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Published in the 1-15 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Bihar lost between Laloo, Ram Vilas and Congress

By Syed Shahabuddin

The Milli Gazette Online 

The ouster of the RJD from power in Bihar, even if only for the time being, is a momentous event with far reaching consequences for the State and the people. The RJD, the linear descendant of the erstwhile Janata Party which once ruled the country (1977-79) had shrunk to the State of Bihar, sorry, half the original state of Bihar, and had been reduced to a family estate of Laloo Prasad Yadav, who ruled Bihar almost continuously for 15 years with brief interruptions between 1990 and 2004. Laloo Prasad, however, failed to realize his boastful comparison with 'Aloo', a common agricultural product of Bihar and the staple food of the common man, to continue in power forever and even the relatively more modest claim of 20 years! Laloo Yadav, who had been the symbol of anti-establishment, subaltern politics, had converted himself and his family in these 15 years into a neo-establishment with a feudal touch.

Laloo Prasad does not quite know what struck him like a bolt from the blue and grounded his high-flying politics which had aroused the ambition in him and, in the people of the country, the dreadful possibility of his ascension to the Delhi throne. He has been stunned into silence; at least he no longer spouts rustic colloquialisms which caused delight to the electronic media and played an inestimable role in his mass popularity. But Laloo Prasad, as astute politician, is down but not out. Notwithstanding the desire, common to all political parties from friends and allies to adversaries and enemies, to reduce him, show him his place, to break his hauteur, to challenge his constant defiance of all rules of the political game, no one can write off Laloo Prasad. Even in 2005, he has emerged as the biggest single power centre with 75 MLA's in a house of 244 and 25% of the valid votes cast. But despite his bluster and his initial reckoning that in the name of defending and reviving secularism against the combined onslaught of the BJP and the JD(U), all the other secular parties whom, like the classical banyan tree, he had not allowed to take root, far less to grow under his shade, shall join him in forming the government proved to be a miscalculation. He appealed not only to the Congress (10 MLA's) with which he had a pre-election agreement of sorts and which he coaxed into signing a letter of support, as a quid pro quo for Jharkhand and to the CPI and the CPI(M) which had been his allies (together 4) but also to the CPI(ML), the SP and the BSP which had been his adversaries (together 13) which he had ignored and treated with contempt and even to the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) floated by his Cabinet colleague Ram Vilas Paswan, who, with his 29, emerged as the kingmaker. Overnight 'Paswanwa', described as a 'Loafer' (ruffian), had turned into 'Ram Vilasji' or 'Paswanji'. But change of tone would not melt the heart of Paswan who enjoyed playing the power game and would not rest until he succeeded in having Bihar placed under the President's Rule. Indeed, since cricket is in the air, he deserves to be called the Man of the Match!

The Assembly is in a state of suspended animation but Assembly elections are bound to be held within 6 months, unless the JD(U) breaks away from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) (37+55) and gives rise to another round of political permutation and combination. One cannot predict whether Laloo or Paswan will win the series.

Victory for the Secular Forces
The results may be interpreted, despite the RJD's failure to secure a majority in the Assembly, as a victory for the secular forces. Adding up the votes of the secular parties or the number of the MLA's we find that they both exceed the 50%


Yet shake this Kaleidoscope and rearrange it on the basis of alignment or hostility to RJD with Laloo Prasad as the kingpin and the prime mover still the dominant figure in the political arena and you see a different picture.



It is extremely doubtful that Laloo Prasad could win over even the majority of the independents who fought on an anti-Laloo platform. But they include some 6 RJD rebels who may join him if he appears to be approaching the magic figure of 122.

The entire post-election debate has thus been over, how you look upon the result, as a victory of secular forces or as a victory of the Anti-Laloo forces. Paswan interprets it as a victory against Laloo to reject any idea of joining hands with him in the name of secularism or UPA solidarity. He points out that the Congress was not quite an ally of RJD in Bihar, only the CPI and the CPM were. Leaving aside the independents, the parties which fought against RJD candidates and defeated them comes to 148. A non-RJD, non-BJP Government of Paswan's thesis can enjoy the support of 243 minus 75 (RJD) minus 37 (BJP) comes to 131!

