ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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How Modi-Speak Boomeranged in Bihar

Different visions and different meanings of development are at the heart of the Bihar verdict. This article locates the election results in the interactions between the almost 50 years of upsurge of the middle castes and the shifting meanings of slogans like empowerment and development.

There is no denying that the Bihar electoral verdict of 2015 has ramifications for the state as well as the wider universe of Indian politics. To begin with, let us not miss the irony of how Bihar, otherwise a “drag” on India’s progress for decades turned into a saviour, receiving adulation as a bulwark of democracy from those who routinely show contempt and pity for a state mired in underdevelopment. This anomaly, with far-reaching significance, may continue as a backdrop to our political discussions for some time to come. To fully appreciate its significance, however, we need to trace the ever-shifting meanings of concepts and slogans like development, empowerment and governance that cut through popular public discourse as well as social theory, not to mention the shadowy limbos of management and area specialists.

These unavoidably significant words are no longer the monopoly of the textbooks or the classrooms. An illiterate peasant may use them freely or a politician may wield them as potent slogans in popular speeches. Such is the conceptual quicksand over which this article must make its way. We know with some clarity what Narendra Modi means by “development package” or what Nitish Kumar means by his pet phrase “inclusive development” but it will be interesting to find out how the voter—as an active agent in a democratic society—understood it. The assumption here is that the Indian voter is a discerning individual—or a group—who takes the voting decision after considerable weighing of options that come clothed in political rhetoric shared by both the learned intellectual as well as the lay voter faced with existential choices.

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