Bihar has seen it all in the last 30 years; the height of anarchy, the low of despondency, a culture of political skulduggery and opportunism. Change remains the only constant in the impoverished state of Bihar as power changes hands. But the more Bihar wants to change, the more it remains the same — at the bottom, on all social and economic parameters.
The churn is still on as Lalu Prasad Yadav’s family returns to power with Nitish Kumar ditching the National Democratic Alliance and joining hands with the RJD. As Kumar takes the oath for the record eighth time, one question haunts the state: how long before Bihar finally settles?
The answer is not easy to arrive at and one must not rush to answer this. Bihar is a political puzzle and players keep shuffling the cards till they find the right mix of caste calculations.
Caste is a major denominator, deciding the fate of Bihar since time immemorial but the factor has been exploited to the hilt since the Mandal politics era.
Lalu and Nitish were the by-products of caste politics; Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently dubbed the latter “the last socialist”. Socialism is a sophisticated ideological device; one that Nitish, Lalu and the ilk proudly wear on their chest. The duo has ruled Bihar for the last 30 years.
When Nitish Kumar joined hands with Tejashwi Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, he proudly said: “One Samajwadi joined another, why should one be surprised?” That’s the kind of premise the RJD proffers when questioned about unresolved issues of corruption in the past partnerships of Nitish Kumar and RJD.
When Bihar is not living in the present, rulers keep reminding about the past and Bihar is quite happy about the past without bothering about the present and the future. Fortunately, much of Bihar’s past has been glorious. But there’s no denying the fact that there are patches of infamy too.
For reasons good and bad, politicians take refuge in the past. Bihar has seen the worst of caste massacres, organised loots, incidents of extortion, kidnapping, and migration of traders and doctors in hordes.
On August 9, 2022, Bihar saw the return of RJD to power. It surprised many because Nitish Kumar himself raked up issues of ‘jungle raj’ in the 2020 elections. On July 3, 2020, Tejashwi Yadav had asked for forgiveness for any excesses during the 15-year Lalu-Rabri regime. “We were 15 years in power. Though I was young, I still beg for forgiveness for mistakes committed because that was a different time,” he had said.
Tejashwi is a quick study. He tries to maintain his secular image by promising to take along all sections of society. In a message to his supporters, he cautioned them not to go overboard and remain calm. To ward off criticism, Tejashwi needs to keep a check on elements who had shown scant regard for law and order during the Lalu-Rabri regime.
Nitish Kumar takes pride in restoring law and order in the state and putting Bihar back on the growth track. He cannot afford any missteps on that count with 2024 Lok Sabha elections and 2025 Bihar elections approaching.
Tejashwi, meanwhile, has his eyes fixed on caste equations beyond Muslims and Yadavs, but he will succeed only if there is no persecution of Dalits and Backwards in the state. He will send across the desired message if the crime graph remains under control and employment opportunities are generated as promised. Healthcare and education system need to be overhauled too.
Nitish has national ambitions and Tejashwi needs to make a mark in Bihar politics beyond alliances. Both can achieve their goals only if they exorcise the demons of the past.