Yet, howsoever, poor RJD's record of governance may be, it is difficult to buy Paswan's thesis of equidistance between the RJD and the BJP when he floated this idea. Paswan is obviously prepared to ignore the fact of the JD(U)'s electoral alliance with the BJP and the support of the Sangh Parivar it enjoyed in all the constituencies it contested. Indeed the BJP had deliberately pushed the JD(U) to the front, agreed to a division of seats giving a majority i.e. 138 to the JD(U) and keeping only 103 for itself. It had good tactical reasons. Firstly, it could conceal its ugly face behind the JD(U) which in the public perception had a relatively more secular record, therefore, more acceptable to the OBC's and the minorities, while the BJP's own strength lay in the support of the high castes. Secondly, it had no leader of stature comparable to Nitish Kumar to project as the Chief Minister. It is not surprising that 3 Muslim candidates of JD(U) have won from Muslim concentration seats of Jokihat, the citadel of Taslimuddin, whose son, the RJD candidate, was defeated and of Baisi and Kesarya. Paswan has so far been absolutely consistent as in his pre-election negotiation with the JD(U) that the latter detach itself from the BJP and join hands with him to oust Laloo. Perhaps the JD(U) under-estimated Paswan's capacity and popularity. One is left to wonder at the possible outcome of a JD(U)-LJP pre-election alliance. It could have obtained a majority. But then there would have been a tug of war for the Chief Minister's gaddi between the two giant killers! In any case Bihar politics for some years to come shall be dominated by the interplay between the Trimurti of Bihar: Laloo, Paswan and Nitish.

One recalls the formation of the Samata Party in 1994 out of the then RJD, after Laloo had muscled his way into its presidency, humiliating all the old leaders of the JD. 14 out of 42 JD MP's (just 1/3, as the anti-defection law prescribed), claimed a split, walked out and formed the Samata. The writer recalls his personal plea just before the split to both Paswan and Nitish Kumar that as shining stars in the parliamentary firmament, they should join hands, together to bring light to the darkness enveloping Bihar. Paswan refused; Nitish agreed. The Samata Party, on formation, immediately launched a field campaign in Bihar in preparation for the 1995 Assembly election under the leadership of George Fernandes as President, the writer as Vice-President and Nitish Kumar as the grey eminence, the force behind the mobilization. The response was massive. Practically all observers predicted that the Samata Party would sweep the election and Laloo would be out. Yet the Samata Party felt instant victim to the same virus of casteism which it was supposed to fight; only Yadav-vad was substituted by Kurmivad. Both the Samata and the RJD counted on Muslim support and on the support of some sections of the OBC's, the SC's and the ST's. Samata miserably failed, primarily because Nitish Kumar who is a Kurmi packed the list of candidates with his castemen and with his loyalists with an eye on the post of Chief Ministership. 

Bihar Politics
10 years have passed, not a long period in Bihar's history, but the three poles of Bihar politics remain Laloo Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan. All three are graduates of the JP School of Total Revolution, all three swear by Social Justice. Also all three are undisputed leaders of their caste, Laloo of the Yadavs who form about 12%, Nitish Kumar of the Kurmi-Koeri combine which forms about 9% and Paswan who is the tallest among the SC leaders with his base among his caste, the Dusadhs, but with a wider spectrum of the SC's, perhaps about 8% in all behind him.

The Muslims constitute 15% of Bihar population. A winning combination is around 25-30%. So each of them relentlessly pursues Muslim support but no one is prepared to pay the full value for the support. However only Laloo succeeded in making 'M-Y' (Muslim-Yadav combination) his trademark and a political reality.

Yet, Muslim grievances have been piling up since the first day when Laloo became the Chief Minister in 1990 in the aftermath of the Bhagalpur Massacre. Angry with Congress State leadership and disappointed with Rajiv Gandhi then and more in 1992, the Muslims broke away from the Congress and aligned hopefully with the RJD and its leader Laloo. His stock with the Muslims rose with his halting Advani's Rath Yatra and detaining him. But the Muslims soon realized the yawning and widening gap between precept and practice in Laloo's performance. Without going into details by 1994, Muslims were looking for an alternative but there was none in sight. The Congress had dirted its hands in the Demolition. The BJP was out of reckoning, the Samata appeared to take Muslims for granted and gave them few tickets. So Laloo enjoyed the loyalty of the Muslim masses in 1995. By 1999, when Muslims had begun looking up to the Congress, all over the country with BJP coming to power in Delhi, the Congress star had sunk below the Bihar horizon; it had no political profile in Bihar. The JD had further splintered. One splinter finally joined Samata to form JD(U). The State was divided between the BJP-JD(U) and the RJD. So in 2000 again the Muslims, who looked upon themselves as the kingmaker and were praised and criticized at the same time for supporting Laloo had no choice. The major plank of Laloo's claim on Muslim support has always been that there has been relative communal peace in Bihar since 1989 (with the only major incident being Sitamarhi Riots, which incidentally were engineered by the Yadavs and which were brought down by Laloo's personal intervention to plead successfully with the Yadavs not to be foolish to kill the Muslims and at the same time, aspire to rule the State ('Miyan ko marvo chahin aur Bihar men rajo kare chahin'). But the major Muslim grievance is that he had failed to punish the guilty of Bhagalpur Massacre; that apart from a few individuals elevated to visible positions, the Muslims have been largely deprived of their due share in public employment; that though there had been quite a few ministers, they wielded little authority even over their own departments and had never dared to take up any genuine Muslim cause, even internally, be it the grant of minority status to Muslim educational institutions, appointment of Urdu and Urdu-medium teachers in government primary and high schools or the encroachment on graveyards or obstruction in religious matters; that he was not sincere in the promotion of Urdu, which is the Second Official Language of Bihar, either in education or administration; that he had treated the State Minorities Commission as dirt; that he had failed to protect Muslim cultivators in the rural areas against communally motivated onslaught or to compensate victims of communal outbursts. Also Laloo had not allowed any Muslim leadership to emerge within his party; he has never given any ticket to Muslim candidate for the Rajya Sabha. Naturally the Muslim masses equally suffered, if not more, when the law and order machinery broke down, the administration and the political system became criminalized; corruption became rampant, the educational and health delivery systems simply collapsed, when roads no longer existed except on paper; when electricity flickered only intermittently, when, in one word, there was no development. But Muslim Biharis also bear the cross for having voted Laloo into power and becoming his main support! Yadavs are forgiven but not Muslims. Indeed the social environment in Bihar has become communalized than it was because of the fact that Muslims refrained to move away from Laloo. This pushes some Hindus to vote for the BJP. Muslim upper classes, by and large, are critical of Laloo like all others. So in Muslim circles from top to bottom, there was a growing sense of alienation and disenchantment with Laloo Prasad.

