Halting Saffron March

The eyes of the nation were riveted on the Bihar assembly polls in a rather extraordinary fashion. The reason is that it was one important factor in deciding whether the various outfits of Hindutva would dominate Indian politics in the immediate future. Put alternatively, the Bihar polls were important in deciding the pace of the Modi juggernaut, his soft Hindutva idea and his neo-liberal reformism. The outcome of the polls, a stunning defeat for Narendra Modi and his men, has, however, surprised many, seriously questioning the wisdom of psephologists, political commentators and TV channels. It is certainly true that many of those opposed to the principles and policies represented by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could not anticipate such a humiliating defeat of Narendra Modi and his sycophants. As far as it is known, only one less-known organisation had predicted more or less correctly, but it went almost unnoticed. Yet a spectacular defeat has taken place. And there is no complaint of poll violence, e.g intimidation of polling agents and officers, capture of booths etc. This is in sharp contrast to the terror unleashed by the ruling TMC in West Bengal during the last Lok Sabha and recent municipal polls. The CPI (Maoist), whatever its antipathy to parliamentary politics, was apparently inactive. The rate of turnout (57%) was however smaller than normal, and about 2.5 % of the voters chose to exercise the option of NOTA.

What comes out of the results is that the last-minute frantic attempts at communal polarisation and concurrent Pakistan-baiting by the Bharatiya Janata Party have scarcely yielded any dividends. Bihar, despite her alleged cultural backwardness, has shown that to the majority of the electorate, the Indian identity has seemed much broader and hence much more important, than the religious identity. Narendra Modi visited Bihar umpteenth times before the assembly polls, promising this and that and his trusted lieutenant, Amit Shah gave much time to Bihar, relentlessly holding high the agenda of Hindutva ideology. But neither Modi's tub-thumping nor Shah's overt communalism created any impact. In truth both Modi and Shah had taken things granted. And finally Modi lost his way in the middle. But how far the agenda of Hindutva and outrageous acts of religious intolerance have turned the non-Muslim voters against the BJP is an open question, because it is one thing to say that it has not made any significant impact and it is quite another to suggest that it has created a strong hostile reaction among the non-Muslim masses. The magnitude of such hostile reaction was not probably very significant, although it might have played a role. Probably it is more pertinent to suggest that Narendra Modi government's economic performance during the last eighteen months or so has more to do with the Bihar polls, and the so-called development propaganda couched in the language of covert communal bias was scarcely enough to erase its negative impact. In the Delhi assembly polls, the BJP received as much as 32% of the total votes polled, although it obtained only 3 seats out of 70. But in the Bihar polls, its share is as low as 24.90%. It may be pointed out that in the last Lok Sabha polls that catapulted Narendra Modi and his party to power, the BJP received 29.86 % of the votes polled, but won 31 of 40 Lok Sabha seats, thanks to separate contests by Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar, and led in 122 assembly segments in Bihar. The clearly visible decline in the vote share makes its defeat in the assembly polls look even more significant. On the other hand, it is to be reckoned that in the assembly polls of 2010, the BJP, with Nitish Kumar as its ally, secured 91 seats with only 16.49% of the polled votes. In this sense, it remains a force in Bihar, but its ambition to become the ruling party has been thwarted. The Yadav brigade despite their obnoxious casteist politics succeeded in halting the march of saffron chariot. This is what has disappointed the BJP stalwarts, because to them the Bihar polls were a stepping-stone towards attaining all-India political hegemony. It remains to be seen whether they will think twice before dismantling some social welfare schemes like LPG subsidy etc.

The victory of the Nitish-Lalu led Grand Alliance has some other aspects. For example, it was feared that the entry of Asaduddin Qwaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AINIM) would cut into Muslim votes and thus help the BJP. But this outfit has forfeited deposits in four of the six seats it contested, and in an overwhelmingly Muslim-dominated constituency, its candidate has been convincingly beaten. It shows that the Muslims of Bihar in general were not impressed by Muslim names; they showed their preference and maturity as well for the Lalu-Nitish-Rahul combine, because they had come to understand that they were to defeat the BJP and not to do anything that would increase the BJP's chances. About the parliamentary left, perhaps the less said the better. The CPI(M), instead of supporting the Grand Alliance, fielded its own candidates, but cut an extremely sorry figure. The CPI (M-L) Liberation did better, winning three seats, implying that it has some organisational strength at least. This victory is welcome in so far as it goes against the forces of communal fascism.

The establishment of communal fascism has definitely received a setback, and with Narendra Modi's defeat, the corporate tycoons of India and their foreign partners will find it more difficult to pursue their economic programme. If the BJP were victorious, the majoritarian communal forces would certainly have been more outrageously active. Those who recognise the danger of communal fascism in India and are opposed to the policy of giving enormous freebies to the corporate groups in the name of 'development' must see the defeat of Modi and his allies as a welcome event. But what the Lalu-Nitish dispensation will be able to achieve remains to be seen. Will it implement the pro-corporate neo-liberal agenda in Bihar, or will it attempt to take an alternative road to development based on creating more employment for the marginalised and lifting Bihar in terms of the physical quality of life index and human development index? But one thing is certain: the outcome of most contentious Bihar assembly poll has provided a kind of template for future elections. With three states—Assam, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu—going to the polls next year, anti-BJP forces seem to be heaving a sigh of relief.    


Vol. 48, No. 20, Nov 22 - 28, 2015