Bihar Elections and After:

The Churning Continues

- Political Observer

A fter fifteen long years, the Laloo-Rabri raj has finally come to an end in Bihar . The writing on the wall had become clear enough in February itself when the NDA had overtaken the RJD-Congress combine in the race of numbers. But the kind of majority that the NDA eventually won in November 2005 was clearly beyond the expectations of most political observers and even many NDA supporters. Only one of the several opinion and exit polls that went to town with their series of predictions could really come anywhere near the final tally.

The enormous gains made by the NDA have been more or less proportionately shared by both the JD(U) and the BJP, propelling them to the top two slots in terms of individual parties. The biggest two losers in terms of seats have been the RJD and the LJP, who have conceded 21 and 19 seats respectively. While acknowledging the emphatic nature of the NDA’s victory, one must however remember that several seats have been decided on a very narrow margin, and that the vote share of the RJD-Congress combine has remained largely intact.

The reasons behind this decisive nature of the Bihar poll outcome are not difficult to understand. The accumulated popular anger against the protracted Laloo-Rabri reign had long been waiting to explode. The arbitrary dissolution of the Assembly by Governor Buta Singh only added fuel to the fire. And unwilling to risk another hung Assembly and yet another round of elections, the pro-change sections of the electorate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the NDA to give it such a clear majority.

State Intervention and Popular Yearning for Change in Bihar

The outcome however must not be seen merely as a reflection of popular sentiment. The elections witnessed a high degree of state intervention. Far from leaving things to spontaneity, the all- India state intervened quite categorically and decisively to ‘discipline’ and ‘orientate’ Bihar . Even as nominations were on for the first phase of the elections, the Supreme Court went to the extent of issuing an interim verdict on the Assembly dissolution case terming the dissolution unconstitutional. One would have then expected the Supreme Court to remedy the error, but the Court chose not to stay the elections. This almost amounted to an invitation to the people to ‘fill in the gap’.

The Election Commission too intervened in a very elaborate manner. The poll schedule was stretched over nearly a month, divided initially into four phases, but subsequently three more sub-phases were also added to ensure extensive deployment of security forces. In the name of preventing criminals from contesting elections, the EC turned the basic provisions of the Representation of People Act against all those having non-bailable warrants (NBWs) pending against them for a period of more than six months, deleting such names from the electoral rolls themselves. Initially issued for Bihar elections, the order has now been made effective for the whole of the country.

The EC’s extraordinary intervention in Bihar elections and the smooth and largely peaceful manner in which elections have been held have been a major point of discussion. While acknowledging the need for a corrective intervention in the given situation in Bihar , the success of the measures adopted by the EC must also be judged on the basis of how far genuine ordinary voters have been able to exercise their franchise. On this score, the EC’s record has been highly wanting and problematic.

The entire exercise to execute pending NBWs had no anti-criminal focus. In several well-reported cases, notorious criminal-politicians continued to roam around freely in spite of several NBWs. It is well known that in those rare cases where a warrant is really issued against such criminals with high connections, the administrative machinery is not properly and timely alerted and the warrant keeps gathering dust. The tens of thousands of pending NBWs that were suddenly discovered and executed during the election time in Bihar mostly involved ordinary people and CPI(ML) leaders, activists and supporters. Indeed, the NBW clause can now become a handy tool in the hands of the state to effectively disenfranchise leaders and activists of people’s movements.

Similarly, the campaign to purge electoral rolls of ‘bogus’ entries led to large-scale deletion of names of ordinary rural and urban poor voters. The poor were also penalized on account of migration – away from the scene at the time of verification, migrant labourers found their names deleted in hundreds and thousands in every single constituency. Many poor voters were turned away from the booths because they allegedly did not have the necessary identification papers, all because of sheer administrative callousness or high-handedness.

In several key ways, the EC’s ‘cleaning up act’ in Bihar thus only reinforced the anti-poor bias in our electoral system. The poor did benefit, along with others, from the reduced incidence of booth-capturing. The atmosphere was certainly more conducive than before for ordinary voters to queue up and exercise their franchise. But the other visible and not-so-visible barriers were all there to neutralize this big advantage. The role of the security forces also calls for a critical review. Numerous complaints have once again been received from different corners about the biased role of Central paramailitary forces. In any case, the political price of holding elections in the shadow of such heavy security deployment cannot be kept unpaid for long.

The RJD’s Reign of Political Bankruptcy and Betrayal

Next only to West Bengal , Bihar was the second longest model of governmental stability in contemporary India where state governments are usually voted out every five years. For many, Bihar represented the most authentic and vigorous face of Mandal politics in north India and it was a sure enough antidote to the aggressive political designs of the BJP and its conservative-communal cohorts. Images of Bihar’s backwardness, anarchy, corruption and criminalisation became part of the nation’s political folklore, yet liberal political analysts continued to treat Bihar as the bastion of ‘social justice and secularism’.

