Even as the state faces an unprecedented global pandemic, the ‘jujharu Bihari’ is finding novel ways to let his ‘jhunjhlahat’ (frustration) out. Impatience for a new political narrative beyond caste calculations and the hunger for more than just ‘bijli, paani aur sadak’ has given birth to a new and intriguing firebrand that is taking on, both, the leadership and the opposition, via mediums such as TikTok and YouTube for what they term as ‘aalsi rajneeti’ or tired and hackneyed politics.
Among the varied life experiences, this young brigade has two things in common: forced migration due to lack of employment in the state and having been constantly pulled down for their identity.
On May 20, a national Twitter trend emerged by the name of #IndustryInBihar where almost all major organisations came to express the need for industrial growth in the state. The trend left many baffled for days as never before had a united voice with such huge support been raised without any political backing. One of the main players behind this was the Mithila students’ union.
“We are a large organisation. We moved thousands of our members on Twitter. Many other groups with young leaders came together and we reached a consensus that we should push for that hashtag. By afternoon there were more than 2 lakh tweets,” says Aditya Mohan, leader of Mithila students’ union.
Mohan emphasises that they are not demanding only for conventional industries like food processing units etc. “We want industries in entertainment, we want work to be in education, more private colleges. Mangoes and lychee are produced in abundance but there are no juice units,” he says.
The state which was once responsible for 50 per cent of the horticulture produce, 25 per cent of the sugar and 29 per cent of the rice and wheat output has now become a silent spectator in the most sectors which it once dominated.
According to the latest data available, of the total number of industrial units in operation in the country, the share of Bihar was only 1.5 per cent. Also, the average size of fixed capital per factory in Bihar was only Rs 3.39 crore compared to Rs 14.70 crore at national level. The total employment in industries in Bihar was 1.19 lakh, mere 0.8 per cent of the national average.
“Humare gaon vridhasharam hote jaa rahe hain,” says Mohan. He opines that the biggest problem in the state is that of migration. “There is nothing in the state that can lure youngsters to stay back. There are no colleges, no industries, no healthcare,” he adds.
Mithila student union is a youth-based non-political organisation formed in 2015, spread across 12 states. “Our aim is to talk about the factors that can benefit kshetra and chhatra. We started by talking about the problems in our own university, Lalit Narayan Mithila university. There were not enough teachers, the session started late, there was hardly anything being taught,” he says.
The organisation has staged protests demanding industries and employment in the state. “We asked for an airport in Darbhanga. We also protested for the need of an AIIMS in the area. We have been working continuously for the last six years and now we have a team at the panchayat level as well in 8 to 10 districts. We have more than 6 lakh members in the group striving to move beyond jaatiya samikaran,” he says. In 2015, four 23 to 25-year-olds came together and formed this organisation.
Ranjay Bihari, national convener of "Bihar Mange Rojgar" is using the same route to bring to light the deformities of the government and the age-old rot in the system in order to ensure "sab ko wo na dekhna pade". He is referring to an incident when he was woken up by the police at 3 am only because he belonged from Bihar.
"During my last job in the field of advertising in Delhi, I was sent to Vellore for some work in 2014. At around 3 am three policemen knocked at my door. The barged in and searched my entire room. On enquiring, they told me that it was a random check that they do in hotels every now and then to make sure that guests who have come do not have any ill intention. The register book told them that there was only one guest from Bihar. My state made them suspicious," he says.
Ranjay narrates another incident where he was thrown out of his friend's rented accommodation by a landlady in Chennai. "She starred quarreling, mouthing obscenities saying that Biharis are criminals and that she will not let a Bihari stay in her house. She was also about to call the cops. This is our image all over India," he says.
After working in advertising and the film industry for more than 13 years, Ranjay returned to his home town in Bihar's Gaya in 2015. Subsequently, he formed a group of Facebook named Bihar Mange Rojgar where he brings to light the state's rising unemployment resulting in almost compulsive migration.
