Mahasangrama of Bihar elections
The title Mahasangrama (the great war) is taken from the public broadcaster Doordarshan, with due acknowledgment. Unsurprisingly, the objectives for which the <g data-gr-id="111">mahasangrama</g> is waged are not at the core of public analysis and discourse so far.
The sighs of relief could almost be heard when the Election Commission of India announced last week, the dates of the five-phase Bihar polls. Finally, real action could kick in. For too many months, politicos had been waltzing--not too gracefully, though--around the much awaited political drama of the year. The rev-up was tortuous. Hopefully, it will not remain standard fare, with more State elections lined up in 2016 and 2017. It avoidably dragged in prime national level personalities too deep into what could have been better left to the State, as had been the takeaway from the Delhi elections earlier this year.
But then takeaways are not always taken in the right spirit. This time again, a State election has the head of the union government taking charge of the campaign of one of the major alliances in the fray. It will <g data-gr-id="170">interesting</g> to gauge how events will unfold. The policy changes and deferred decisions relating to land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation, as well as OROP, to name a few, had Bihar in focus. Time, energy, attention and resources that will need --in the next two months-- to be earmarked will come at a cost that no one appears eager to begin computing. Should this not have been better spent coming good on poll promises made last year? Stakes may be high, but is this the most appropriate strategy? The question is an open one at this stage.
Cut to the State. The grand anti-Modi alliance — or whatever shredded form it now <g data-gr-id="166">retain</g> — is indeed an odd creature. However strenuously Nitish Kumar may try to justify the alliance, it simply does not carry any conviction. It may be that he genuinely believes voters and citizens have a very abridged memory span and that the exhortations of the virtues of Sushasan (good governance) versus the evils of Jungle Raj would have been quietly consigned to the archives. He even goes so far as to say that there is no sign of Jungle Raj, although Lalu Prasad Yadav is by his side! This one is going to take some unraveling, over an extended period!
It also is a tad touching and can evoke only a slight sneer from those in the know. Notwithstanding the promise of <g data-gr-id="112">vikaas</g> (progress), the sole agenda is to hang on to power, beyond the decade that the electorate already granted him — barring the short, illuminating cameo starring Jiten Manjhi, the newly minted Mahadalit leader, essayed by Nitish himself. How he must rue the day. But on what moral authority is this quest based? What do the 25 long years of Lalu-Rabri-Nitish rule add up to for the State? Is the only gripe about not getting a status of Special State for Bihar? What accounts for Bihar still being counted amongst the most backward States in the country? The first tenure of Nitish from 2005 may have been transformative by Bihar’s standards, but for various reasons, political ones being preponderant, there has been a flattening and even stagnation on various indices of development. And this should certainly not be taken as an affront to Bihari <g data-gr-id="117">asmita</g> (pride), as it is an objective reality that cannot be wished away.
Things are yet to settle down, and seats are yet to distributed to the satisfaction of all alliance partners. Subterranean tremors will continue and be managed. The Election Commission will work hard to ensure that the electoral ecosystem is not vitiated by <g data-gr-id="110">bahubalis</g> (strongmen) and money power.
But going back to the basic contradictions in this <g data-gr-id="114">mahasangrama</g>, which have been briefly flagged above, the moot point is that the electorate is being submerged under high voltage theatrics, extravagant splurges to build up personality cults, without any comprehensive discourse on unfulfilled plans and pledges of earlier elections, the reasons for the state’s dismal underperformance and what the future holds for them.
It is very critical to underscore at all times that it is the articulation of their power and the manifestation of their expectations, hopes and aspirations that elections are meant to revolve around. It is high time that there are appropriate mechanisms created for them during the <g data-gr-id="115">mahasangrama</g> process itself so that they can hold the elected representatives to account, post November 12. This will be participative democracy in the true sense. If Bihar has to show the way--as it has done in the <g data-gr-id="116">past-it</g> must not allow the next two months to be converted into a burlesque by those masquerading as <g data-gr-id="162">saviours</g>.
This is an area that has received very scant attention, but it is never too late. Janata (the people) is supreme and they must find an active role right now and not merely remain passive till the press of an EVM button. I would go so far as to say that as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy, this, as yet undeveloped <g data-gr-id="113">facet</g>, can be our soft-power, in demo- mode, to the discerning world. There <g data-gr-id="156">is</g> enough capability and brain power to drive this successfully in the State. Let this be a new start in electioneering. It has meaning and potential as its inherent strengths.
My best wishes to the Bihar electorate and citizens as they deserve far more and better than what has been served up to them so far by the <g data-gr-id="108">jana</g> <g data-gr-id="109">pratinidhis</g>. And they must keep up the constant pressure and close vigil to ensure that they deliver on the fundamental and unassailable objective of a rejuvenated Bihar. Enough of lust for power, without a care for those who bestowed on them the rare privilege to serve.
(Dr. Tuktuk Ghosh is an independent commentator, former bureaucrat and academic. The views expressed are personal)