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Relevance of Nitish & Lalu in power politics

For over three decades, the political power in Bihar has revolved around two personalities - Nitish Kumar, a technocrat, and Lalu Prasad, a law graduate.

Nitish

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  11 Jun 2022 4:40 AM GMT

Prabhat Kishore (prabhatkishore65@gmail.com)

For over three decades, the political power in Bihar has revolved around two personalities - Nitish Kumar, a technocrat, and Lalu Prasad, a law graduate. Both ruled the State directly or indirectly for about 15-15 years, each leading the regional parties with the support of national ally BJP and Congress respectively. Before the pre-Mandal era, the two leaders worked unitedly and were termed as 'Hira-Moti' by their well-wishers, and 'Ranga-Billa' by rivals. Lalu Prasad was elected as an MP in his first attempt in 1977, but Nitish lost two consecutive elections and reached the Vidhan Sabha in his third attempt in 1985. After the demise of Karpoori Thakur, ex-CM and leader of the Opposition, Nitish Kumar was instrumental in Lalu's projection as leader of the legislature party; although legislatures had advised him to project himself for the post, but he refused. He was also influential in Lalu's election as CM, when the Janata Dal came to power in the 1990 Vidhan Sabha election.

When the Mandal Commission report was implemented by VP Singh government in 1990, aggressive anti-reservation protests were held by the upper caste lobby under the leadership and patronage of Congress as well as BJP leaders. To counter the anti-reservation protests, pro-reservation campaigns were launched by the backward and SC communities. The outspoken Lalu spearheaded the pro-reservation campaigns and the backward community of all castes rallied behind him. Soft-spoken Nitish lagged behind in this movement. The challenge of the backward community weakened the Opposition. After becoming the centre of power, Lalu started ignoring not only Nitish, but also other non-Yadav leaders. He sidelined Nitish's suggestions regarding development works and the situation became unbearable for Nitish. Lalu proclaimed "MY" equation as against earlier "All BC".

The month-long campaign and massive rally of the anguished Kurmi Samaj on certain social issues on February 12, 1994 at Patna and Lav-Kush (Kurmi-Koiri) Sammelans in the same year was an indication of resentment among the non-Yadav backwards. Nitish realized that his time for a challenge had come. The split in the Janata Dal took place in 1994 under the leadership of veteran socialist George Fernandes along with Nitish Kumar, Abdul Gafoor and others and the Samata Party was formed. In 1997, Lalu Prasad parted away from the Janata Dal to form his own outfit, the Rashtriya Janata Dal. In 2003, the Samata Party was merged into the Janata Dal (U) to expand its base. Lalu Prasad (7 years 130 days) and his wife Rabri Devi (4 years 360 days) ruled the State since 1990 to 2005, minus the rule of Nitish Kumar for 7 days and President's Rule for 31 days; whereas Nitish Kumar ruled since 2005 till now, minus the rule of Jitan Ram Manjhi for 278 days.

In Bihar, the two personalities have their own merits and demerits. In the pre-Mandal era, the backward classes were not united cohesively and the majority of small artisan and landless castes were not vocal. In 1979, Karpoori Thakur, the CM had to resign under the pressure from the fundamentalist lobby, when he implemented reservation in state services and educational institutions for the backward classes. Lalu was fully aware of the fact. He not only demoralized the upper caste political and social lobby, but their bureaucrats too, and united backwards to fight for their cause. When the BJP tried to destabilize him after the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, he broke a fraction of its MLAs and a repeat of the 1979-like situation flopped.

In his first 5-year tenure, he experimented with some innovative schemes like Charwaha Vidyalaya for working children, construction of houses for the poor, cleanliness programme in slum areas, Rainbasera for poor rickshaw-pullers and labourers in urban areas. After the bifurcation of Bihar, he re-shaped the 50% reservation to various socially depressed groups in a scientific manner. Under the Congress regime, institutions were named and official functions were held to honour upper caste leaders only. Lalu started these activities for Backward & Dalit leaders, too. Unlike the Chief Ministers of the Congress, he occasionally visited the areas of the depressed classes and intermingled with them. These activities were just a miracle for the people who had seen the earlier CMs as a ruler and not as a leader and this established Lalu as a mass leader.

