50 Days of NDA Rule in Bihar

-- Brij Bihari Pandey

On December 24, 2005, Gandhi Maidan at Patna hosted the swearing-in ceremony of a new Government in Bihar - the Nitish Kumar-led NDA Government, putting a seal to the 15-year-long reign of Laloo Yadav’s RJD. Laloo Yadav’s defeat was apparent in the February 2005 Assembly elections itself, but had managed to retain the status of the largest party in the state. Moreover, being a significant constituent of the ruling dispensation at the Centre, he could call the shots through the Centre’s agent, Governor Buta Singh, during the 10-month period of President’s Rule. However, the secure majority won by the JD(U)-BJP combine in the November elections has left no room for ambiguity in the nature of the verdict: the time had come for the people of Bihar to discard the old and vote in a new regime. And Nitish Kumar, one of the colleagues of Laloo Yadav in the J.P. movement, became the 33rd chief minister of Bihar, with his claim to deliver what his predecessor could not.
On the day he assumed power, Nitish remarked that Bihar had missed the bus and in terms of development, the common people of the state are far behind their brethren in the other important states. Therefore, he proclaimed, putting Bihar on the development path would be his first priority.
Here one must understand what Nitish means by the word “development”. Despite all the catchy rhetoric of ensuring that “No Bihari will be forced to migrate”, of “wiping the tear from the eyes of common people, youth and women”, even the remarkable promise of “completing land reforms” (!), it is clear that the only mantra of development that Nitish Kumar knows is that of liberalized and globalised development, scripted by the World Bank. One must not forget that Nitish’s vision of development is identical to the NDA vision, BJP’s vision, the vision of the 6-year-long NDA regime which pushed Indian people over the brink of suicides, starvation deaths and destitution, and as a consequence of which the government was kicked out by the people. What was ‘India Shining’ then is ‘Bihar Shining’ now. And this ‘shine’ depends only on one thing: investments by World Bank, multinationals, corporate houses, FIIs, NRIs and all sorts of speculators in Bihar. How badly the BJP wanted the driving seat to pursue this path was clear from day one: Whereas the senior JD(U) leader George Fernandes was conspicuous by his absence at the swearing-in ceremony, all leading lights of the BJP –Vajpayee, Advani, Naidu, Jaitley, Mahajan, Uma, Vasundhara, Gaur, Rajnath – were present to ensure that the post of Deputy CM, with the finance portfolio, went to the BJP nominee.
Although Nitish Kumar had tried to distance himself from the communal propaganda of the Sangh Parivar during the election campaign, within 15 days of his assuming office, VHP hatemonger Praveen Togadia visited Bihar, and his VHP goons freely indulged in violence against students and youth of AISA and RYA when they showed him black flags at Bhagalpur. One of the first tasks undertaken by new president of BJP, the Sangh nominee Rajnath Singh, was to visit Bihar, presumably to share with Nitish his experience of state repression in Eastern UP. In BJP’s gameplan, now it is Bihar that can serve as the launching pad for its re-emergence in the Hindi belt.
To pave the way for neo-liberal ‘development’, to ensure an atmosphere ‘friendly’ towards corporate investors, Nitish has raised the slogan of ‘Good Governance’ – a euphemism for increased state repression. He has declared that improving the ‘law and order’ situation in this ‘unruly state’ and ensuring ‘modernization of the police force’ will be the first task of governance. Even before the swearing-in ceremony, he boasted that he did not even need three months to establish the rule of law; in his first public address as CM, he said, “take my word that the rule of law is established here and now.”
For all his promises of a ‘clean’ administration, everybody knows that a good number of MLAs from criminal origin had joined JD(U) deserting LJP. How can they all be put under leash? What about the minister of state Gautam Singh, who has a murder case pending against him?
