When Nitish Kumar takes oath as Bihar’s chief minister, he would also assume a new set of political, social and economic challenges. The convincing victory of the Mahagathbandhan under his leadership is a landmark moment for the country. The message is loud and clear. The social justice cohesion should not only be expanded but also consolidated further.
In this regard, the worst off among the OBCs as well as the Dalits, who are still not with the Mahagathbandhan, need to be brought back into the fold. This would create the broadest possible social justice coalition in Bihar since the early 1990s, which would resonate across the Hindi heartland and decisively impact the forthcoming UP polls in 2017.
Even though there was genuine transfer of Bihar’s political power in favour of social justice in the early 1990s, as the years rolled by most of the leaders ended up by getting co-opted by the upper-caste feudal oligarchy. For instance, one of NDA’s constituent parties, headed by a Dalit Union minister, resorted to “reverse positive discrimination” in ticket distribution in favour of criminals and gangsters from the upper castes. Other than his family, the said minister shuns Dalit candidates or those with a reputation for probity.
Another Dalit leader elevated to chief-ministership by Nitish, who later became the posterboy of Narendra Modi’s campaign in the lead-up to the polls, shamelessly announced that the new chief minister will not take oath without releasing Anand Mohan Singh, who is serving life imprisonment for lynching a Dalit IAS officer, G. Krishnaiah. In fact, Anand Mohan’s wife, Lovely Anand, was given a ticket by this Dalit leader.
The electorate decisively rejected these parties in the polls. Bihar’s electoral history bears testimony to the fact that flirting with the upper-caste oligarchy by the social justice leaders always turns out to be the electoral equivalent of the proverbial kiss of death, even though it may provide some temporary dividends.
The Mahagathbandhan government, under Nitish’s leadership, must push for the development of the state while being cognisant of such social pitfalls. The unexpected surfacing of Bihari sub-nationalism needs to be consolidated, which is a natural corollary of the social justice movement, and which infuses a sense of provincial ownership.
Upper-caste elites and the subaltern are enthusiastic partners when it comes to sub-nationalism. While the social justice constituency democratises society, the sub-nation- alism infuses a provincial sense of ownership. That is why, the anti-Brahmin movement in the southern and western parts of India democratised society while the sub-nationalism ensured that the best brains among the upper castes participated in shaping the states’ development.
Even persons like C.P. Ramaswami Iyer or M. Visvesvaraya, the blue-blooded Brahmins and civil servants, not only strengthened state institutions but also triggered economic development under the suzerainty of the social justice leadership who were products of the anti-Brahmin movement.
If one peruses “Nitish nischay” and the joint programme of the Mahagathbandhan, the agenda can be divided into two categories. One set of agenda items comes under the rubric of “provisioning”, where the Nitish government’s track record is stellar. The other set falls in the category of “enabling”. These items might be daunting but will be game-changers if implemented. Apart from the ongoing agenda of construction of roads and bridges, and the provision of electricity, the new Nitish government is committed to “ghar tak pakki gali-naaliyan”, “har ghar nal ka jal”, “shauchalay nirman, ghar ka sammaan”, and finally “har ghar bijli, lagatar”.
It is a brilliant strategy to ensure that the benefits of economic growth trickle down to the masses. Even partial provisioning of electricity has brought huge electoral dividends for Nitish. If electricity is provided to every household, as promised in “Nitish nishchay”, it will dramatically improve the quality of life for the Biharis. On the other hand, “aarthik hal, yuvaon ko bal”, “aarakshit rozgar, mahilaon ko adhikar” and “avsar badhe, aage padhein” fall under the “enabling” category and will take Bihar’s human development index to new heights. After ensuring women’s political empowerment through positive discrimination in the PRIs, a professional foundation for women is being created along with the promise of 35 per cent reservation for women in all state government jobs. Additionally, the common school system report should be implemented.
Market engagement is a necessary pre-condition for the next phase of growth. In most of southern and western India, it was the surplus from agriculture and trade that led to the growth of industrial capitalism. In Andhra Pradesh, agricultural surplus led to tobacco capitalism followed by cinema and knowledge capitalism, led mainly by the Kammas and the Reddys. In Maharastra, the anti-Brahmin movement led to the sugar
cooperative movement. When K. Kamaraj became the chief minister of Madras State in the early 1950s, he exhorted the Nadar community to go for matchbox, firecracker and printing capitalism. He developed Sivakasi, which was a rain shadow area, as an industrial hub.
Unfortunately, in Bihar, the milk capitalism of the Yadavs, brick capitalism of the Kurmis and vegetable capitalism of the Koeris — the troika, referred to as the “Triveni Sangh” — could not graduate to value-added market-driven capitalism. This initiative began in the pre-Independence period. Instead of promoting a market-driven agenda, the elites from this social grouping were enamoured of competitive examinations. The political reassertion of the “Triveni Sangh” in the assembly polls should push them to graduate from state-centric social justice to market-centric capitalism.
In Bihar, tenurial reform will not only trigger growth but also ensure a less iniquitous society. Lesser inequity provides a better chance at reaching consensus, a necessary pre-condition for development. Most of the developed states completed this task almost six decades ago. Authentic market engagement is built on the edifice of land reform.
It is hoped that Nitish will model himself on the Nehruvian ethos. While Nehru gave us the idea of India, Nitish has to articulate the idea of Bihar. Social inclusion, social justice, secularism and tolerance are the pivots around which this idea needs to be formed. Nitish has the capacity to transcend his “Subaltern Nehru” image and become a mainstream Nehru — and then take on the mantle of leading the nation.
The writer is member secretary, Asian Development Research Institute (ADRI), Patna