Friday, 8 January 2016

Is there a Bihari Exceptionalism?

    No. It is in conformity with the arrival of ‘new' politics 
                Shashi Bhushan Singh

As the dust of Bihar assembly election has settled down, it is right time to analyse not what was different about Bihar election, but if there is some continuity in the Indian electoral behaviour. My assessment is that though every election has its own specificity, there is also some commonality. What is the trend in Indian politics today?

For me the 2015 Bihar Assembly election result is in sync with the ‘new politics’ the nation is experiencing from the past few years. The main feature of this politics is that except for few castes and communities (mostly dominant) whose caste men or the political party they traditionally support, have chance to win elections; majorities of the castes and communities have started perceiving different levels of elections differently. Means, earlier people voted for the same political party at two different levels of elections (assembly and Lok Sabha), but now they take the voting decision keeping in mind, who can be the best bet at a particular level. The party and personality play important role in selection and rejection of parties, if not candidates.

During the run up of 2014 Lok Sabha election, when the BJP was claiming to win majority of seats in Bihar and UP (two states where it was politically very weak); people were cynical about its claim. However, the BJP sensed that people have started looking Lok Sabha election differently from state assembly elections, and accordingly devised its electoral strategy. To large extent the credit for this detachment of national political mood from regional one goes to Mr. Modi, whose appeal to build a new India found many takers across castes and regions. However, after 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP forgot this detachment principle, that even though it has got massive mandate at the national level, people might vote for different political parties during forthcoming assembly elections. This misconception developed since the BJP, even after breaking away from its long- time political allies, won Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand state assembly elections. But the fact remains that the BJP won these assembly elections, only because the political rivals were highly ‘discredited’. To think that it was Modi ‘magic’ that brought victory for the BJP in these states (at the most one can say that the presence of Modi was necessary, but not sufficient condition) was negation of a principle (detachment), which the BJP had rightly sensed during 2014 Lok Sabha election, worked accordingly and reaped rich dividends.

Thus earlier in Delhi and now during Bihar Assembly election, BJP did not change its strategy and relied heavily on Modi ‘magic’. In a highly diverse and plural society, like India, Modi’s aim of bring uniformity by invoking the slogan, ‘same party (at the state and centre) better rule’ did not find many takers. He forgot his own slogan about his idea of Delhi Sultanate, when the UPA was attacking him, and after becoming the Prime Minister disbanded the Planning Commission, which, he alleged, acted on ‘one size fit all’ plan. Modi himself used the term Gujrat ashmita to debunk Congress high command culture. To think that a particular socio-cultural trait of Indians that has helped him politically, but would not help others was political blunder. Indians aspire for diversity as well as good governance and found Kejriwal and Nitish better bet to govern the states.

As far as Bihar is concerned, people in general were happy with Nitish administration. They wanted Nitish, but were wary of his association with Lalu Yadav. The major issue in election was not the track record of Nitish, but the place of Lalu in the new scheme of thing. The NDA was telling the people that Nitish would not be able to control Lalu, leading to arrival of what the NDA called the ‘jungle raj’. On the other hand Nitish was trying to convince people that his association with Lalu would not have any impact on administration. Finally Nitish was able to convince the electorate about his side of story. People preferred to vote for a person who was already tested, against some unknown face of the NDA. Finally Nitish won.
Thus Bihar election result is not exceptional and should be seen as the continuation of a process, whereas state assembly and Lok sabha elections are now detached, not only in timing but also in orientation. The clean sweep by the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha election, and within eighteen months, the overwhelming victory of AAP in Delhi and RJD-JD (U) in Bihar, that were routed in 2014 Lok Sabha election, is pointer of this detachment. The outcome of forthcoming state elections would also be decided by the same principle. BJP has paid the price by forgetting this principle. The Congress and other parties (including Kejriwal and Nitish) would also suffer heavily, if they think that Delhi or Bihar assembly election result has anything to do with Modi’s popularity at the national level, or assembly election results are in any manner referendum on the working of the central government.

Context will change but this principle (detachment) will remain relevant for some time.

(The writer teaches sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi)

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