From Edition: September 18, 2015
When land was the centre of politics
Before caste became the pole of politics, mass action in Bihar focused on land rights. The Kisan Sabha, the first mass peasant organisation in India, was formed in Bihar in 1929. The Bihar Provincial Kisan Sabha under the leadership of Swami Sahajanand Saraswati fought to protect the interests of peasants against landlords and the British.
The movement spread across India and, in 1936, the All India Kisan Sabha was formed with the swami as president. Most of the Congress Socialist Party leaders including Jayaprakash Narayan, Acharya Narendra Dev, Ram Manohar Lohia, E M S Namboodirippad, N G Ranga and P Sundarayya were associated with the AIKS. The AIKS released a Kisan Manifesto in 1936, which called for abolition of the zamindari system and cancellation of rural debts, and adopted the red flag. The CPI monopolised the AIKS by the 1940s and the socialists left.
In 1947, the state passed the Zamindari Abolition Act. The Bihar Land Reform Act of 1950 ended the zamindari system; land, forests, ponds, markets, mines etc were now vested in the state. But the reforms failed to address the problems of the landless and Left politics took these up.
The land question was central to the Naxalites, who broke away from the CPM in the late 1960s. The battle for land overlapped with caste oppression leading to massacres in the 1970s and ’80s, the victims mostly Dalits. However, the land question was subsumed by the broader social justice politics in the 1990s. Caste, not class, became the primary political category of mobilisation.
From edition: September 17, 2015
State’s first socialist government, 1967
Lalu Prasad calls the election the battle for Mandal 2, but the rise of the OBCs in politics predates the Mandal movement of the 1990s. The year 1967 was a benchmark as the then assembly elections saw the Congress losing governments across the country. In the Hindi heartland, the politics of anti-Congressism championed by socialist ideologue Ram Manohar Lohia trumped the Congress. The crux of Lohia’s vision was the vanguard of the social revolution would be the backward castes.
In Bihar, the OBCs rallied around Lohia’s leadership and his Samyukta Socialist Party, which won 68 seats, with 40% of its MLAs from OBC communities and 23% of them Yadavs. A coalition was formed under the banner of the Samyukta Vidhyak Dal with Mahamaya Prasad Sinha as chief minister. It was a combination of extremes, including ministers from the CPI and the Jana Sangh. Despite its broad social base and the emphasis on social justice, the ministry collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. However, the 1967 outcome made it clear that the end of the raj of the caste and social elites had begun.
From edition: September 16, 2015
Why battle for Dalit votes is so intense
Dalits make up about 16% of Bihar’s vote and can clearly swing a closely contested election. Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi claim to be in a position to swing the entire Dalit vote to the NDA, while Nitish Kumar has assiduously cultivated sections of the community by carving out the Mahadalit constituency and with targeted programmes. In the past, Dalits mostly went with the Congress, while a small section rallied behind the radical Left.
For decades, Babu Jagjivan Ram was the undisputed Dalit leader of Bihar. Babuji, as he was known, served as a cabinet minister for 30 years, running important ministries including railways, agriculture and defence under Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi. He left the Congress after the Emergency and was deputy prime minister in the Janata government. While Babuji held sway at the Centre, the Congress in 1968 appointed Bhola Paswan Shastri as the Bihar chief minister. He was CM thrice, though each tenure was very short.
Ram Sundar Das became Bihar’s second Dalit CM when he replaced socialist leader Karpoori Thakur as head of the Janata Party government in 1979. Manjhi was Nitish Kumar’s surprise choice for CM when he quit in 2014. It was then read as a smart political move but the churn since Nitish’s return to the chair post has turned Manjhi into an important rival.
From edition: September 15, 2015
The state’s first assembly, 1951
Undivided Bihar of 1951 was a Congress territory though the adivasis of what is now Jharkhand state had by then discovered political currency through the Jharkhand Party. The Socialist Party, on the home ground of its leader Jayaprakash Narayan, had substantial influence.
The peasant movement had limited sway while there were also local leaders who commanded loyalty. Feudalism defined social relations in north and central Bihar. The tribals in the southern district rallied around the charismatic Jaipal Singh. Singh, who belonged to the Munda tribe, was educated in Oxford and had led the Indian hockey team to its first Olympic gold in the 1928 Amsterdam Games. He had also represented the adivasis in the Constituent Assembly.
The state had 276 single-member and 54 double-member constituencies and elected these 330 MLAs out of a total of 1,593 contestants. The voter turnout was just 42.60 per cent. The Congress won a majority, and Shri Krishna Sinha formed the government.