Traversing more than 2,000 kilometres in the dusty bylanes of Bihar was an eye-opener for me. In my 20 years of journalism, I had never seen a more complicated electoral scene. Such is the air of uncertainty across the state that no political pundit worth his salt can actually predict the real outcome of two month-long elections.
The ‘feel-good’ factor or ‘Bihar shining’ propaganda is totally missing in the interiors of cow-belt – be it the Mithilanchal area in North, or Seemanchal zone in East.
In Patna, the media might have written off Lalu, but the maverick politician is neither down nor out. Fighting one of the toughest battles in his political life, Lalu is pulling out all the stops to make a comeback in the state which he ruled for 15 uninterrupted years.
A mass leader, he knows the pulse of the people. Therefore, he has raised the bogey of caste and is making a fervent appeal to his followers and admirers that in post-Mandal era, it should be a garib ka beta, who should adorn the throne of Bihar, and not Nitish, who has been elevated to the top post by the same feudal forces whom Lalu has fought over the years.
If you still don’t believe this, then sample what Suraj Paswan in Madhubani had to say: “I don’t know about the development plank being harped by Nitish and his cohorts. But I will surely vote for an RJD candidate precisely because Lalu has given me a voice... he has empowered me… he has given me the courage to fight the injustices of upper caste. Today I can use the tap water. Twenty years back, I could not think of entering a public place, forget using potable water.”
Mohammad Kamal, his colleague, too joins the chorus. “You mediamen may paint a rosy picture of Nitish, but actually it’s Lalu who has heralded a new revolution by empowering poor. Nitish is simply reaping the harvest. Our vote is, therefore, for Lalu, who needs another chance to carry forward social justice,” Kamal says, making a clean abreast of things.
Caste and religion
Different places, different people, different thoughts, you might feel. But sample this place in eastern Bihar, where the ruling party JD (U) has fielded Delhi’s Miranda House product -- Parveen Amanullah. Soft-spoken and suave, she is the daughter of diplomat-turned-politician Syed Shahabuddin, and wife of one of the most powerful bureaucrat in Bihar Afzal Amanullah.
But the voters of this constituency in Begusarai district are not impressed by her curriculum vitae. It all then boils down to caste and religion.
“Just because she is a Muslim does not necessarily mean that minorities will vote for them. We have made up our minds to back Lalu’s nominee Srinarayan Yadav, who, even after losing 2005 poll, stood by us through thick and thin,” avers Arshad Jamal.
Lalu’s MY (Muslim-Yadav) factor has got a boost after he joined hands with his foe-turned-friend Ram Vilas Paswan. The marginalised Dalits, along with their Yadav and Muslim brethren, have made a formidable combination. In theory, it should have made Lalu’s road to CM’s chair smooth. But then, political arithmetic is different from social chemistry.
Visit the Magadh region (which comprises Patna, Gaya, Jehanabad) and see the change. The new breed of Muslims have a different tale to tell. “It was Nitish, who re-opened the 1989 Bhagalpur riot case and ensured the culprits were brought to book. Later, he ensured monthly pension for riot victims. Apart from this, the salary of Madarsa teachers were enhanced,” Naushad in Gaya cites several reasons why Nitish should come back to power.
“Some parties have spread the canard that since JD (U) is in alliance with the BJP, the Muslims are in for trouble times. But just tell me, did a single riot, or a single caste carnage take place in the last five years,” Shamim, in his mid-30s, asks me. I could not differ with this politically-conscious voter.
In Magadh region, it’s the other backward class (OBCs), extremely backward class (EBCs), a sizeable section of upper castes, and a small chunk of Muslims which will go whole-hog for the JD (U) nominees.
In this direct contest between Nitish and Lalu, where does the grand old party – the Congress stands? Honestly speaking, it’s no where in the race. The party, which ruled the State till March 1990, committed a political hara-kiri by riding piggy-back on the RJD for years. It’s time to pay the price now.