Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Bihar Election - A Sobering Result

Hard work pays

The comprehensive and allround drubbing that Lalu’s RJD and its allies have received at the hands of the People of Bihar, has important lessons for everyone and should have a sobering effect on all political parties- winners and losers alike.

The way, in which the electorate has rubbed Lalu’s face in the mud with even his proxy Chief Minister barely managing to win, shows what an angry voter can do, given a chance to exercise his franchise freely without fear.

Before the results are analysed and before all the parties in the drama hopefully try to learn their lessons, the greatest accolades must go to the Election Commission of India and, in particular, K.J.Rao, who deserves to be given an award not only by the people of Bihar but also by the People of India. K. J. Rao, the man on-the-spot, showed, perhaps for the first time in Bihar, how free elections without the shadow of violence and fear hanging over the electorate could be conducted, given the will. What he has achieved has a more symbolic significance that is not limited to the just concluded elections. Hopefully, he has instilled confidence in the electorate to vote for those they really want to vote to power in future elections. Hopefully too, he has injected some courage in a weak-kneed bureaucracy and law and order machinery to do their duties without fear.

Phir Milenge?

For Lalu, the humiliation is total. The elections have proved that his bluff and bluster and the confidence in having an intimate knowledge of the mood of the Bihari people and its politics was just bravado. With his arrogant ways, he managed to coerce his allies into doing his bidding in Bihar affairs. In compelling UPA Government to go for dissolution of the Bihar Assembly, he obviously calculated that if fresh elections were held under the President’s rule, he would have enough say and pull in the administrative machinery to manage and win more seats than he did in the February 2005 elections and come back to power in a comfortable position. His gamble failed miserably. First, with the judgment of the Supreme Court pronouncing the dissolution unconstitutional, the entire UPA Government blackened its face. Next, an alert and watchful opposition kept on highlighting and objecting to any actions of the Governor that seemed to be favouring Lalu or his cronies. This continuous pressure effectively reduced the opportunity for maneuvering of the Government machinery under the President’s rule. Last but not the least, he did not reckon with the strong determination of the Election Commission to ensure a fair election and the ability of K.J.Rao to wield the stick and make the administration comply with his directions.

While Lalu has lost his battle of the ballot, he must be given credit for his contribution in achieving a better balance in the caste and social equations in Bihar for all time to come. It is unlikely that Bihar will ever revert to the position when the upper castes ruled the roost. This and nothing else, has been his positive achievement in the years that his party has been in power in Bihar. There is not much besides this during his time that can be described in positive terms. If anything, he has admirably helped Bihar retain its backwardness.

Me? CM?

What happened?

Ram Vilas Paswan, the one person many want to paint as the villain has also bitten dust. When he parted ways with the other UPA allies for the election, his conclusions had some logic. He rightly calculated that the alliance did not have enough chance to win a majority. Continuing with them would have only placed him in the same position that the RJD and allies are finding themselves in now. While fighting together, he would not have been entitled to get more seats to contest. Even if they were to win the fresh elections under Lalu’s strategy, it would have further strengthened Lalu’s position and diminished his own. On the other hand, if he were to fight the elections on his own and improve his earlier tally by contesting on more seats, he could talk from a stronger position and leverage his position either with the alliance or the opposition. The only way he could distance himself and fight on his own was to play the Muslim card as neither Lalu nor the other allies (for different reasons) could have agreed to his demand for a Muslim CM. The results have shown him that either way, he has been the loser. It has been a lose-lose situation for him and either way, he could not have done much and had to take the gamble.

The other allies of the UPA, the Congress as well as the Left Parties have maintained their insignificant positions of ‘also ran’ in the State politics and can do nothing much but hope to do better the next time round. For the present, the big comfort they will have is that it would not be necessary to put up with the antics of the allies from Bihar and to that extent, the defeat is a blessing in disguise, especially for the Congress.

For the NDA and the Chief Minister-designate Nitish Kumar, although they are riding on the crest of a wave, it is going to be a tough task to achieve development and maintain the delicate balance between the caste formations and groups, not underestimating the mischief-making capabilities of the opposition parties.

The biggest lessons that every political party and students of the democratic process in India have to learn for the future have to be found by analyzing the reasons of defeat of the RJD led alliance and the winning by the JDU led alliance.

Various arguments have been advanced for the results. Blame has been placed variously on Lalu, Paswan, President’s rule, no-development, corruption, misrule, caste equations, anti-incumbency factor etc. The conduct of the elections in a free and fair manner itself was a contributory reason.

It cannot be denied that anti-incumbency could certainly be a strong factor whenever in any election the ruling party is defeated. What is crucial for the political parties to understand, however, that there is a deeper, more fundamental reason that most of the parties so far have not been giving due attention to, if not altogether ignoring. That factor, which is really the bottom line, is:

The Quality of Governance, of which Development is just one component.

Sadly, in India, with the caste and class ridden social structures that we have inherited, most political and electoral calculations seem to revolve around caste and class considerations. So strong has been the belief in this system that election after election, those parties that base their calculations on appealing to and appeasing various castes or communities or specific sections of society, do succeed. Unfortunately, even the electorate gets swayed by these considerations, little realizing that in supporting parties on such parochial considerations and enabling them to win, the biggest sufferers are the people themselves. For, once the parties win based on appeal to these sections and come to power, development becomes secondary.

But this situation may be about to change if the subtle but perceptible message in the election results is grasped by the political parties. By all accounts, Lalu had admirably succeeded in playing upon the formulation of pandering to and winning over the Muslim-Yadav Vote to run the State for 15 years, not a short period by any reckoning. Nitish also had to exploit a different caste formulation and that has obviously helped him. But what should not be forgotten is that the JDU alliance has won seats across all castes, classes and across the entire State. This is the message that means that the voter may finally be realizing where his real interests lie. For most, this may be just a slight shift to be ignored but for those who can think long term, there is a lesson. The lesson is that playing upon caste, class, communities or religion have a limit to their usefulness. Once the saturation point is reached, the people will begin to look for concrete substance rather than the abstract talk of caste and community. This lesson does not apply just to those who want to exploit caste and religion but also holds good for those who exploit the theme of secularism. In the ultimate analysis, as the people get more educated and informed, Quality of Governance will be the main factor that will determine who will get elected. The sooner the political parties come to grip with these new realities and dump the baggage of the divisive factors of caste, class, religion and equally, the bogey of secularism to counter those who appeal to religion, the quicker will the country see real progress.

It remains to be seen which party will see the light of day first.

And lastly, there is a lesson also for the budding psephologists who are intent on predicting the election results. As before, none of them have come anywhere near predicting with accuracy the results of this election. This only goes to prove that the mind of the Indian voter remains unpredictable and unreadable, before, during or after he has caste his vote.


At November 23, 2005, Anonymous R. Rajan said...

These elections will mark a turning point in Bihar politics. But what is important is that the Nitish Govt. should slowly but surely try to reduce the importance of caste and religion based politics. Of course it is tough to achieve this but there is no hope otherwise for Bihar.

At November 25, 2005, Anonymous Pandian said...

I think Nitish Kumar has started in the right way. Let us hope that he will leave a good legacy for future generations of politicians in Bihar.

At November 26, 2005, Anonymous R.S.Kapoor, Ludhiana said...

The Congress and left parties should stop singing the secular tune. Their so-called commitment to secular vote leads them to get other small parties as allies. In the end, it is the national parties who get discredit.

At November 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just two days after the result, Congress is showing clear signs that it does not care so much now for RJD Chief Laloo Yadav.


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