CHANGE IN BIHAR
The Better Man Has Won
By SHREE SHANKAR SHARAN
One good man can and has turned Bihar around. It was Mahatma Gandhi who did it in 1917 in Champaran. A seemingly docile population, which meekly submitted to every mean levy of the English indigo planters, rose in revolt as one man under the Mahatma's magical and courageous touch.
It was then Rajendra Prasad who set up the Congress, more a movement than a party in every nook and corner of Bihar and instilled in Congressmen, by his personal example, and Gandhi's exhortations values of integrity, selfless service and patriotism. He became the model for Congressmen in Bihar, of simplicity, frugality, humility and of being above temptation. He became an icon in the country for people imbued with similar values, was one of the five of the constellation of leaders in the country and was elected the country's first President against the wishes of Jawaharlal who wanted Rajagopalachari India's last governor general for the office.
In hindsight Nehru's proposal may have been more beneficial if Rajendra Babu rather than be President had continued in Nehru's cabinet as a counterweight to Nehru's penchant for things western, tempered with mild socialism, and forced a greater rural bias.
The first Bihar Government both in 1937 and 1946 was also characterised by the values of the Mahatma and Rajendra Babu. Its two eminent leaders Sri Babu and Anugrah Babu were men of unimpeachable integrity and great public spirit. They ran an exemplary government till the second rung of leadership drove a wedge between them. An imperious Sri Babu and an humble but very capable Anugrah Babu complemented each other and made an excellent pair of popular rulers, enriching Bihar with wealth and wisdom. But the second rung had started an internecine struggle for power setting the party and the state on a downward course, putting an end to Congress supremacy in 1967.
Then it was Jayaprakash Narayan, who soaked Bihar in the famous JP movement against corruption, unemployment, rising prices and the fall in education, to demand the right to recall of representatives and dissolution of the Bihar Assembly for its weak moral fibre and suddenly stirred and transformed Bihar to great moral heights. When challenged at the hustings the Janata Party hastily cobbled by him by merging all opposition parties from the right to the socialists threw Indira Gandhi out of power at the Centre and not just Bihar.
Then it was VP Singh in 1989-90 with his campaign against corruption and promise of making the right to work a fundamental right. He ended up with nothing better than Mandal reservations for the OBC which Nehru had wisely relegated to the states. But Mandal politics for a time fractured the polity into castes and threw up a redoubtable leader Lalu Yadav who with his rustic charisma and beguiling political acumen by cleverly playing the caste and secular card was able to survive three terms. During his tenure he was the accused in fodder and many scams and was asked to resign but held on to power by getting his unlettered wife elected as chief minister. He, as he claims, gave the OBC a voice but little else in development, security or employment. He once even brashly said that you do not need development to win elections. While development withered, crime flourished, often with political patronage and corruption both political and bureaucratic reached new heights. Yet he held the loyalty of the OBC. Charges against him were either disbelieved or forgiven. He did give the OBC a heightened sense of dignity and the confidence that they could win and keep power. His permanent contribution is to have put the OBC centrestage in power and dispatch the upper caste from the seat of power for years to come.
Rule of law
And now it is Nitish Kumar who has dislodged from power by a massive mandate the legendary Lalu Yadav on the plank of restarting development, rebuilding Bihar, restoring the rule of law and giving the poor the chance to survive in Bihar without migrating elsewhere. He has the advantage of being OBC and bearing their interest at heart but does not raucously proclaim it from the housetop. Instead he has promised a casteless society and won upper caste votes either for his own party or its ally the BJP.
Bihar indeed has had a history of being long on patience but bringing about dramatic changes once disillusioned. Even a conservative, fatalist, god-fearing people are not averse to change and firmly believe in being delivered by god through a chosen agent. But taking a cue from extraordinary events in the country's history and ethical teachings from the medieval saints to Gandhi, people have also a good understanding that their troubles are man-made and are remediable. There have been long time spans before the people change to reverse gear. But it has happened repeatedly and they have always rewarded good work and punished the pretender.
The people have also responded to and rewarded the services of lesser leaders. The state has had eminent revolutionaries and socialists. A whole host of them led by Ram Nanda Misra who is credited with giving shooting lessons to Bhagat singh in the jungles of Champaran and helping Jayaprakash Narayan to escape the Hazaribagh jail, Suraj Babu an inveterate trade union leader who died of a lathi blow under a Congress government, Basawan Singh, yet another union leader, BP Sinha, an LSE intellectual, Phulan Prasad Varma, the founder of the Bihar Socialist Party in 1934 before the founding of the Congress socialist party and member, DVC Ganga Sharan Singh, the eminent parliamentarian and scholar of many languages. Karpoori Thakur, the well remembered OBC leader and twice chief minister of Bihar and not just Jayaprakash Narayan one of the architects of the country's socialist movement.
There were eminent and dedicated communists as well — Sunil Mukherjee, Chandrashekhar Singh, Chaturanand Misra, Jagganath Sarkar, Indradeep Sinha and the venerable Karyanand Sharma. Some of these leaders were sons of Congress ministers and rebels from what they considered a bourgeois government which promoted bourgeois class interests. Finally there came the Naxalites in pockets of Bihar.
The good work by these good men led to the first toppling of a Congress government in Bihar in 1967 in which Lohia laid the strategy of opposition votes not being split and scripting a coalition from the right to the left to form the first United Front Government. But as is the wont of radicals they soon split and new splinter groups captured the government till the Congress recaptured power.
But this was not the same Congress that had moved people's hearts. It was a devalued Congress full of infighting, allegations of corruption, and finally of leaders and chief ministers who did not get elected on popular or party support but by the good opinion of the Congress supremo and Prime Minister.
Bihar has for long stretches been like a rudderless state because its most famous son in recent history has been playing Nero while Bihar has burnt, and has often been Machiavelli's most perfect prince. His power came from defections from other parties, including the Left by caste appeal, ministerial offers and once by agreeing to bifurcate Bihar and not lose the support of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. He overestimated his personal charisma and underestimated the innate intelligence of the people.
Nitish Kumar has been a familiar name and face in Bihar. He was once Lalu's closest ally. But though pragmatic he was not as cynical and not as raucous as Lalu and they parted company. Lalu arrogance had cost him many friends. He finally left the JD and formed the Samata Party, later merged with the JD-U. He was the kind of man that Bihar was waiting for., Not just the upper caste but the numerically larger extremely backward caste whom Lalu always tricked or gave a raw deal to favour the more prosperous OBC, and the low class Muslims of Kishanganj and Katihar and disillusioned Yadavs of Madhepura an Saharsa joined to vote him to power.
One does feel sorry for Lalu, the man with such supreme confidence, elan, magnetism when he was not being rude and whom a foreign newspaper called the male version of Mother Teresa. He has none but himself to blame. He had no sense of governance, no respect for institutions, no respect for rectitude. Politics to him was the art of capturing and holding to power by dividing enemies and destroying institutions. Nitish may be less colourful but is saner. the better man in terms of what Bihar needed has won.
The author is a retired IAS officer
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