The electoral vulnerability of the Laloo-Rabri regime had been amply exposed in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections when the NDA managed to send more than 40 MPs from undivided Bihar . These 40 MPs went a long way to ensure that Vajpayee had sufficient numbers at his command for his government to last a full term in Delhi . Yet following the bifurcation of Bihar and the defeats suffered by the NDA in the May 2004 Lok Sabha elections, political observers were quick to forget 1999.

Even after the NDA had emerged as the largest pre-poll coalition in February 2005, Laloo Prasad Yadav wanted everybody to believe that he could have easily won a majority with a more careful choice of candidates. He tried his level best to restore a sense of unity in his own house, but to little avail. His political authority had clearly taken a heavy beating even in his own social constituency and among his once faithful followers. Apart from pointing an accusing finger at the EC or the media, Lalu Prasad now has little explanation left for his debacle in most of his erstwhile strongholds.

One would have expected the Congress or the CPI(M), the two staunchest allies of the RJD, to come up with some analysis of the election results. But the Congress would say nothing more than ‘granting’ the people of Bihar their due (overdue?) right to have a periodical change of government. The CPI(M) has as usual lamented the division of secular votes, but it now also criticizes the Laloo-Rabri ‘misrule’ and calls for introspection by all concerned. One wonders if the CPI(M) would ever be ready to do its own bit of introspection. Should not a good part of the collective blame for ‘misrule’ be laid at the doorsteps of its ‘communist’ cheerleaders?

The Goal of Left Unity and How the CPI Rejected and Ridiculed it

Investigation into Police Repression on Dalits in Jehanabad

Following the Jehanabad Jailbreak, the frustrated Administration had heightened its repression, with the excuse of hunting out extremists. We carry excerpts from the report of a CPI(ML) fact finding team which visited the site of one instance of repression.

In yet another indication of the new regime’s future course, the Jehanabad police let loose a reign of terror on the helpless dalit agrarian labourers in Shivnagar of Jehanabad, killing one person, injuring many thousands, molesting women and looting the dlit tola of their meagre possessions....

....It transpires that on December 5, at around 5 pm , 2 jeeps and one police van loaded with STF jawans and policemen from Makhdoompur PS, reached Shivnagar and surrounded the entire village. They started beating young men indiscriminately, abusing and molesting women, looting all the belongings including livestock like chickens. This mayhem continued till 8 pm. Police caught Baldev Paswan (aged 29), Sagun Majhi, (30), Dimagi Majhi alias Surendra Majhi (25) and began beating them with lathis and rifle butts. They were told to reveal information about the whereabouts of extremists and arms. When the young men expressed complete ignorance, all three were taken to the hills and brutally tortured. One policeman placed a heavy stone on the chest of Sagun Majhi and sat on it, while another policeman placed his foot on the boy’s stomach and began rotating his boot, causing him to bleed from the mouth. This torture in the name of interrogation continued for an hour as the condition of all three deteriorated. Then they were dragged to a spot in the village where all the women were gathered. When a woman stepped forward to offer Sagun water, she was threatened with rape and shoved away. Meanwhile another police team looted the village thoroughly. .....Detailed Report

While the CPI(M) stuck to its partnership with the RJD through thick or thin, the CPI was clever enough to sense after February that the RJD ship was all set to sink and accordingly it chose to jump out before the final call in October. The decision to sever ties with the RJD was taken at the CPI’s Bihar state conference amidst powerful cries for Left unity. The CPI had fought the 2000 elections jointly with the CPI(ML) and the overwhelming mood in the CPI conference preferred a restoration of the CPI-CPI(ML) understanding. But just when the two parties were ready to clinch a seat-sharing arrangement, the CPI announced a deal with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party to the exclusion of the CPI(ML). The CPI leaders had the audacity to argue that elections were not about strengthening the Left or advancing the cause of Left unity. Winning seats and forming governments were the be all and end all of elections, declared the CPI leaders in their delightful electoral wisdom.

Indeed, the CPI teamed up with the LJP and the Forward Bloc to jointly put up candidates for each of Bihar ’s 243 seats with a promise of providing an alternative government to the people of Bihar . If the CPI was really serious about its call for formation of an alternative government, it should now explain why it ended up winning only three seats. For a coalition that wanted to form a government, a tally of thirteen seats (LJP 10 and CPI 3) is nothing short of a disaster and instead of talking about why the RJD lost or how the NDA won, the CPI should first of all find reasons for its own miserable performance. If on the contrary, the CPI feels happy that it was able to retain its share of three seats, it should tell us how it hoped to form government with such limited strength. The CPI leaders now admit in private that formation of government was just ‘an election-time slogan’ and was not meant to be taken seriously. Is this a measure of the CPI’s expertise in contesting elections? If the CPI issues calls that it itself does not take seriously, how can it expect the people to treat the CPI as a serious party? Or has the CPI stopped entertaining such ideas about either itself or the people?

