Polls, politics and progress in bihar

Two recent books — The Brothers Bihari and Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar — help unravel the many factors at play in the State’s political economy

Politics is part of the staple diet of most Indians — almost everyone has a knack for critical thinking on a full-time or part-time basis. Hence, for obvious reasons, the ongoing Assembly election in Bihar continues to be the talk

of the town. Bihar is a State where politics is meant to be celebrated, and in recent years, it has developed a taste for good economics as well. In fact, these days Bihar is well-known for hosting some of the best shows in India’s political economy. Leaving narrow political angles aside, this is an encouraging development. The ongoing election, despite its high-decibel cacophony, signifies the State’s ushering in of a new phase of development.

The main political alliances — the mahagatbandhan of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, the Congress and others on one hand and the BJP-led NDA on the other — show the prominence of policies over ideologies as a sustainable mechanism. Once the election thunder come to a rest, this will become clearer. All political parties are commonly giving different castes their representation — confirming that caste identity still rules the ballot boxes. However, unlike the old times, the end and means are prominentally centered on the development narrative.

Yet, it is far too early if the old ways of Bihar politics is written off at this point of time. This is made clear in two important books that have been published recenrly on Bihar — The Brothers Bihari (Harper Collins India) by Mr Sankarshan Thakur of The Telegraph and Ruled or Misruled: Story and Destiny of Bihar (Bloomsbury India) by Mr Santosh Singh of The Indian Express. Both works delineate how Bihar politics touched rock bottom.

Mr Singh who reports from Bihar has jotted down the lesser known facts of Bihar politics. His book, a journalistic account on Bihar politics, covers the main events of the last 2.5 decades — and often goes into times before Lalu Prasad era. No polemics, but through finer bits and pieces of reporting, this book establishes the significant journey of Bihar in the last decade, without overlooking the many persisting flaws. It also talks of how Mr Nitish Kumar separated his ways from the BJP and how Mr Narendra Modi became the prime-mover of the Bihar BJP Unit. According to Mr Singh, the changes came at an overwhelming pace and disrupted the simpler pre-2014 dynamics.

Mr Thakur’s book is a timely compilation of his two in-depth biographies: Subaltern Saheb: Bihar and the Making of Laloo Yadav and Single Man — The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar. The new version combines Lalu Prasad and Mr Nitish Kumar as the ‘brothers Bihari’ but those who read the books separately, will find different meanings. If the making of the ‘subaltern saheb’, Lalu Prasad, proved to be the unmaking of Bihar, Mr Nitish Kumar’s turning into a ‘single man’ was the result of a difficult political choice in 1993 — to jump out of the Janata Dal which was then ruling Bihar.

In scripting new development stories, Bihar politics offers a broader basis of consultative and participative governance. Bihar is a State with strong natural base for creating a vibrant primary, secondary and tertiary super-structure. Further exploration will re-establish Bihar’s lost modes of productions. Once a heavily industrialised State, Bihar went through phases when it didn’t have much smoke in the hinterland except some coming out from chimneys of brick factories. Things are changing fast now. The Government that comes to power after the Assembly poll will have to make a truely New Bihar.

(The author is a New Delhi-based journalist)