In the second and third tenure of Lalu Prasad or his wife Rabri Devi, minimal works took place in roads/bridges and power generation. The graph of crime rose and rapes, murders and kidnappings become a daily routine. Corruption was deeply rooted in government departments and boards/corporations. After 15 years of power, only social awareness with hollow promises was not enough and people wanted roads, schools, hospitals, electricity and other development works. On social forum, he distanced himself from the non-Yadav backwards. He could not develop a think tank, which could advise him for the planned constructive and social works. The involvement of Lalu and other ministers in fodder, coal-tar and other scams tarnished his image. His party was turned into a family coterie. His mass-base gradually deteriorated and he was eventually ousted from power in 2005.

After years of long struggle, when Nitish Kumar came to power in November, 2005, he focused himself on law & order and the infrastructure sector. Fast track courts were set up for speedy trial of criminals, resulting in political heavyweight criminals Prabhunath, Anand Mohan, Shahabuddin (all ex-MPs) and many others being put behind bars. Being a technocrat himself, he re-oriented all the infrastructure works and chalked out time-bound implementation & completion schedules. Roads, bridges, school/college/hospital/police station/Panchayat buildings etc., were constructed in every nook and corner of the state. The production and distribution of electricity increased. Cycles/dresses/sanitary napkins/stipends/student credit cards and other educational schemes resulted in a decrease in the drop-out ratio. Technical and medical institutions have been opened in backward regions. Supply of drinking water to every household and construction of drains and streets are in progress. The provision of 35% reservation for women in recruitment, reservation in Panchayats for SC/ST/EBC community and reservation in judicial services has changed the gender as well as socio-political scenario. He organized yatras at regular intervals to make himself aware of the ground reality of the schemes and public opinion about it.

Along with good governance, Nitish Kumar put his hand on social issues also, which are of no importance to politicians. He made laws and started intensive campaign for public awareness against social evils like dowry system, child marriage and alcoholism. There is often a hue and cry by the Opposition and mafias over the ban on alcohol, but in fact it has led to a reduction in domestic violence against women. Eradicating such evils is not only the duty of the government but also of the society. Plantation for environmental conservation has been his ambitious agenda at the government as well as party level. After 15 years, if one compares the ground reality, it itself tells the success story of the changed Bihar.

A generation has changed in the span of three decades. They have not faced the anarchy and havoc situations like their parents or grandparents. The bench mark of the current generation is not the same as it was 20-30 year ago. After the bifurcation of Bihar, all the mineral and coal fields as well as factories moved to Jharkhand. Revenue collection is at stake, as the southern part of the state is drought-affected and the northern part is flood-affected. The Central government did not provide any special assistance after its bifurcation to cope up the situation. There is a problem of unemployment like in other states. With no major factory in the State, there is a limited scope for employment in the government service sector. Educated youths do not want to work in the agricultural sector, private sector or in the field of self-employment, but all want government jobs. Whatever limited resources the State had, Nitish worked day and night to accelerate the development works. But the dark face of democracy is that caste-oriented society does not keep in mind development works during elections and ultimately votes are being cast on the caste lines.

A lot of work has been done under Nitish's regime, but a lot of work is still to be done. The racist fundamental forces in the administration, which are grabbing the interests of the depressed class, should be controlled. Small-scale and agro-based industries will have to be encouraged. The rivers of north and south areas need to be interconnected. The ambitious 7-Nischay programmes have to be intensified and properly monitored. Education, health, transport sectors need more attention. Defunct sugar factories should be revived.

Since three decades, the upper caste lobby has been away from the Chief Ministership. Despite having only 13-14% of the population, they ruled the State for over 40 years; so naturally they are feeling in exile. In the so-called Modi wave, their dream is to install CM of their own group on the pattern of UP, HP, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand Assam and other BJP-ruled states. BJP, a party dominated by the upper castes, has supported Nitish only to keep hard backward-minded Lalu away from power. As soon as the BJP found Lalu weak, it grabbed the influential seats of JDU, tilting the balance to its side. Its core upper caste voters are openly working against the ally JDU. The liquor mafia, criminal gangs as well as TRP-thirsty electronic media are all together to dethrone Nitish.

Whatever be the ifs and buts of the two personalities, both of them have served the State in their own ways. It was Lalu Prasad who rolled and crushed the fundamentalist forces and strengthened the political pitch for the depressed masses; which also helped Nitish immensely. Nitish has paid attentions to the poorest of the poor and kept himself away from caste and family-based politics. One, the lawyer, is the symbol of social justice and resurgence; the other, the technocrat, is the synonym of development and good governance. Laloo and Nitish have strengths and weaknesses, but in the power politics of Bihar as well as India, both are relevant.

(The author is a technocrat & academician)

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