The withering away of the state is a cliche the Indian media loves to invoke every time a massacre takes place in Bihar. But this phrase, borrowed from an egalitarian thinker, can hardly capture the situation that prevails in this heartland state. In fact, the phrase in its current usage is misleading as it connotes the very opposite of what it was meant to envisage.
Rather, it's Trevor Fishlock's decade-old impressions about the state which are accurate and hold more water: "The government in Delhi seems helpless as the state (Bihar) slides into barbarism, its decline punctuated increasingly by violence."
The recent Mianpur massacre, in which 34 people (mainly backwards and some Dalits) including women were butchered by the killing squads of Ranvir Sena, is a grim reminder that 10 years is not time enough for circumstances to change and impressions like those of Fishlock to be altered.
Instead, caste-related massacres have become so routine that a senior BJP leader remarked that "the day is not far off when a civil war-like situation will emerge in the state." In the last five years the Ranvir Sena alone has been responsible for 350 killings.
A gruesome pattern seems to be emerging vis-a-vis the killings and the action taken following it. A sense of deja vu, therefore, naturally seems to have set in on all those who have been following the caste killings in the state closely.
It begins with armed squads suddenly swooping down on villages in the dead of night. If it's the Ranvir Sena, women, children and the aged are also killed. Naxalites, however, target the youth by slitting their throats. Subsequently, the police, the press and politicians are the first to be informed. The police immediately carries out arrests and usually some innocent people, sometimes even 80-year-olds, are nabbed. The inspector of the local police station or the nearest police picket is suspended. The real culprits are never apprehended.
Whether upper caste, backward or Dalit, the compensation is the same: Rs 1 lakh in cash, a government job to the dependent and a house under the Indira Awas Yojna. Besides Rs 10,000 is also provided to cover the cremation costs. This is followed with a promise of a link road for the village where the massacre took place.
All these 'relief' operations are accompanied by political mud-slinging. Allegations and counter-allegations abound with each party holding the other responsible for the massacre. This is followed by leaders of myriad political hues visiting the carnage site.
After all this, an administrative reshuffle becomes mandatory. If the massacre does not involve too many deaths and not enough media attention, then the transfer of a superintendent of police suffices. But if it's the kind that occurred in Mianpur, mass reshuffle can't be escaped. After all, the right noises have been made by the government and the opposition, it's time to be normal again. Till the next mayhem.
The Mianpur massacre is manifesting the same old pattern again. The ruling rjd has been quick to blame the Centre for the massacre. On the other hand, the opposition parties - the BJP and the Samata - have found in the slaughter an opportunity to renew their demand of imposing President's rule in Bihar - though it's not likely to be met. Assembly opposition leader Sushil Modi told Outlook that "the Rabri Devi government should be dismissed and President's rule imposed in the state to maintain law and order". The Congress, being an ally of the rjd, was caught unawares by the killings and was in a fix knowing not how to react. After some fumbling around, it finally suggested an all-party meeting to finalise a long-term strategy to end the caste killings.
That politics was foregrounded while the massacre receded into the background came as no surprise. When the ruling party convened an all-party meeting on June 22 to discuss the Bihar situation to reach a consensus on how to tackle the law and order situation, the opposition parties stayed away. So, predictably enough, when the nda announced its own all-party meeting on June 25, the rjd and its allies in turn decided to boycott it.
That the President's rule prescription being bandied around by Laloo-baiters in the nda is no panacea for the afflictions which plague Bihar is quite evident. Explains social scientist Shaibal Gupta: "Don't you remember that even during the President's rule a massacre had taken place here in which seven people were killed?"
The air in the state is thick with confusion, of charges and counter-charges, all-party meetings and bandh calls. Consequently, the real problem is once again lost and it's time again to celebrate the shortness of public memory.