Bihar: Entering The Governance Era?

Why the Bihar elections will have nationwide repercussions

01 November 2010
The champions of caste politics in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad Yadav, inaugurating a fertiliser plant in Bihar in 2008.
Aftab Alam Sidiqui / AP Photo
The champions of caste politics in Bihar, Nitish Kumar, Ram Vilas Paswan and Lalu Prasad Yadav, inaugurating a fertiliser plant in Bihar in 2008.
Aftab Alam Sidiqui / AP Photo

THE ONGOING ELECTIONS IN BIHAR will not only give the state a new government or re-elect the same one: these elections will have national consequences on two counts.

First, they’ll reflect—or not—a less caste and community-based brand of politics which has developed in this state at the expense of issue-based politics. Second, it will have implications for all the non-regional parties in the fray, the Congress, the BSP, and even more importantly, the BJP.

The fiasco surrounding the Commonwealth Games has made the demand for good governance more pressing than ever before in India. A country claiming to be an emerging power with the same potential as China cannot resign itself to being ruled by Kalmadi and Co. This commonplace assessment leads to another one: the world’s largest democracy cannot resign itself to have citizens voting for politicians of their caste when they go to the polls. Hence the importance of Bihar—the crucible state of caste politics. The socialist party, the most caste-oriented after the Ambedkarites, was born in Bihar and developed there as the first state party asking for caste-based quotas. More importantly, Bihar’s social conflicts have resulted in Jati Senas, caste militias with no equivalent in the rest of India. If a state whose per capita income is one of the lowest within India voted on the basis of development issues, India could claim that all hope is not lost for a brand of politics based on citizenship.

Christophe Jaffrelot  is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. He has authored several books including The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics and Sangh Parivar.

Keywords: china India BSP caste Congress Lok Sabha Christophe Jaffrelot BJP Kalmadi Nitish Kumar Lalu Prasad Yadav Chamar OBC
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