit vote bank are not the property of Nitish Kumar. The Dalit politics will play very crucial role in the upcoming elections and every political leader is eying this chunk of vote bank.’

On the question of giving representation to Mahadalits, Roy said that Nitish Kumar has done it for himself to downplay the fissures emerging in JD(U) between his aides and backers of party’s national chief SharadYadav.’

Roy also said that the former chief minister should not have resigned. Some of the prominent Dalit thinkers believe that by giving representation to the Mahadalit, Nitish Kumar has acted a bit differently than the others. When asked about the motive of Nitish, Vivek Kumar, a Sociology professor at JNU, said, ‘Why was this question not asked when Sangh Parivar chose a backward as prime ministerial candidate?’

Why caricaturing and stereotyping are being done when people from the lower strata are given the charge to rule the state, he vouched for Manjhi when asked as to why he has been picked as the new CM of Bihar.

Hailing Nitish’s move, the JNU don said, ‘Even if somebody is doing it for tokenism, at least he is doing it as tokenism has some relevance. When Manjhi was chosen, people started talking about his caliber. Someone said that haamare Bihar ki image khabar ho gayi (the image of Bihar has been besmirched). Before making such comments one must give some time to Manjhi to perform.’

He further added, ‘Nitish wanted to work hard on the ground so he selected the right person to take care of the top post. It’s not that he wanted to reap the benefits of Mahadalit, so he appointed Manjhi.’

On the question of Muslims not supporting JD (U) in the just concluded Lok Sabha polls, Kumar said, ‘When we try to communalise politics, then caste differences get blurred. It has happened with Mayawati too, when she had extended outside support to BJP government in the state. It’s because of this that Muslims have not forgiven her and she was routed in the assembly elections.

'It's a fact that JD (U) was with BJP. He had contested elections, shared the dais and participated in the government, so how can Muslims be so confident that he will not return back to BJP,’ Kumar argued.

Giving details about the future outcome of RJD-JD (U) alliance, if it happens, the JNU professor said, ‘If RJD and JD (U) make an alliance, it will be consolidation of social justice forces, which will give a very formidable ground for them. It’s is not arithmetic only, its chemistry also. The social solidarity is much more important than the numerical strength. If the two backward castes - Yadav and Kurmi — come together then the most backward Dalit will also automatically come on to their side.’

On the Lalu and Nitish alliance another acamedecian from Bihar, Pradeep Misha, stated that it’s a compulsion for Lalu Prasad to extend the olive branch to Nitish. ‘Lalu is doing this to save his government bungalows in Lutyens Delhi, which he has to vacate as none of his family members have won any seat in this Lok Sabha election,’ he said.

Another Dalit thinker, Chandra Bhan Prasad, said that by appointing a little known Dalit leader from Bihar, Nitish Kumar tactically dealt with his rivals giving a message to them that the control of Bihar is still in his hands. Nitish Kumar has achieved social justice for the most backward community in Northern India by elevating Jitan Ram Manjhi to the post of chief minister, said celebrated Dalit writer Chandra  Bhan.

Bhan also agrees with Shefali Roy that Kumar’s move is not going to help him gain lost ground in the politically sensitive state. ‘It’s a self-designed mirage of former chief minister aka the vikaspurush. Its shows his ulterior motives behind this. So this step of Nitish is not going to help him in any way,’ Chandra Bhan said.

Terming the move as a face-saver act of former chief minister, Bhan said, ‘Nitish has done this after losing his ground in the Lok Sabha polls. His claim of having support of upper castes and others has been destroyed after he snapped ties with former ally—Bharatiya Janata Party.’

He also said that there are more chances that JD (U) will go it alone in polls, as the party is banking upon the vote bank of Mahadalits, most backward and Pasmanda Muslim community. All three communities make a huge vote share of about 31 per cent, which is a very much winnable combination.

Nitish Kumar has sought to turn defeat into victory in Bihar by means of the twin strategy of stepping down from power and choosing a successor chief minister from Mahadalit ranks. The Janata Dal (United) top leader obviously sees this as a master stroke; while he is perceived as having sacrificed a coveted post; his party is strengthened by a lofty gesture shown to a member of one of Bihar’s most oppressed population segments. Jitan Ram Manjhi is a Mushahar Dalit, a deprived community placed among the lowest rungs of the state’s Scheduled Castes. Yet the claims of sacrifice ring hollow because in reality Manjhi’s role is only to keep the seat warm for Nitish. The resolution adopted at the JD(U) Legislature Party meeting says this in as many words: ‘Nitish Kumar will lead the party in the assembly election (that is due in October 2015) and after victory, he would assume office  of the chief minister again.’

As chief minister Nitish Kumar invested heavily in upgrading physical and social services infrastructure, including roadways, public hospitals, schools and food distribution system. Women were empowered down to the panchayats. People celebrated these favourable changes under Nitish. His 2010 re-election from a combination of good governance practices, a development renaissance, an astute alliance with BJP, and the strategic error by Lalu of breaking with the Congress. 

Returned with 80 per cent majority, Nitish fell victim to extreme pride and self-confidence. His fall this year springs from three grave mistakes; caste politics and miscalculation, communal politics and miscalculation, and a fatal misreading of political situation.

Nitish miscalculated that in splitting from the BJP over the choice of Modi as PM candidate, he would attract most of the Muslim votes. Ironically, fear-mongering about Modi’s Hindutva agenda drove Muslims back into the arms of the Lalu-Congress alliance as a more reliable bulwark against Modi. 

Besides, people noted that Nitish had managed to stay with the BJP for eight years under LK Advani, the most public Hindutva mascot. So Nitish got neither the Hindus nor the Muslims on his side.
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