Bihari Identity Assumes A New Importance!

Only three of the 40 legislators in Lok Sabha from Bihar are Muslims, with one each from Janta Dal-United (JD-U), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. Muslims form around 16.5 percent of the population of Bihar. Only 19 of the 243-member Bihar assembly are Muslims. Ironically, representation of Muslims in Lok Sabha and Bihar assembly is not close to what it should be in keeping with their population in the state. Despite their being under-represented, the importance of secular flag being waived by parties with a strong base in Bihar cannot be sidelined. This refers particularly to JD-U having sent strong signals to BJP that it is against Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being projected as a prime ministerial candidate during the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Certainly, JD-U does not want to risk losing support of Muslims in Bihar.

Undeniably, Bihar is one state where communal card played by extremist elements has not been allowed to have its way in targeting Muslims during the present or the previous regime led by Lalu Prasad Yadav. Political history stands witness to Bihari leaders having prevented LK Advani’s chariot procession’s entry into the state during the phase of the communal frenzy over the Ayodhya-issue. Besides, following Gujarat-carnage, Modi has not been allowed to campaign for BJP in Bihar.

The new importance assumed by political strategies being worked out in Bihar conveys yet another message. The Rs 12,000-crore package announced recently by the Centre for Bihar state falls in this category. The Congress is apparently not against entering into some political understanding with JD-U, with an eye on increasing its strength in the next Lok Sabha.

 It is as yet too early to expect JD-U to state that it may be expected to give serious consideration to an alliance with Congress. But the Congress can be expected to consider a political handshake with JD-U. Of the 40 members from Bihar in Lok Sabha, 20 are from JD-U. Only three are from the ally of Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) led by Lalu Prasad Yadav. The position of the Congress is worse in Bihar with it having won only two seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. With one of these legislators, Meira Kumar, having been appointed as Speaker of Lok Sabha, the Congress is represented in this House by only one legislator, Maulana Mohammed Asrarul Haque who represents Kishanganj, a Muslim majority area.

The BJP, which won a quarter of the 40 seats from Bihar in the previous Lok Sabha elections, may not have succeeded without a strategic alliance with JD-U.  The BJP cannot afford to lose this alliance. JD-U has adopted a politically diplomatic approach towards the package, with party’s Bihar president BN Singh stating that as it falls short of their expectation of Rs 20,000 crore, “there is nothing to welcome the approval of Rs 12,000 crore under BRGF (Backward Regions Grant Fund).” The political message may be read as follows: if the Congress expects to reach some political understanding with JD-U, it needs to consider allocating more funds for Bihar’s development.  

The 12000-crore package and JD-U’s response signals tremendous increase in the political importance of Bihar, legislators from Bihar and the Bihari voter.  Now, politicians from Bihar are asserting themselves with a new fervor, conveying the message that they are proud to be Biharis. This message bears its own significance as in several parts of the country, while Bengalis are generally looked up as intellectuals, Biharis are not given the same importance. If Bengalis are placed at the upper edge of a pole, Biharis are near the bottom.

 The revolutionary manner in which Bihari leaders and people have asserted themselves in recent years has considerably shattered this stereotype image held about them.

This image may be called stereotyped, based on misconceptions held about the Bihari identity for several reasons. History stands witness to the state having had a rich and glorious past. India’s first president, Dr. Rajnedra Prasad, who was also a great freedom fighter, hailed from Bihar, so was Jay Prakash Narayan, one of the greatest Indians in recent times.

It is indeed a strange irony that despite Bihar being historically known as an ancient centre of learning, such as Nalanda University, where the famous Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang spent 12 years as a student and a teacher in the seventh century, till recently, Biharis’ identity seldom commanded much respect. This trend is now taking a U-turn. Bihar and its role in the political power-play at the centre and inside Bihar are now being looked upto with a new vision.

The rally held recently in Delhi by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar strongly asserted the political identity of JD-U and that of the Bihari voter. Politically, Bihar cannot be ignored any longer where national politics is concerned. Even the Congress has understood this message. The Rs 12000-crore package does not simply indicate the Congress attempt to woo JD-U to its camp. Irrespective of whether more financial packages are announced for Bihar or not, the recent developments certainly suggest that the new importance gained by the Bihari identity can no longer be ignored.

It is hoped that similar importance is accorded to the Bihari Muslims. Their representation needs to be increased in Lok Sabha as well as in the Bihar assembly!