Leaders who have sustained themselves by cushioning the ghosts of Lohia and JP have to rethink their strategy to remain relevant. Dalits have resoundingly evolved from merely being a political commodity to the drivers of change
The road to New Delhi, as they say, goes through Patna and Lucknow. Together, the two states whose capitals these cities are, can alone be the sixth largest democracy of the world. Congress unilaterally dominated the politics of both for some decades after independence. The first substantial shifts came with the advent of Mandir and Mandal brand of politics. However, with time, these issues proved to be a catalyst for regional fiefdoms to accentuate their dominance that still continues.
The post-Mandal narrative of politics in Hindi heartland was essentially founded on the antagonism for the upper castes in the name of consolidation of the intermediate ones. The intermediate castes also known as the O.B.C’s (Other Backward Classes) have a formidable strength, both numerically and financially. They did not bear the brunt of social ills to a great extent and were traditionally the land/asset holding class.
This specific genre of regional politics was peculiar in more than one sense. It was built on a rhetorical plank of giving voice and choice to the supposedly voiceless and the choice-less category of citizens. Quite a lot of them united and marched under the banner of now-defunct economic idea of socialism. Soon after attaining political ascendancy and so-called backward resurgence, a high degree of complacency and corruption crept into the rank and file of these political organizations. They shifted loyalties and experimented with various nomenclatures to remain socially relevant and politically powerful. The only common thread that ran and still runs through these groups was their undying lust for power. Nitish Kumar is a product of one such socio-political movement whose brand of politics sustains upon gullible voters and social stratification.
After the historic drubbing of Nitish Kumar led JD(U) in the last parliamentary elections, he resigned as the chief minister of the state, taking responsibility of the decimation. Nitish Kumar is known to many as a shrewd player of politics and a cautious decision maker who will rarely act on an impulse or a situation. He is also known as a man who would go to any extent to pacify his ego or settle his score on political vendetta. This characteristic immoderation was primarily responsible for the self-destruction of the party in the general election.
To substantiate this further: after the state elections for the legislative assembly in 2005, his party was short of numbers to prove the majority on the floor of the house; Ramvilas Paswan had the requisite numbers with him but obstructed his path to government formation owing to personal ambitions. This political hassle had huge negative ramifications on the sociology of the already caste-ridden polity of the state. Soon after assuming power with NDA, the government of Kumar made categorization and sub categorization in the scheduled caste and other backward classes category. Leading the baton of sub categorization of castes in the country, he carved out a separate category of castes called ‘Mahadalit’.
This list of scheduled castes in Bihar did not emerge from any policy level deliberations but stemmed from the ego of the then-chief minister. The obstruction created by Ramvilas Paswan in the previous attempts of Nitish’s government formation resulted in the latter’s antagonism for the entire Paswan community . Henceforth, the Mahadalit category comprised of entire scheduled caste community barring the Paswans. Thus, the notional significance of social justice remains complicated for the man who can go form social policy to placate his ego.
The anointment of Jitan Ram Manjhi as a caretaker head of the state did not come as a surprise to many of the political observers in the state. Like stated above, the real objective of this decision was the reconsolidation of his vote bank in the Mahadalit community that comprises a substantial part of the electorate. The move clearly backfired when he realized that Manjhi was not an amateur player. He was a tested politician with astute realpolitik wisdom and experiences owing to his periodic shifting of allegiance in the political waters of Bihar.
Manjhi, through his calculated public utterances started carving a separate political constituency for himself. Mind you, his observations might not be historically sound or logically tenable but he was clear in his mind with his target audience. Before delivering a judgment on the nature and implications of his statements, one should be privy of his humblest of social origins. He comes from the musahar community that is located at the lowermost ladder of the Indian social system. Public disapproval and venomous exchange of words were a regular sight at the cabinet meetings as the ministers in the state cabinet could not reconcile with the reality of having a puppet chief minister from such a humble social origin.
The emergence of Jitan Ram Manjhi is more of a social statement than a political event. The jury is out on whether Bihar is destined to become another Uttar Pradesh in the realm of Dalit politics. Leaders who have sustained themselves by cushioning the ghosts of Lohia and JP have to rethink their strategy to remain relevant. Dalits have resoundingly evolved from merely being a political commodity to the drivers of change. Nitish Kumar in his atrocious lust for political capital has struck the wrong chord this time.
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