The CPI(ML) tried its best to work out an electoral understanding with the CPI in the first place. The lists of proposed seats exchanged by the two parties had fourteen common seats to begin with. The CPI(ML) adopted a flexible enough approach to reduce this number to only two and seat-sharing talks between the two parties had really reached the final stage of working out the modalities of sharing these two seats. The two parties had also expressed a shared readiness to negotiate with the LJP on the basis of their joint Left list. But meanwhile, as it turned out later, the CPI pursued a course of parallel bilateral and multilateral talks with the LJP and the Forward Bloc, and went ahead to apportion all of Bihar ’s 243 seats among themselves. While the LJP made it clear that it could not have any truck with an anti-Congress and radical party like the CPI(ML), the CPI kept up the pretension of ‘continuing talks’ with the CPI(ML). It even came up with an unprecedented suggestion that wanted the CPI(ML) to support the CPI wherever it contested without the CPI making any such reciprocal commitment to the CPI(ML)!

This is how the CPI(ML)’s principled attempts for Left unity and for a third camp were defeated by the CPI. The LJP-CPI combine never had the kind of credibility or strength that a Left-LJP axis could possibly evoke. Had the CPI stuck to its original understanding with the CPI(ML), the Left would have contested nearly half the seats leaving the rest to the LJP. Such a combination could have benefited from the political credibility of the Left and especially from the CPI(ML)’s record as a consistent and militant pro-poor opposition. The resultant social consolidation among the dalits and the poor could have also generated a broader pull effect and the NDA could have really been given a run for its money. But in the CPI’s revised scheme of things, the LJP contested more than 200 seats and the ‘alliance’ looked merely as an extension of the LJP’s own show. Nitish Kumar was prompt to welcome this truncation and trivialization of the third front exercise and the NDA now really had the field wide open for its eventual conquest.

CPI(ML)’s Independent Election Campaign

Like in February, the CPI(ML) once again contested independently and ran a powerful election campaign. Considering the challenge of facing two Assembly elections in one year, the Party chose to restrict itself to fewer seats in October-November, contesting 85 seats in place of the 109 contested in February. Among the seven seats won in February, the Party managed to retain five, losing one seat by a narrow margin of less than four hundred votes. Altogether, the Party managed to win 2.35% of the popular vote, a decline of 0.14% since February, explained largely by the fact that the Party contested 24 seats less. In fact, in 55 of the 85 seats, the Party secured more votes in October-November than in February, but the Party also suffered a significant decline in votes in a dozen seats, including two seats that we have won once again. It should also be noted that the decline in the Party’s votes has not entirely been due to an intensification of polarization between the NDA and the UPA; the LJP, and in a few cases, the BSP, too, have partially affected our votes.

Chilraon Massacre in East Champaran

Even as the celebrations of the formation of the Nitish-led NDA Government were not yet over, (or maybe as part of the celebrations?), feudal lords perpetrated a heinous massacre on December 12 in Chilraon village of East Champaran district, killing 5 Muslim peasants.

A CPI(ML) investigation team, comprising of State Committee Members Comrades Amar Yadav (MLA from Darauli, Siwan) and Virendra Gupta, Party leader from Siwan Comrade Javed Beg, and senior Party leaders from East Champaran Prabhudev Yadav and Rambachan Tiwari, visited Chilraon

The investigation revealed that the feudal lord Subodh Sharma was patronised by both the BJP and the RJD. The massacre was well planned and perpetrated in collusion with the Administration. Anticipating the attack, villagers had given written information to the incharge of the Turkauliya PS at 6 am on the same morning, of December 12. The massacre took place in broad daylight at around 1.30 pm. Despite being alerted well in time, far form taking steps to prevent it, the police took 2 hours just to travel the five kilometres from the PS, and reach the spot after the massacre!.....Detailed Report

All through the fifteen years of Laloo Prasad’s reign of ‘social justice’, it was the CPI(ML) that played the most consistent oppositional role on the ground. Every injustice inflicted on the people, whether by the state or by the well-entrenched feudal forces and mafia gangs, and every instance of organized and state-sponsored loot and crime, met with powerful public protest and mass resistance. Yet when Bihar eventually embarked on a changed course and the RJD government faced its moment of exit, it was the NDA which emerged as the biggest beneficiary of the changed situation. Far from reaping dividends from the years of struggle, the CPI(ML) found itself relatively weakened by the powerful pro-NDA winds of change. While this may appear quite paradoxical and one could even argue with history for being so harsh on the forces of people’s movement, this ‘lopsided’ outcome has once again underlined the real challenges that every genuine people’s movement must face and overcome. At the present stage of development of class struggle and in the given balance of class forces, the radical voice of the rural poor that the CPI(ML) represents, could not possibly win on any major or spectacular scale. But surely the Party will have to find answer to the question why it could not display greater resilience in defending the hard-won gains of struggle.