"While I kept working on my job, the constant feeling kept gnawing in me that there is no respect for Biharis outside the state. They are mocked as criminals and as people who should not be given a place in a civilised society. It is partly because people in huge numbers move out of Bihar in search of jobs and therefore people feel that their opportunities are being snatched away," he says.
Ranjay along with his group in January this year did a week long march with the anthem "Bihar Mange Rojgar" where they demanded employment for the youth in Bihar.
"The slogan was adopted by CPI leader Kanhaiya Kumar also when he said "nahin chahie NPR, Bihar mange rojgar". A similar slogan was used by opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav where he said "Yuva mange rojgar," he says
Lack of employment is one of the biggest drivers of migration. Unemployment rate in Bihar was at 10.3 per cent last year and ranked among the highest in the country. According to CMIE, the state's unemployment rate increased by 31.2 percentage points, rising to 46.6 per cent in April 2020, almost twice the national average.
According to a February 2020 study by the Institute of Population Sciences, more than half of the households in Bihar are exposed to migration to more developed places in India and abroad. The survey, which covered 36 villages and 2,270 households, revealed that migration is highest for landless households. The report further found that 80 per cent migrants are landless or have less than one acre of land.
The 64th round of the National Sample Survey stated that around 30.7 per cent of the total out-migrants from Bihar moved in search of employment as they could not find work.
"Bihar has not seen any new industry in the last 15 years. Nobody even knows who the industry minister of Bihar is. What is he doing? Baith ke matar cheel rahe hain? Hum aapko Google karke jaanein? Kyun jaanein?" he says.
Ranjay has decided to contest the next elections. "We will be floating a party very soon," he adds.
Not only is Bihar lagging on economic parameters, the state is staring at a leadership crisis. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav is serving a jail term after being convicted in the fodder scam. His son and opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav has not quite been able to create the same aura his father did while his brother and former health minister, Tej Pratap Yadav, is not considered serious enough by the masses, thanks to his own actions.
On the other hand, Nitish Kumar’s image of a man of good governance has taken a severe hit following the Muzaffarpur Shelter Home scandal, his inability to control the outbreak of acute encephalitis syndrome because of which more than 170 children died, and more recently his attitude towards migrant workers wanting to return home in the wake of a health crisis.
The state which has had the rich tradition of leadership, Jayaprakash Narayan’s home state, which defined the socialist movement, until very recently dominated by two of JP’s proteges, now finds itself irrelevant on the political map of India. It's not very long ago that political analysts considered Bihar as one of the kingmakers for Lok Sabha elections. Not anymore.
This very political vacuum, need for young leaders, and absence of opportunities in the state made Muzzafarpur's Ankit Kumar conceptualise Bihar Chhatra Sansad (Bihar Student Parliament).
"I had formed this organisation in 2015 to empower students and young thought leaders to voice their concerns to the government. We generally conduct sessions, discussions and debates for students where we invite ministers, industrialists and other leaders with a pre-decided theme which generally reciprocates the demands of the young in Bihar," he says.
Bihar Chhatra Sansad is spread across 17 districts in the state. Kumar has conducted three such sessions so far.
"I feel a strong need for constructive politics in the state and students need to be sensitised about it. Speaking personally I was not informed and socially aware while I was growing up. Therefore, I feel that every student needs to understand how to participate in democracy. While voting is a process in itself, one needs to know the intricacies of it and understand how to take part in the politics of the country. Change laane ke liye usme aana padega," he says.
Students from various districts approach him via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking for such sessions. "We elect a district coordinator among them and conduct youth parliament along with student parliament sessions," he says.
Kumar had, while pursuing his engineering degree in Pune, attended the All India Student Parliament. "I was pretty impressed with the idea and I thought that something of this needs to be implemented in my state as well. I felt that when I was in Bihar, I did not have such opportunities. Almost every large city, for example Delhi, has such seminars and discussions inside five-star hotels, but humare sheher mein aisa kuch nahi hota hai," he says.
