In the high snow-capped mountains of Ladakh, I have seen Biharis, short of breath and their hands withered by the extreme cold, constructing border roads. In Mumbai, I have witnessed Shiv Sainiks attacking autos driven by Biharis. In Dubai, I have watched Biharis dangling from precarious scaffolds building the world's highest skyscrapers. In the green fields of Punjab, Biharis are ever present, sowing and reaping the crops of wheat and paddy that feed us. Biharis work quietly and diligently in distant places to feed their families back home in Madhubani, Munger or Muzaffarpur. Yet they are often reviled as plodding labourers and labelled with stereotypes — backward, crude and violent.
It is time that we paid tribute to them for their hard work — and for their political wisdom. They have just saved us from a paranoid parivar bent on forcing all freewheeling individuals and groups into the confines of an unwanted joint family. They have just demonstrated in record numbers through a totally peaceful election that they have not been swayed by Narendra Modi's communal innuendos about reserved quotas, Amit Shah's Pakistani firecrackers or the vicious rhetoric of other BJP firebrands into voting for NDA rule in Bihar. They have rejected the intimidating presence in every electoral constituency of hundreds of RSS workers imported from all over the country.
This is not the first time that Biharis have been at the forefront of seminal movements that have led to major national consequences. The movement for Total Revolution against "hunger, rising prices and corruption...and every kind of injustice" was launched at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna on 5 June 1974 by Jayaprakash Narayan supported by thousands of Bihari students. It was a clarion call to end 27 years of Congress rule at the Centre since Independence. It ultimately led to the Emergency and finally to the overthrow of Indira Gandhi's regime in March 1977 and the establishment of the first non-Congress Central government.
The man who upset Indira Gandhi's apple cart twice in her Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency was the Bihari firebrand socialist, Raj Narain. In June 1975, Indira Gandhi was found guilty of electoral malpractices in Rae Bareli and unseated by the Allahabad High Court in a case filed by Raj Narain. (Almost immediately, she then imposed the Emergency.) In the 1977 Lok Sabha election from Rae Bareli, Raj Narain again worsted Indira. Narain and his mentor, Ram Manohar Lohia, were part of the democratic socialist movement whose epicentre was Bihar ever since 1948.
Raj Narain, Jayaprakash Narayan and thousands of Bihari students and political activists were arrested while others defied the Emergency by going underground and mobilising people against dictatorial rule. It has been claimed with some justification that Biharis proved to be the most vociferous democrats!
Bihar was again the epicentre of another seminal movement, beginning in 1990 — to ensure social justice and political empowerment for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs, which here includes the Extremely Backward Castes) that are estimated to form 51 per cent of Bihar's population and 41 per cent of the national population. Though Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990 decided to implement reservations in government jobs for OBCs as suggested by the Mandal Commission, it was in Bihar under Lalu Prasad Yadav as Chief Minister that the OBCs were fully mobilised to acquire political dominance and social dignity. During 15 years of rule from 1990 to 2005 under Lalu and his wife, Rabri Devi, Bihar seems to have been the most successful state in raising the social and political status of the OBCs. Lalu to his credit also succeeded in greatly reducing Hindu-Muslim tensions in Bihar. He firmly halted the incendiary advance of L.K. Advani's Ram Rath Yatra on October 23, 1990, at Samastipur, Bihar.
By 2005, Biharis decided that there were serious downsides to Lalu and Rabri's social upliftment as it had also engineered anarchy, chaos and lawlessness. They voted against Lalu's "jungle raj" and brought in a far superior administrator as Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, who has now succeeded, together with Lalu, in putting a brake on Narendra Modi's bandwagon in Bihar and, perhaps, in slowing down the dangerous march of the parivar pyromaniacs nationally.
Jawid Laiq is a political commentator and author of The Maverick Republic.