Nitish Kumar’s ‘New Bihar ’: Churnings for a New Phase of Struggles

How do we define the contours and character of the unfolding political shift in Bihar ? How much leeway will the BJP really enjoy in the emerging scheme of things in Bihar ? During the elections, the BJP had deliberately played second fiddle to the JD(U), going to the extent of equating Nitish Kumar with its very vision of new Bihar . Indeed, the development and marketing of brand Nitish Kumar as the definitive answer to all of Bihar ’s accumulated problems was a vintage BJP ploy in these elections. But the moment the BJP realized that it had been placed quite comfortably in the new configurations of coalition rule, it lost no time in tagging Sushil Modi as the definitive deputy to a newly crowned Nitish Kumar. The coronation ceremony of Nitish Kumar saw him virtually hijacked by a whole galaxy of BJP leaders even as embittered supporters of BJP’s upper caste leaders in Bihar raised angry slogans over the choice of Sushil Modi as Nitish’s deputy.

While Advani and Arun Jaitley returned to Delhi and the BJP busied itself with its own coronation tamasha in Bhopal , it was time for Pravin Togadia to pay his maiden visit to the NDA’s ‘new Bihar ’. During the elections, Nitish Kumar had to publicly dissociate himself from an NDA publicity campaign advertisement describing Bihar under Lalu as a paradise for alleged ‘Bangladeshi infiltrators’ and ‘Pak-trained terrorists’. But with the elections over and an NDA government ensconced in power, there was no stopping Togadia from spewing all his verbal venom in Nitish Kumar’s promised ‘seed villages’ and ‘soil-testing laboratories’. How will the JD(U) face this Togadia mission and more such salvoes that the Sangh is bound to fire in the coming days? And the question concerns not just the JD(U) and the BJP, but also the unsuspecting people of Bihar who have first been seduced to buy Nitish Kumar only to get a Sushil Modi free, and who are now not really amused to discover that even if they have got a different Modi, he has the same Togadia tagged to him, for ‘free’ of course!

Apart from changed equations and new political players, many believe that the arrival of a new government also signifies the beginning of a new phase and arrival of a new agenda. In common media parlance, the buzzword for this new phase is ‘development’ as opposed to ‘social justice’ and driving this new agenda is the newly awakened sense of Bihari sub-nationalism or Bihari identity in place of the age-old caste structure. The ‘sub-national’ theorists thus seek to provide a unifying framework to an evidently conflicting BJP-JD(U) coalition. The spirit of sub-nationalism is believed to ideologically reinforce a sense of social harmony that can transcend and reconcile a predominantly upper caste conservative backlash with a spirited assertion of the most backward castes. But were the NDA victory really to reflect a sub-national awakening of the Bihari identity, why should dalits, Yadavs and Muslims remain conspicuously aloof from such a process?

Actually, the ideologues of sub-nationalism would like to bring about a paradigm shift in the dominant discourse without the pains of an actual transformation on the ground. They would like Nitish Kumar’s ‘new Bihar ’ to epitomize a new motion in place of years of stagnation and decline, but the motion they visualize is harmonious and smooth. In real life, Bihar can only witness a new clarity and intensification of struggle on almost every front. If feudal and communal forces try to seize the upper hand in the new dispensation, the struggle for social justice and secularism can only acquire a new urgency. If ‘governance’ becomes a new mantra to unleash more intense state repression, the banner of dignity and democracy is bound to spur on the rural poor to challenge this new order rather than submit to it. If ‘development’ becomes a euphemism for more market and more privatization, the poor will also press for more employment and better wages. In short, the aspirations that Laloo Prasad had symbolically awakened and then suppressed and betrayed with all the power at his command are not going to disappear in Nitish Kumar’s new dispensation. These unfulfilled aspirations will serve as a ready platform for the people to critically assess the new government and also to articulate their own agenda for the new phase. As the most courageous and radical voice of new Bihar and new India, the CPI(ML) is determined to make the most of the new situation to intensify the battle for securing genuine democracy and development for the toiling and oppressed people of Bihar.