In the first 50 days of JD(U)-BJP rule, what has ‘development’ and ‘restoration of law and order’ meant? Towards the end of November, starvation deaths were reported from Gaya, where members of families with BPL cards were starving because they were not being provided with rations, nor were they given any jobs under the Food for Work scheme. Drought has raised its ugly head in the Magadh region, but the Government has failed to take any steps to protect the affected. Let alone ensuring remunerative prices, the government has procured only 25,000 tonnes of paddy so far, against the fixed target of 15 lakh tonnes during the kharif season, leaving the farmers at the mercy of moneylenders.
And what about the much-touted ‘rule of law’? Well, in Nitish’s Bihar as in Laloo’s, the only law seems to be the law of ‘might is right’. The Chilraon massacre showed how upper caste feudal and communal forces were emboldened by the JD(U)-BJP’s ascent to power. In Chilraon in East Champaran, Muslims were massacred by powerful feudal forces in order to snatch away their land, with full complicity of the police, despite the Muslims’ written requisition for protection since their lives were threatened.
The old feudal diktat of ‘Jiski lathi uski bhains’ (‘He who wields the stick owns the buffalo’) was implemented literally in the ghastly Raghopur carnage. Powerful Yadavs, reportedly supporters of the RJD, stole a buffalo belonging to an extremely backward caste family. The family filed a case against the theft, and managed to win back the buffalo. But for daring to defy the feudal order, their house was set afire, and a mother and her five children were burnt alive. This grisly incident was allowed to take place despite the fact that the family had repeatedly approached the police to complain of a threat to their lives. This was Nitish’s New Year’s day gift – the complicity of the state machinery in these massacres is a sure sign of the times to come.
In its short stint till date, the Nitish regime has already shown that its ‘hard state’ is not meant for kidnappers and criminals, but only for unarmed citizens who dare to protest.
Towards the end of Nitish’s first month in office, the police found their first target – agitating Shikshamitras (semi-employed, low-paid teachers) in Patna. Demanding better service conditions, Shikshamitras held a massive rally, and were mercilessly beaten on 25 December.
As the state machinery flexes its muscles against the hapless Shikhshamitras – youth aspiring for dignified employment – kidnapping of kids continues unabated. On 27 November, a kidnapping case was reported in Chapra, a CPI(ML) activist was killed in Nalanda and a six-year-old girl was kidnapped and raped in Araria. In the first week of January, a spate of kidnappings were reported: Nirmalendu Prakash Diwakar, a Class IX student of the Don Bosco School and son of a former director of the Animal Husbandry Department O P Diwakar, was abducted on 3 January from near his residence while on way to school in his private vehicle; Naseem Akhtar, the son of a sub-divisional officer posted at Darbhanga, Naeem Akhtar, was kidnapped from near his residence in Pataliputra colony in the capital on January 5 but was later released; two sons of a businessman were abducted from Madhopur village in Gopalganj district on January 3 but later let off. In the same week, Atul Kumar, the 12-year-old son of a farmer Loha Singh, was kidnapped from Sangrahwan village under Phulwaria police station of the same district. As the villagers held protest demonstrations, the body of Atul was recovered from near a pond at the same village. The case that has really rocked the administration is kidnapping of Prashant Jain, brother of Shilpi Jain, who was killed with her fiancé allegedly by Sadhu Yadav.
In Bihar, the foundations of crime lie in the state’s patronage of kulak senas who come handy in crushing the assertion of rural poor. And Nitish regime is bound to oblige the upper caste landlords who have put their weight behind his victory. Therefore, all the talk of “good governance”, of “rule of law”, has ended up in launching a repression campaign on the rural poor in the name of suppressing Maoists. That is what we are witnessing today in Jehanabad, where police and paramilitary forces, even the NSG commandos, are rampaging the poor villagers’ hamlets. It is this class bias against the rural poor, this task of suppression of their struggle for social justice and equality that will alienate the present regime from the broader masses of the people, and will increasingly push them towards patronizing newer centres of crime. All talks of ridding Bihar of crime will prove hollow and the day is not far off when Nitish will prove another Laloo with a slight saffron tinge!