Bihar Elections are Also a Battle of Political Symbolisms

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Language and symbol form an integral part of politics. This phenomenon is best visible in the present Bihar elections. In Bihar, where Nitish symbolizes development, Lalu Yadav is known for effective communication in native language and style with the masses. He is taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who for the past many years has been associated with giving new idioms and symbols to Indian politics.

Language, symbols, phrases and slogans always have been playing vital role in Indian politics.  Before the 1990s, poverty and struggle against poverty have been the most important and effective symbols of Indian polity. Slogans like “elimination of poverty” consequentially emerged from this. In the ‘90s “social justice” emerged as a very effective political symbol.

This symbolic representation of political agenda completely changed the political equations. Many political representatives from the backward, Dalit and other marginalized groups reached the zenith of their political careers. Many political big shots like Lalu Yadav, Ram Vilas Paswan, Kanshiram, Mayawati, Nitish Kumar, Shard Yadav emerged during this phase. The slogan of social justice played a crucial and decisive role in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It was only after 2005 that ‘development’ emerged in the political agenda. The development agenda largely impacted the politics and power game in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bihar. In the 2014 parliamentary elections ‘development’ proved to be the major political platform.

All these three symbols may seem different from each other but they are closely associated with and even complement each other. In this we may visualize the gradual developing political portal of Indian polity. With the advent of ‘poverty’ as a political symbol to woo voters, deliberations of poverty and its repercussions gained credence. Consequentially, as a prescription, the issue of social justice emerged. This fundamental change gave voice to the voiceless and marginalized communities like the Dalits and other backward classes on one hand and on the other brought about sweeping changes in the political power structures with emerging leadership from these sections in the political sphere.

It was this sense of empowerment that gave way to transforming development aspirations of the people. In the rural areas, a demand for education, health and improved employment opportunities emerged. Simultaneously an urge to equal the demonstrated western high-tech lifestyle has gradually developed amongst the middle class urban dwellers. It is this growing ambitious middle class urban dweller that with the growth of urbanization has become the most influential target for the Indian political parties. In the year 1991 there were 3,100 urban areas, a number that has now grown to 7,930. The urban populace has increased to 32 per cent of the total population.

With these changing proportions and growing urban life, parameters of development have become dynamic and consequentially ‘development’ has become a major political agenda. With these social and political changes, ‘development’ in Indian politics has emerged as a highly effective symbol and phrase. These three issues in the political discourse have developed in different time periods and are now are emerging as complimentary issues in the deliberations and discourses of political agenda. With gradual passage of time and the maturing of Indian polity, these three issues are now being considered as three unfinished agendas.

In the forthcoming Bihar elections, social justice and question of poverty as an indicator of good governance are coming to forefront. Reflections of this recent development in Bihar politics can be seen in political coalitions. The coming together of JD (U) of Nitish Kumar, RJD of Lalu Yadav and the Congress against the BJP-lead NDA are not mere coalitions. They are infact, coalitions of political symbols and languages of the Bihar’s political culture. On the one hand Nitish has developed his new political language linking the two non-contemporary political agendas to woo his voters with his power slogan ‘development and good governance’.

Undoubtedly the issue of backward and marginalized sections is also incorporated in this calculation. Unquestionably in this neo-political agenda he has successfully incorporated and roused the aspirations of the identity of educated, migrants, urbanites and the conscious citizens of Bihar. On the other hand, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who basically targets the uneducated, backwards and minorities aptly use his political language in that sense. With his creative application of his native dialect and accent he keeps on adding his voters and awakens them.

Unfinished agendas

With growing urbanization these symbols of development, associated languages and claims of good governance are connecting the masses involved aspiring for better education and standard of living. Simultaneously, the agenda of ‘social justice’ is still capable of connecting the semi-literates, uneducated and poorest among the poor. The charisma and attraction of the symbol of ‘social justice’ still prevails amongst this class. Both the agendas of development and social justice are unfinished and not completely addressed in the state of Bihar. Even after major structural changes and fundamental development moves, Bihar lags behind and still a lot needs to be done. Education, health and electricity still have not reached amongst all the heterogeneous strata of Bihar. Social justice has remained limited to some sections of the Dalits and backward groups.

In the last 40-50 years Bihar has changed dramatically. Education has improved as well as migration has increased. With the spread of democracy and aspirations for development, there has been rise in the vested interest groups. With this growth of urbanization in Bihar, there is need for a new political language to woo voters. Nitish has been successful to present this much demanded political language of contemporary politics of Bihar. But simultaneously, there is a huge chunk of Bihar populace that is still motivated and revolutionalized by the grounded motivation of social justice agenda of Lalu Yadav.

Though this finds an interesting amalgam of Hindi, English and Bhojpuri dialects yet many people get associated with this. Now how far these two virtually unlike poles of political language perform will be answered in the Bihar election outcomes. In this coalition there are silent contradictions that may come to light post elections. But for the time being, the amalgam of this new language in Bihar politics is a major  event.

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