The high castes -- the Brahmins, the Bhumihars, the Banias and the Kayasthas, had in their shift from the Congress landed in the BJP net but they were also looking for an alternative. Even the educated Yadavs were getting restless. 2005 was ripe to oust Laloo Prasad or cut him down to size.

But this could happen, only if the Congress had the vision and the political will to save Bihar, read the writing on the wall and listen to the call. But for that, the Congress would have to stand on its own, without withdrawing its support, its Ministers (all Congress MLA's) had to give up the perks of office; power they never enjoyed. The Congress had to set up its shop in the political market place and offer an alternative to Laloo, other than the RSS-propelled BJP. The high castes, particularly the Bhumihars and the Rajputs would have gathered around it. The Muslims would have joined them, once they saw a critical mass forming. Paswan could lead the SC's back to the Congress fold; if the Congress identified emergent leadership among the Most Backward Classes (MBC's), who form nearly 2/3 of the OBC's, it could be a winner. Even Nitish Kumar would have come around. Yet the Congress, out of sheer lack of political will, stayed put in Laloo's government unto the last. It entered the arena on its own only on the eve of the election, perhaps out of fear that Laloo may destabilize the Central Government. But Laloo Prasad, the politician, would have understood the situation, he would never have quit the Central Government or withdrawn support from the UPA Government. The Congress did not take into account the LJP's public stand against the RJD and entered into negotiations with Laloo for division of seats in an electoral alliance. Having seen through the Congress and its psychological weakness to take a stand against his party, Laloo Prasad proved to be a hard bargainer. So the two sides failed to reach an agreement which would give Congress a respectable position, a standing of its own. Finally, the Congress agreed to contest only the seats it held but not the seats the RJD and it allies held. The Congress also got a mutual commitment from the LJP, another ally in the UPA, of not contesting against each other. The common intention was apparently to reduce Laloo support but not to the point where the BJP-JD(U) would defeat him. But the Congress had lost the game before it began.

Such a convoluted logic of being for and against Laloo Prasad at the same time was not merely a constraint on Sonia Gandhi while canvassing in Bihar but was beyond the comprehensive of the masses. Nor can anyone control the dynamics of a popular upsurge at will. Also with long years of association with the Laloo government and, therefore, sharing responsibility for his record right upto the election, the Congress could not carry credibility. So many anti-RJD votes, including some Muslim votes went to the JD(U) alliance the only party clearly in the field against RJD, a potential winner. Some anti-RJD votes also went to Muslim, high caste and SC candidates of the LJP. The final tally of the BJP-JD(U) alliance which had been written off, before the elections in view of the sector-wise results in the Lok Sabha Election of 2004 went upto 92; Paswan gained to become the 4th biggest party, after RJD, JD(U) and BJP. Congress badly lost and could win only 10 out of 84 seats it finally contested, lower than its tally in 2000, at the bottom, in number of MLA's and % of votes. The reason: the secular vote was divided, the Muslim vote was divided.

But people have tasted blood; the dam has cracked. What was considered impossible appears to be possible. If the Congress has learnt a lesson, it can yet emerge as a major force by making a bid for high caste, Muslim, MBC and SC votes, with proper choice of candidates and a programme for giving Bihar governance and development, after 15 years of maladministration and economic stagnation. The Congress alone has in its power to shape Bihar's future by reviving its old vote base with a dash of social justice. A pre-eminent Congress can, if necessary, make a post-election deal with the RJD and the LJP to keep the BJP out of power. But all that lies in the future and depends on a reappraisal of the situation by the Congress leadership, howsoever agonizing it may be and on how things shape under the President's rule.

For the present, the average Bihari is happy that Laloo is gone; there is hope in the air of a new beginning, a new dawn after 15 years of dark night.

 

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