After getting a degree in engineering in 2016, he moved to Delhi in order to prepare for Union Public Service Commission examination. A compulsory norm in Bihar, probably only second to migration.
"Almost every Bihari has some kind of political gene in him/her. But politics ka matlab chai ki tapri pe baith ke bakar bakar karna nahi hai. Policymaking is the main objective of politics. Therefore, I want to provide a platform to more and more educated people to come up and take the responsibility and join politics so that better policies are formed and unlike me more students do not have to leave their homes in search for better opportunities," he says.
The version that Kumar is trying to paint is that of a new Bihar. One that takes pride in its history, is worried about its present and exudes aspirations for its future. This genre understands the importance for education and knows how to use the latest means to pinpoint irregularities in what otherwise seem rosy promises. They are no more satisfied and are not willing to wait.
"As a child, whenever I used to go back to my village in Muzaffarpur, I encountered a three-kilometre-long road that connected my village to the city. It was perennially broken. It got repaired only after the Nitish government came to power. However, ab pyas badh chuki hai. We cannot keep gloating over the fact that we have been provided with roads and electricity. We are teaching people to not vote just on the basis of promises. They need to question politicians on what they have done in the last 5 years," he says.
Even while making lofty declarations on prospective development, politicians never fail to add a caveat: caste. "Jaat ke sath vikas" has been a long-used slogan. Caste hangs like an albatross around the necks of everyone in the state.
Political parties are fully aware of the caste-based polling patterns which explains why candidates are fielded based on the dominant caste in the constituency. Political pundits also opine that parties with better social engineering in the state’s caste matrix have higher chances of getting through.
"We don't vote for policies. Voters here say 'jaan pehchaan ka hona chahiye', meaning he or she should be of the same caste," points out Kumar.
Bihar’s youth has been a close spectator to policy-level changes related to caste. The connection can be understood from the fact that the Mandal report was drafted by Bihar’s former chief minister Bindeshwari Prasad Mandal. People born after the Mandal commission, which was implemented in 1990, form the majority in the state.
Bibhu Nandan Singh, a resident of Saharsa in Bihar, owner of a YouTube channel named Bihari No 1 having close to 4 lakh subscribers, found himself at the receiving end of caste-based hate in 2017 for one of his videos.
"I had made a video on how Bihar was in the 1990s. I had grown up during that time and wanted to show what I had seen. I had not named any politician nor did I mention any caste group in my video. However, after uploading, a lot of people started attacking me saying that I am casteist and I am trying to divide the society. I was a science student. Humko pata hi nahi tha manuvaad kya hota hai. Followers of Lalu Prasad Yadav kept attacking me online," he says.
Singh says he has no political inclinations but is often called out by various caste groups for his videos.
"Whenever I make videos against Nitish Kumar people think hum Kurmi virodhi hain. Whenever I make videos against Lalu Prasad Yadav people think hum Yadav virodhi hain. Whenever I make videos against upper caste leaders I am tagged as Brahman virodhi. I am an artist and it is my responsibility to bring to light the concerns of this state irrespective of ideologies and political parties," he says.
Singh shares the same story of an unwilling migration. "Right from my childhood, I was told that if I did not study well I will have to stay back in Saharsa. It made me believe that yahan reh jana bahut kaharaab baat hai. I saw my friends in college and work and thought why can they stay with their parents and not me," he says. The ace YouTuber left home at the age of 15 and has not been able to return ever since.
Singh often found himself arguing with people trying to make fun of him due to his state identity. "I was also called out for pronouncing certain words in my native accent. Hum kapra aur sarak hi bolte hain, kapda aur sadak nahi. My friend used to tell me to pronounce 'sh' and 's'. I kept asking them that in order to gel well with people from other states, do I need to talk and pronounce words the way they do? Meri mummy to aise hi baat karti hai," he says.
