Last summer, a senior strategist reached out to me to compose a campaign slogan for Nitish Kumar. I had written one for him five years ago: “Bihar me bahar ho, Nitishe Kumar ho”. I asked for some time to think about it, but after pondering it over for two weeks, I said no. I was not convinced. It was not coming from the heart this time.
Something has changed in the last five years. In Bihar, many times a train will stop just a few kilometres before the destination, on the outer limits of the city. And it can be stranded there for an unknown length of time. That’s what the state of Bihar was in the last three-four years. Nitish Kumar started on a very high note, with efforts for the education of girls and similar measures. But then, we got stuck in that limbo outside the city, as all his efforts were directed to safeguard and protect his position as the chief minister. Juxtapose this with the young leaders who have entered the scene in Bihar politics, like Tejashwi (Yadav), Kanhaiya (Kumar of CPI), Chirag (Paswan of LJP) and CPI-ML leaders Manoj Manzil, Sandeep Saurabh and Ajit Kushwaha.
They have an energy, which is in stark contrast with the preceding generation. For example, during the lockdown, when thousands of Bihari migrant labourers were struggling to return home, in the worst human conditions possible, I would tweet to Tejashwi regarding a group of stranded migrants and he would respond to me. He would rope in Congress leaders in Maharashtra, or Priyanka Chaturvedi (of Shiv Sena). He would engage. Nitish Kumar, on the other hand, never responds to any feedback on Twitter. I think he gets offended at times. Nitish also lost most of his credibility in the last five years.
Tejashwi Yadav and the new brigade of leaders broke the myth that the young don’t do anything, or that they do not understand the depth of complex issues. Bihar was stuck in a time warp, where nothing was changing. The youth leaders are trying to jolt Bihar out of this complacency. I don’t know how much of this will translate into seats, but it’s inspiring for the average Bihari.
I grew up in relative privilege in Madhepura, as my father was a farmer. I was able to study in a college in Delhi University. Anyone with any privilege leaves the state the moment he can. A simple undergraduate course takes about five years to complete in a Bihar college. We still can’t trust a government hospital here.
I am from a family that was always politically aware. From the age of 10, I saw caste and its many manifestations rear its ugly head in Bihari society. But I have also seen caste hegemony being broken when Lalu Prasad Yadav came to power, when he ensured that people from all sections could cast their vote, even he became controversial later.
In this election, the youth leaders represented hope and Tejashwi Yadav was one of them. Hope is never blazing and in your face like the sun. It’s a tiny spark, like a match being lit in total darkness. He understood that the pandemic highlighted the problem of unemployment in the state, and hence his promise of 10 lakh jobs. Unemployment has plagued Bihar for a very, very long time. A vast majority of migrant labourers in the country hail from Bihar. Tejashwi Yadav set the pitch for an issue-based election. And irrespective of the outcome, unemployment will continue to be a big thing. If Tejashwi comes to power, he will have to deliver on the promise, and even if the NDA wins, they, too, will have to live up to their promise.
I have never shied away from my Bihari identity, even if it suffers from a negative perception. But what exactly have we done to change that perception, other than being offended? This election was a chance to make your vote count and make a difference.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 11, 2020 under the title ‘A Spark Of Hope’. The writer is a lyricist in the Hindi film industry
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