July 30, 2020
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A Nayak For Naya Bihar

After a break-up debate, Nitish rehearses a few new roles

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A Nayak For Naya Bihar
Illustration by Sorit
A Nayak For Naya Bihar

On June 19, the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) government in Bihar won the trust vote following a split with the BJP, its ally of 17 years, over the ascent of Narendra Modi. This outcome was expected. Of far more significance was the quality of deliberations in the Vidhan Sabha before the vote: notwithstanding political differen­ces, members of the assembly debated ground-level isues, development and ideologies in a textured and nuanced manner. It was in sharp contrast to the ‘national’ interpretation of such outcomes in monochrome or in binaries like secular versus communal, and those who heard it found positive reaffirmation of faith in this representative institution expressing the voice of India’s poorest. This was in sharp contrast to how debates have been conducted in the past: their quality had especially declined when the RJD was in government, especially when Rabri Devi was chief minister, or later, the leader of the opposition.

What was witnessed in the trust-vote debate was a definite pluralisation of political space. Not only was the articulation of differences sharp, the voice of the opposition in the House has also grown stronger. The House expressed three-cornered differences—the BJP and the JD(U) against each other, and the RJD against the ruling alliance now breaking up. The differen­ces were couched in terms of ideology, but also as fundamental posers about the  shortcomings of the development model of Bihar. The erstwhile leader of the opposition, Abdul Bari Siddiqui—whose political career began with those of Laloo Prasad Yadav, Nitish and Sushil Kumar Modi as a student leader during the anti-Emergency movement—asked why the chief minister, so desirous now of garnering Muslim votes, had been unable to visit Forbesganj, where poor Muslims protesting against land acquisition for an industrial unit were fired upon and killed. Siddiqui also questioned the hype around development being used to project the image of only one person, the chief minister. True to the parliamentary style of former chief minister Karpoori Thakur, whose political secretary Siddiqui has been, he demanded a “kharche ka byora” or expense account of the chief minister’s seva yatras. For him, the political split was nothing more than now having to deal with two BJPs, one led by L.K. Advani and one by Modi.

There was also a transfer of power for the leader of the opposition’s post: Nand Kishore Yadav of the BJP was its new occupant. For him, the break-up was a breach of trust of the conditions under which the two parties had jointly sought mandate in 2010. Nand Kishore is the former minister for road construction, an area where there is decidedly an agreement about progress having been made. On a sticky wicket, he conceded that while development had been made, credit is due to a coalition which stuck together despite differen­ces and not the benevolent gift of a single man. There was also the voice of smaller parties and independents such as the Champaran Vikas Party, whose lone representative, Dileep Verma, raised pertinent local issues, such as the rampant corruption in constructing houses for the poor. In the few minutes he had, Verma busted the development hype as a dark joke—the state has very little electricity.

The moment though undoubtedly belonged to the defending chief minister, who used the opportunity to bind himself to commitments of political ideology and practice. The most significant of these was his contrasting two models of political conduct—adhinayakvaad, or authoritarianism, with its reference to Modi, and his own belief in loknayaki, referring to Jayaprakash Narain, a clever evocation of the struggle against the Emergency. There was also an implicit reference to Bihar’s jan nayak, Karpoori Thakur, when Nitish outlined the difference between caste-based politics and a progressive politics that favours backwards, in keeping with Karpoori’s formula, which looks at a low position on the caste hierarchy in the same way as it does economic backwardness. He called for a combined front of backwards of all kinds instead of breaking their unity by invoking jati. There was a clever  message here for Laloo and Modi (whose OBC identity is now being invoked). And before the Speaker called for a vote, Nitish asked the House to defend the “idea of India” by putting aside issues and personalities to pursue a definite pro-poor bias in politics and in policy. These two yardsticks, derived from the lives and struggles of Bihar’s loknayak and jan nayak, which must form the principles on which Naya Bihar is built. They must also bind Nitish in a new political compact as he leads the state.

(The writer is an ICSSR fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library, Delhi.)

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