In order to voice his opinion he took it upon himself to speak about relevant topics on Bihar and present a picture that is real and away from pre-decided notions through his YouTube channel. "The idea was also discouraged by the friends initially,” he says
“A simple Google search about Bihar generally resulted in item songs such as Kamariya Lollipop and Lagaidi Choliya Ke Hook. I have just two three objectives. One, I want to talk to people and show them what real Bihar is, and secondly, if I ask a friend to search about Bihar, I want good content to show up,” he says.
Singh stresses on the need for the youth of Bihar to step and take the reins especially in a state that has 58 per cent of its population below the age of 27.
Another young Bihari who caught the eyeballs of many through her sheer novelty was Pushpam Priya Choudhary. She defied the convention of forming a political party and threw open doors to a top-down approach. On March 2020, a two-page advertisement published in multiple Hindi and English newspapers in the state depicted her standing in front of a library, with a black backdrop, where she called herself the president of a newly floated political party called ‘Plurals’, and declared herself to be a chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar. The footnote of the ad read “Bihar deserves better, and better is possible”. A daughter of a JD(U) leader herself, Pushpa remains largely incommunicado, her political backer happens to be a former bureaucrat.
Meanwhile, Alok Pandey was mocked as "chawal" in his engineering college in New Delhi from where he graduated in 2015. "Students made fun of me in front of girls, teachers and almost everyone else, only because I was from Bihar. They did not want to include me in their groups. I was looked down upon," he says.
Pandey now runs a TikTok page with 2 lakh followers. He makes videos on Bihar, speaking about topics that do not find a place in mainstream political discourse.
Pandey hails from Bihar's Gopalganj district. "After completing school I left for further studies and didn't realise when from gaon ke babu I became a Bihari. Initially, I didn't even know why I was being discriminated against. I was only 15 years old," he says.
The ridiculing did not stop with college. It continued in Pandey's workplace in Gujarat where he moved immediately after getting his degree. "I was a senior at a very young age but people refused to obey me. They used to simply ignore or make fun of my orders only because I was from a certain state. It used to mentally trouble me," he says.
It was then that Pandey decided to speak up on Facebook and TikTok. He started uploading short videos on subjects related to Bihar. During the initial few months, Pandey found abject objectification of Biharis on TikTok as well. There were videos in which people ridiculed their accent and found ways to make Bihar the butt of their jokes.
"What I understood from staying outside for so long is that people still think that Bihar mein sab log beedi peete hain, Bihar mein bahut zyada gareebi hai aur Bihar mein sadak nahi hai. I decided this needs to go and that is only possible when politics in the state undergoes a serious change," says Pandey.
Not just mockery due to state identity, Pandey's videos also speak of migration stemming from his personal experiences. "I completed my class 10th examination and left home for further studies. Since then I have not been able to be at home for more than ten days in a year," he says.
As of June 2019, it was estimated that there were 12 crore monthly TikTok users in India and close to 10 per cent were from Bihar. So much so that on August 25, 2019, a national TikTok fest was organised in the state.
“When I started uploading, Biharis from all over the world connected with me and congratulated me for my work. Even while being at my job, while going to work I used to keep thinking about it as to what else can I speak about in terms of Bihar on TikTok. Every video got at least 15 to 20 million views,” he adds.
The ace TikToker is now concentrating more on Facebook for his videos. He has quit his job and has moved back to his hometown. “I will do anything to make Bihar a better place. I don't want the future generation to face what we had to,” he says.
As state elections approach in Bihar, digital mediums such as YouTube and TikTok have emerged as compulsory modes of campaigning. According to Google’s political advertising transparency report for India, more than Rs 14 crore was spent on political ads in Bihar in 2019, a non-election year. Additionally, the state registered the highest growth in internet users across both urban and rural areas, registering a 35 per cent growth in 2019. While it would be convenient to dismiss them as non-starters in a state where caste arithmetic defines the balance of power, it does reflect the growing impatience of a largely status quoist Bihari.