ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Bihar Assembly Elections, 2020

Caste complacency of the ruling combination necessarily deflects attention from critical self-evaluation.

The Bihar Assembly Elections of 2020 may have a high degree of significance to those who have a direct stake in these elections. Such stakeholders, particularly from the incumbent side, would choose to look at these elections ignoring their government’s poor performance. Thus, the incumbents are seen as being affirmatively complacent in their election imagination. On the other end, the mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) of the opposition parties seeks to approach the ensuing election by resorting to an evaluative mode; a mode that has an anti-incumbency thrust. The oppositional mobilisation around the anti-incumbency plank is too straightforwardly self-confident to require the former to lapse into any kind of complacency. Hence, an important question needs to be raised with regard to the efforts made by the ruling combination to feel electorally secure.

What is the self-understanding of the incumbent leaders who have a direct stake in the upcoming assembly election in Bihar? This question becomes relevant in the context of claims for success that are being made by those who refuse to acknowledge their failures. The failures are stark in terms of quality of life that has bearings on educational opportunities, adequate health facilities, employment, and industrial and agricultural development. It is, however, astonishing to hear the incumbent leaders once again making the promise of Bihar’s development.

It also calls into question a similar understanding that the central leadership of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seems to share with its state leaders. According to media reports, the election speeches of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) central leaders suggest that Bihar would achieve progress under the leadership of Nitish Kumar. These kinds of popular statements have value inasmuch as they are self-satisfying rather than being valuable for their moral capacity for critical self-evaluation of their performance. Put differently, for leaders’ statements to gain more weight, they need to be couched in the practice of evaluation informed by the ground-level reality in Bihar. In the qualified perception, these statements are made by leaders who are seen as star campaigners. Generally speaking, star campaigning cannot achieve its intended mesmerising impact on voters unless the stars show their performance well outside the realm of reality. Stars are known for their performing ability to amplify whatever little success that exists within the gamut of reality that represents painful experiences; experiences of the migrant workers who returned to Bihar during the pandemic. The performance of the stars, therefore, has a function to cover up the underperformance of the state and local leaders.

The self-understanding, howsoever misplaced it may appear to others, is entertained by the concerned leaders who tend to believe that it resonates with a section of voters’ electoral understanding that is fossilised into caste consciousness. Such seasoned leaders continue to believe that the voters are likely to vote for the ruling party even if such a party has not helped them in achieving their moderate aspirations. The symmetrical understanding between the incumbent leaders and a section of the voters is basically mediated by the voters’ caste background. In fact, the caste factor does provide a useful pretext for these incumbent leaders to sustain their self-understanding, perhaps for a long time to come. It is in this context that such a calculated understanding has a bearing on the nomination of the candidates in the coming election. As has been reported in the media, the BJP has put up candidates with a Savarna (high caste) background. The BJP does not have a problem in openly identifying with the upper-caste political aspirations. This is clear from the party’s distribution of tickets. In the carefully calculated exercise of ticket distribution, a significant chunk has gone to Brahmins, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Bhumihars.

The mahagathbandhan, which is constitutive of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Dalits and minorities, seems to focus its campaign on both the possibilities of alleviating the ever-deteriorating condition of Bihar’s deprived population and expanding and consolidating its electoral support by focusing on the failures of the incumbent government. The opposition leaders’ campaign is also significant for another reason. The opposition seeks to expose the moral limits that seem to be accumulated in the complacent self-understanding, particularly of the leaders from the Janata Dal (United) (JD[U]).

As the social history of Bihar shows, the leading personalities from the JD(U) were motivated by the egalitarian politics that now stands receded into the background. These leaders, particularly from the JD(U), who were once upon a time in the forefront in the fight for social justice, now have pushed the social justice agenda into the background. They have chosen to be rhetorical even about the violation of human rights perpetrated through rape atrocities, both within their own and the neighbouring states.

Although the mahagathbandhan’s electoral success will be on the normative force of conviction rather than calculation, such force of conviction may find several challenges on its way to be converted into net spectacular gain at the election. One of the difficult challenges is the voters’ fragmentation that is likely to result from the multiple contests by parties that are contesting outside both the NDA and the mahgathbandhan. While each party claiming to represent Dalits, minorities and OBCs have constitutional right to contest in the election, it is also certain that such rights tend to conflict with the truth that resides in the consequences which are likely to result from the multiple electoral contests. Those who speak for the deprived have to overcome the tension between right and truth.


Updated On : 20th Oct, 2020


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