DATED NOV 2
Let me make an honest disclosure first.
When it comes to what you will read in the following paragraphs, assuming you will, be warned that I am not your know-it-all journalist. This piece is not meant to tell you who the winner will be. Also, Bihar is neither in my blood nor was it in my mind till I got my “marching orders” last week.
Once in Bihar, of course, I’ve been trying to cover as much ground and reading as many minds as possible. What I can tell you, still, by the virtue of “being here” and soaking in the climate is that the mood is what you will read.
By now, it is well-known that this isn’t an easy election to read, irrespective of whether you are a psephologist, journalist or even one of those in the fray, the candidate. An eight-time legislator (which translates into over four decades of life as a politician) recently walked up to me, after casting his ballot, seeking my opinion on his chances. “Aap log toh kaafi ghoomte hai na,” he said.
However, if there is someone for whom this election is the most difficult then it is the average Bihari.
The infamous “jungle raj” in Bihar’s history is said to have commenced and coincided with the 15-year-long rule (1990-2005) of the Lalu-Rabri combine. However, those better aware will tell you the drift preceded descent, almost a decade before, in fact. The Congress administration in Patna, before it was wiped out by the Vishwanath Pratap Singh-led storm at the national level in the wake of the Mandal movement, was synonymous with lack of governance, criminalisation of politics or politicisation of crime, rampant corruption and a general decline in societal standards. That Lalu squandered the opportunity hardly requires a reiteration.
“Bhaiya, yeh joh sab modern gaadiya aap road pe dekh rahe hai na, yeh Laluji ke time mein sambhav nahee tha. Hum sab log jitna ho sakta utna gareeb bankar rehte the. Sab yeh jaante the ki jis din aap ameer nazar aa gaye, aapko kidnap kar lenge (All these modern cars that you see on the roads wouldn’t have been possible during Laluji’s time. Under his rule, people would deliberately appear poor and conceal wealth as anyone found to be even remotely wealthy would be kidnapped almost immediately),” said my driver, as we crossed the 5.5km-long Gandhi Setu into Patna.
Noted journalist Sankarshan Thakur in his book, The Brothers Bihari has stated, “He (Lalu) inherited a mess and contributed chaos to it, like a typhoon visiting the ravages of a quake and mangling the remains.” By the time the dawn of 2005 appeared, Bihar had become a stinking pool.
There are countless such tales I picked up about how different Bihar was and is. As a first-timer, it made me immensely excited to hear it all.
No matter where we went, there was near-unanimity that Nitish Kumar as the chief minister was the best thing to have happened to Bihar in the last decade. His was the healing touch a sore and battered Bihar needed. The promises of better roads, electricity, water supply, jobs, restoration of law and public order have been met in a significant way. In a region replete with caste arithmetic, Nitish emerged as someone who had no caste and didn’t need one in particular. His appeal went beyond such narrow considerations.
It tells you a lot not only about Nitish but also about the distance Bihar has travelled when Nitish, who began as a student leader and was eventually a product of Jayaprakash Narayan’s “Sampoorna Kranti” agitation of the 1970s, felt it important to hold Twitter chats in a bid to reach out to his voters.
“Pata nahee kyun Laluji ka saath unhone haath milaya. Agar akele hote toh koi sawaal nahee tha wohee jeette. Ab samajh nahee aa raha(I don’t know why Nitish joined hands with Laluji. Had he contested alone, there is no doubt that he would’ve won)”, said my driver. It is a disdain no one rejects. Many Biharis outside the state suggested that Nitish should have picked a leaf out of his friend and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal’s book and gone solo. With Lalu by his side, his halo has dimmed. In a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) stronghold in Madhubani district, we came across a group of men sitting at a tea stall. “Hum toh Laluji ko Nitishji ke naam pe vote denge (We will vote for Lalu on Nitish’s name),” said one of them.
The Grand Alliance is a knife, clearly, sharp enough to cut both ways.
What do you do when your healer teams up with your tormentor? Trust against trust and hope against hope that good will overcome the bad? Or simply walk away in disgust? This is the crossroad over 57 million eligible voters of Bihar find themselves at.
To my mind, this election was Nitish’s to win. Now, a doubt has crept in.
Is that the window the master orator and merchant of dreams, Narendra Modi, has gained an entry from?